Friday, November 7, 2014

Will the old man punch out Father Time one more time?

Saturday night when WBA Super World, IBF and IBA light heavyweight champion Bernard ‘The Alien’ (formerly the Exterminator) Hopkins steps between the ropes against WBO champion Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev, he’ll do so just two months shy of his 50th birthday. On top of that he’ll be doing it against a fighter in Kovalev who is in his fighting prime at just 31 and arguably his most dangerous opponent ever. Think about that statement for a second, most dangerous opponent ever.

That is quite a statement considering the resume the future Hall of Famer Hopkins (55-6, 32 KO’s) has already assembled. However, when you look at Kovalev’s record (25-0, 23 KO’s) you can understand why; this crushin’ Russian has not had a fight go to a decision in nearly four years. On paper, taking into consideration Kovalev’s knockout ratio and Hopkins age, this looks like more than a mismatch; but how many times have we said this about Hopkins in the last few years?

21 years ago in '93 when he fought the great Roy Jones, Jr. for the middleweight championship, he was supposed to be no match. Sure he lost the decision, but it was hardly a whitewash. Then after dominating the division as a champion for five years from ’96 – ’01, he was finally going to get stopped by Felix Trinidad in New York City in the aftermath of 9/11. In the end it was Trinidad who was stopped and lost for the first time in his career.

He knocked out the Golden Boy Oscar De La Hoya with a liver shot and although he lost two close decisions to Jermain Taylor, he bounced back as a light heavyweight at 41 and won the IBO title against the Roy Jones destroyer Antonio Tarver. At 42 he defeated ‘Winky’ Wright and then at 43 he faced a young killer, similar to the one he faces tomorrow, in Kelly Pavlik. At the time Pavlik, like Kovalev, was undefeated and a serious power puncher. Hopkins was finally going to be sent into retirement.

In the end, it was Hopkins who gave Pavlik a boxing lesson and won easily. So what’s so different now? For one is Kovalev’s power is eerily similar to Ivan Drago’s character in ‘Rocky IV’, in that “whatever he hits, he destroys.” I have been lucky enough to witness this power up close as I saw Kovalev fight live three times in my hometown from June 2012 - June 2013. In those three fights he fought a total of less than eight rounds as he ran right through the competition.

Yet, it’s that competition that may be his one downfall in this fight. He has fought no one near the level of Hopkins, while Hopkins has fought a virtual who’s who list of champions and Hall of Fame fighters. Obviously, Hopkins is planning to draw on that experience to offset Kovalev’s freakish power and normally I would say that is enough; but there is always that lingering question. At what point does an athlete get old?

To this point Hopkins has been able to elude the effects of or any signs of old age, but it happens to all the greatest of athletes; at some point they suddenly look their age. As an already nearly two year member of the AARP 50+ club, I am sentimentally pulling for Hopkins to win; but for him to defeat Kovalev, he will have to punch out Father Time one more time.

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