On Saturday, Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City will host one of the year’s most anticipated fistic matchups when veteran Bernard Hopkins takes on Russian knockout-artist Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev in a three-belt title unification bout. The 12-rounder promises to be an intriguing meeting between two of today’s best fighters in the 175-pound light heavyweight division.
Here’s what you need to know to be prepared for Saturday’s main event:
1. Bernard Hopkins Is Your Old Man’s Age, & He’ll Still Kick Your Ass
Hopkins surpassed George Foreman’s record for oldest world-title holder when he was 46 years-old. Now, just two months shy of his 50th birthday, the “Alien” has exceeded all earthly expectations and beyond by continuing to be a dominating force while most competitors consider retirement by their mid-30s.
In a sport that isn’t short of opponent-ducking and cherry-picking, the Philadelphia native and guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Famer has shown great tenacity in taking on one of today’s most dangerous punchers in Sergey Kovalev.
“I want the best,” said Hopkins at the New York City press conference held to announce the fight. “Hagler fought the best. Ray Leonard fought the best. The Ali’s of the world, they fought the best. I’m from the era where I fought the best and that’s important to me.”
2. This Fight Is a Litmus Test for Both Fighters
Possessing destructive power in both hands, a crowd-pleasing style, and out-of-ring charisma, Sergey Kovalev has been a fast-rising draw on the pro boxing circuit. “Krusher,” last in action in August against Blake Caparello, enters the fight undefeated, with a record of 25 victories and 1 draw. Most impressively, all but two of those wins have come by way of vicious knockout.
Still, detractors will point out that these wins were mostly against B-level competition and that the 31 year-old still remains untested against quality opposition. Saturday’s fight is Kovalev’s opportunity to finally prove to critics that he can live up to the hype and win at an elite world-class level.
“It is not easy to overlook Hopkins,” said Kovalev. “I think when he’s 60 years old he’ll be in the same condition. He’s an alien, but I have to send him to the moon and maybe from there he’ll go by himself to Mars.”
After 26 years in the sport, Bernard Hopkins (55-6-2, with 32 KOs) has amassed a veritable who’s-who of future and current hall of fame opponents, holding impressive wins over Felix Trinidad, Winky Wright, and Oscar De La Hoya. While his recent opposition has consisted of lower top-10 ranked contenders such as Beibut Shumenov and Karo Murat, a victory over Sergey Kovalev would go a long way towards solidifying the age-defying veteran’s status as an all-time great.
Hopkins comes to the bout having won his last three fights since a majority decision loss to Chad Dawson in 2012.
3. Styles Make Fights: Alien vs. Krusher
Look for Bernard Hopkins to use his superior ring generalship and experience to set a slow pace, where he can use his lateral movement to keep his opponent from setting up, while he utilizes his laser jab to score enough potshots from outside to win rounds.
Expect plenty of clinching from the old master (and plenty of leeway from the referee) as he leads with a jab; grabs on to his opponent to avoid being countered; and forces the ref to break up the action. Kovalev will have to avoid getting into this rinse-and-repeat pattern which wears down opponents, breaking their will and frustrating them into making mistakes.
Despite his nickname, Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev is much more than just a power puncher. He may not have the fastest legs in the division, but he can effectively cut off the ring as he pressures and stalks his prey, patiently waiting for an opening where he can set up his assaults behind jabs and short combinations.
With Hopkins’s ring aptitude and Kovalev’s deep amateur experience, both fighters possess above-average ring IQs. Look for a tactical competition marked by dramatic bursts of high action.
4. Title Unification Fight: Three Belts on the Line
There was a time in boxing when being a World Champion in a weight division really meant something. However, with today’s numerous sanctioning bodies (some of which have several belts within a single division) there are 35 “champions” at a given time spread out over 17 weight classes.
But even in this era of “alphabet soup” world titles, the unification of three major belts is still significant. On Saturday, Hopkins will put his WBA and IBF light heavyweight titles on the line while Kovalev enters the ring defending his WBO title.
The winner of this fight will walk away with all three belts and, no doubt, with an eye on a future bout against Haitian Adonis Stevenson, holder of the WBC version of the title.
5. Keys to Winning
One of the biggest questions going into this bout is how, and if, Hopkins’s chin can withstand a direct hit, or hits, from the monster puncher. “I’m walking a tightrope hundreds of feet in the air,” concedes Hopkins. “He crushes people. Only three or four people survive this hammer. “
Hopkins has been knocked down plenty in his career and he is not unhittable. While he will look to defuse Kovalev’s heavy artillery by imposing his own brand of “old school” (read: dirty) technique and tactical (read: slow-paced) style of boxing, there is no doubt that his toughness will be tested.
Another consideration is Sergey Kovalev’s endurance. In his 65 professional bouts Hopkins has gone the 12-round distance 26 times. Kovalev, on the other hand, has yet to fight past 8 rounds. This fact is a testament to Kovalev’s knockout power, but it also leaves a question-mark in regards to the former Russian amateur champion’s stamina as a contest heads into the late rounds.
In past fights Kovalev has shown himself to be cool and collected when challenged. Still, if this weekend’s fight does go into the championship rounds, he must avoid being frustrated by the veteran Hopkins and remain focused.
“I hope and I wish that this fight will be very clean and fair,” Kovalev said at his media workout. “Who is strong should be who wins. I want that this fight should be fair. I try to be polite, I try to be nice but, if my opponent don’t respect me, then I don’t respect him.”
The Russian should look to come in behind his jab, closing the gap, and unload from within before Hopkins can shut down the action with his clinches. Kovalev will need to cut off the ring and pressure Hopkins into the ropes where he can get to work if he hopes to win the fight.
Saturday’s battle could very well be Bernard Hopkins’s last. Win or lose, he will be talked about long after his departure from the sport. But a victory against one of boxing’s most feared fighters and a triple-crown of world titles at age 50 would elevate the Alien into a new stratosphere.
Kovalev has a bright future ahead of him and arguably has more on the line in this fight. A loss would be mean a “rebuilding” phase and a step back in a so-far-unblemished career. On the other hand, a win could mean finally getting a shot to challenge Adonis Stevenson and possibly unify all four major belts. But most importantly, it would finally mean respect.
Also on the card that night, Sadam Ali (20-0, 12 KO) takes on Luis Carlos Abregu (36-1, 29 KO) of Argentina.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 8 10:45PM EST ON HBO WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING