Can Bernard Hopkins Slay the Beast from the East?
Hopkins Really Has Nothing to Lose
When WBA/IBF Light Heavyweight Champion Bernard "The Alien" Hopkins (55-6-2 with 32 KO's) from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania steps into the ring with WBO Champion Sergey "Krusher" Kovalev (25-0-1 with 23 KO's) originally from Chelyabinsk, Russia now residing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida he will be a little more than two months shy of his 50th birthday. It doesn't seem that long ago when a 36 year old Hopkins dominated a then undefeated destroyer named Felix Trinidad to win the Middleweight tournament in arguably his greatest pugilistic performance. He was considered to be in the twilight of his career back then so the thought of him still fighting nearly 14 years later and at a high level to boot would have been unthinkable. But here we are!
Hopkins has really been in a no lose situation since the Trinidad fight. The last opponent that was anywhere near as old as Hopkins was Roy Jones Jr. who is 4 years his junior and was shopworn when they met in a rematch four and a half years ago. Amazingly, Bernard hasn't faced a fighter his age or older since he fought Simon Brown in 1998! Of course, fighters peak at different ages and a boxer like Hopkins who is able to function at a very high level 20 years beyond his athletic prime is unheard of. Only an extremely disciplined, defensive minded boxer like Hopkins would even have an iota of a chance to be in this position.
Due to his advanced age, for the past 15 years or so Hopkins has been in a no lose situation. By beating younger, quality opponents, he has made history and his accomplishments have been deemed to be that much more impressive. The few losses that he has sustained along the way have been diminished in the eyes of many by the fact that they were mostly against opponents who were between 10 and 20 years his junior. The mere fact that Bernard was even competitive against these individuals was an achievement in and of itself. Beating them and making history in the process is gravy. The fact that Hopkins is even willing to step into a boxing ring at his age, let alone against a highly avoided killer like Kovalev is to be applauded and greatly admired.
Hopkins in Danger of Losing to Another "White Boy"
Leading up to his fight with Welsh legend and recent International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Joe Calzaghe (46-0 with 32 KO's), Hopkins came face to face with Calzaghe and proudly proclaimed "I will never lose to a white boy". After subsequently receiving far less heat than Calzaghe would have received if he were to have stated "I will never be outsmarted by a black man", Hopkins without realizing that what he stated was the quintessence of racism (holding the belief that one's race is superior to another) claimed to not be a racist. If losing to "a white boy" is more humiliating than losing to a black or Latino (most of whom are at least 50% white boy and some like Canelo Alvarez are 100% white boys who speak Spanish), then imagine how humiliated Hopkins will be if he loses to his second Caucasian. Calzaghe beat Hopkins in a close fight with intelligence, volume punching, athleticism and speed. Speaking of athleticism, that seems to be Hopkins' achilles heel.
Dating back to his first defeat to athletic freak of nature and fellow legend Roy Jones Jr. back in 1993, Hopkins has had major issues with opponents who held an athletic advantage over him. He twice lost to Jermain Taylor, then the "white boy", followed by being knocked down and held to a draw by Jean Pascal. His last defeat was to another athletic boxer in Chad Dawson. Kovalev is 31 years old, with a 92% knockout ratio. He doesn't have Calzaghe or Roy Jones' athleticism but he isn't as white boyish as Kelly Pavlik either. Pavlik was a big puncher with decent skills, a huge heart but limited athleticism who twice defeated Jermain Taylor to become the linear Middleweight Champion. He fought Hopkins at a catchweight of 170 lbs after Hopkins had moved up and captured the Light Heavyweight crown by upsetting then champion Antonio Tarver in dominant fashion before losing it to Calzaghe.
Kovalev is among a litany of Eastern European boxers such as the Klitschko brothers, Vasyl Lomachenko and Gennady Golovkin who have recently burst onto the scene. He was 8 years old when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 paving the way for talented amateurs who previously were unable to turn pro. He has steamrolled through 25 opponents, stopping 23 inside the distance. One unfortunate victim of Kovalev's lethal power lost his life after being knocked out by Krusher and slipping into a coma. One fight was declared a technical draw by the referee after Kovalev accidentally hit his opponent low. His last five opponents previously had a combined record of 113-2-1. So, basically what this author is stating is like Calzaghe, this white boy can fight. So too, can many others these days.
The way that Kovalev/Hopkins plays out could give us an idea of how a potential Ward/Golovkin fight would go. Many people have compared the styles of Kovalev and Golovkin and even more have compared the styles of Hopkins and Ward. This author believes that the strategy and approach that Hopkins employs in this fight will be very similar to the one that Ward would take in a potential fight with Golovkin. It will be interesting to how effective Hopkins will be when utilizing it against Kovalev. If he is fairly successful even in a losing effort, perhaps the much younger Ward would be able to prevail over Golovkin by using the same approach.
What Each Fighter Must Do to Win
Upon analyzing this fight, it's clear to me that in order for Bernard Hopkins to win he must and almost certainly will make it an ugly fight. Even if Hopkins were 28 and not nearing 50, facing a literal killer like Kovalev would still be a daunting task. Sure, Hopkins is the better boxer with superior defense and a genius IQ. However, Kovalev has enough boxing skills and the kind of freakish power in both hands that make him a threat to beat anyone regardless of whether they hold advantages over him in certain departments.
To be victorious, Hopkins must do what he does best and fight a very disciplined, boring fight involving closing the distance, smothering Kovalev, countering with straight rights and occasional left hooks and uppercuts while evading the Russian's bombs. Hopkins must throw more punches than normal and fight aggressively in close quarters keeping Kovalev on the defensive and incapable of mounting his usual offense. Going to the body and at times below the belt when the referee isn't in a position to witness the foul will also almost certainly be a part of Hopkins' game plan. The problem that he might encounter though is what Kovalev will do in retaliation. The only thing that hurts more than getting struck in the family jewels by a cagey 49 year old veteran professional boxer is being 49 years old and getting kneed in the groin by a 31 year old angry prizefighter with the ability to follow the knee with a punch powerful enough to separate you from your senses.
As for Kovalev, in order for him to defeat the ageless legend, he can't allow himself to be smothered on the inside. He must keep Hopkins at the end of his punches and catch him coming in with heavy blows to the head and body. If he can hurt Hopkins and drop him it will put the prideful Philadelphian in a position where he will either switch into survival mode and look to merely last the distance and thus achieve a moral victory, or battle back and face an even greater risk of being knocked out by taking chances he would not have taken if he were ahead in the fight.
Who will win the fight?
When analyzing this fight, this author has come to the conclusion that no outcome barring a stoppage victory for Hopkins would be the least bit surprising. Kovalev is currently only a 2.5 to 1 favorite to defeat Hopkins, so a points loss would not be a monumental upset. However, the odds of him losing by knockout to a near 50 year old boxer who will be extremely concerned with being hurt and one that hasn't stopped an opponent in 10 years would be astronomical. Either Hopkins is going to stink it out for 12 rounds and win an ugly decision that will be excused due to his age and the immense danger he was facing every minute of the fight, or Kovalev will hurt Hopkins and either stop him or win a decision.
I think it's very possible that both boxers could hit the canvas in this fight. Kovalev could go down from a right hand counter and experience an embarrassing flash knockdown. Hopkins, however, could go down and be more badly hurt and forced to hold on or risk being taken out. The longest Kovalev has gone is 8 rounds in a close split decision victory over Darnell Boone. Hopkins has the skills and experience to take him at least that far, and most likely to the final bell. Bernard normally doesn't choose to face someone unless he sees a weakness that he feels he can exploit. He was wrong about Calzaghe, Taylor and Dawson, but those guys had more speed and athleticism than Kovalev. This fight is very tough to call and really could go either way. I foresee a nip and tuck fight filled with fouls, warnings, one or two potential knockdowns and potential point deductions. Can the old man pull it off? Absolutely. Will he? No, Kovalev prevails via close decision or late round TKO.