For anyone who has read this column before, you have to know the abundance of respect I have for IBF light heavyweight title holder Bernard Hopkins 54-6-2 (32) as a fighter and thinker, both in and out of the ring. Hopkins is the oldest and most successful fighter in boxing history. He has the discipline of a Chinese monk and the confidence and courage of an alpha male lion. He's also rare breed of bully, being that he is a front runner and will attempt to bully anyone, only he doesn't back down when he's punched back or met with resistance mentally or physically.
Hopkins is no doubt one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in boxing, and he's one month shy of his 49th birthday. He's won and defended both the middleweight and light heavyweight titles and is looking to close out his career with a signature fight and win.
A few months ago he talked about meeting pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather in a ridiculous catch-weight bout at 160. That went nowhere and will never happen, so he better look for another monumental challenge that is more realistic. And guess what, he doesn't have to look any further than his own division. This past weekend two light heavyweights who are both making a lot of noise fought on the same card and scored impressive knockouts.
The first was a legitimate life-taker named Sergey Kovalev 23-0-1 (21), who destroyed Ismayl Sillakh 21-2 (17) in less than four minutes of fighting. Sillakh was no patsy, yet he was virtually undone the first time Kovalev touched him with something big. Kovalev has dynamite in both hands and he's clearly a tough guy who harbors no fear and is only concerned with decapitating his opponent with every punch.
After Kovalev went through Sillakh, WBC light heavyweight title holder Adonis Stevenson 23-1 (20) took apart a tough guy named Tony Bellew 20-2-1 (12) in six rounds. Stevenson (seen in photo by Ed Mulholland for HBO) had to work harder than Kovalev did to get the knockout, but his showing was impressive just the same. Stevenson is more reckless than Kovalev and is more one hand reliant, but he's very physically strong and is awkward to fight because of his southpaw style and power. It appears that Kovalev and Stevenson are on a collision course to meet sometime next year. And therein lies Hopkins' chance to do something really spectacular, and that's challenge and then knock off either Kovalev or Stevenson before they get to each other.
As great as Hopkins has been and was as a fighter, it's always been scary to pick against him. I've seldom picked against him and have contended that I'd rather be wrong picking him to win than get it wrong picking him to lose. That said, I think Hopkins would be a sizable underdog to both Kovalev and Stevenson.
However, if he were to fight and beat either one before they met, it would be an off-the-charts accomplishment and perhaps the most significant and defining victory of his storied career.Sergy Kovalev impresses me as a tough guy, top to bottom, someone who you can't psyche out at all.If you beat him, you've got to actually beat him. There's no way Hopkins could get over on Kovalev with experience and deception alone, he'd have to physically fight him and hope that he possessed something in his arsenal that could slow Sergy down a bit. Kovalev doesn't give you a moment's rest to let you do that. Besides Ward, I don't see anyone around who I'd pick to beat him.
As for Stevenson, his style and semi-awkwardness along with his strength and power would be a tall order for Hopkins to contend with. However, Stevenson I believe, might be vulnerable to Hopkins mind games and ring trickery. I could see a scenario where if Stevenson didn't hurt Bernard early, and Hopkins stood up to him early in the bout, Adonis might become un-nerved by Hopkins' game and thug mentality once he's in war mode. Again, it's a big maybe, but at least there's an imaginable path to victory for Hopkins versus Stevenson, as opposed to none if he were to confront Kovalev.
For Hopkins, he's either had to look below or above his natural weight division for a monumental challenge. Not now, both Kovalev and Stevenson are right there breathing down his neck. Aside from Hopkins, they're clearly the two best and most formidable light heavyweights in the world. It's hard to make a compelling case that Hopkins would come out on top against either one of them if they fought, and that's the challenge he said he needs to get truly motivated to fight at his advanced age.
It would be a sight to see how Hopkins would navigate the disciplined aggression and power of Sergy Kovalev. It would be nearly just as drama filled watching how Hopkins would go about getting inside of Stevenson's head and mind in an attempt to trip him up and neutralize his style and strength.
Again, if Hopkins somehow defeated either Kovalev or Stevenson at age 49, it would be perhaps the most impressive victory of his ring career, one that would elevate his stature among the greatest of the greats. Sure, Hopkins is already considered one of the greats, but a win over Kovalev or Stevenson would surpass George Foreman's victory over Michael Moorer or Roberto Duran's victory over Iran Barkley, just to name a few. If Hopkins wants to exit boxing with a signature win, then he has a great chance to achieve that by taking on and beating Kovalev or Stevenson in 2014.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com