It would seem to be the trend for undervalued Russian power punchers like Sergey Kovalev (25-0-1, 23KOs) to leave the swath of the iron curtain to adopt California as their new home. The locale would seem to be an irresistible draw for soviet bloc fighters looking for open arms and the ability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and forge a legend worthy of Horatio Alger #ragstoriches: “We were in very hard times,” Kovalev’s longtime manager Egis Klimas remembers. “Do we belong here in this world? Do we belong here in boxing, or not? We were outsiders… But one time Sergey said, ‘America's a country where your dreams come true.” And through but a word and a few changes in zip code, the potential Light Heavyweight heir apparent was given the golden ticket of a chance to earn his way to greatness via trial by Hopkins – or that is what team Kovalev is hoping. With a record of 25 wins with 23 of them being by knockout, it would seem that Kovalev should be ready to shine.
Sergey Kovalev vs. Bernard Hopkins (55-6-2, 32KOs) is for many seasoned fight fans the most anticipated end of the year battle to date with the potential to become a rags to riches tale literally for the ages. Set to take place Nov 8, 2014 in Atlantic City at Boardwalk Hall, and broadcast by HBO it is a true coming out party for Kovalev who has looked long and hard for the likes of an A list opponent like Bernard Hopkins. Hopkins at 49 years young is still crazy enough and strong enough to relish giving serious newbie prospects an old school butt whipping mentally and physically authoritative enough to send them back to grade school – or is he? While Hopkins holds an enduring record as the oldest boxer to ever win a world title, defend a world title and unify a weight division, in evaluating who comes out on top Saturday night it can’t be swept under the rug that in 2005 he lost his World Middleweight Title to Jermain Taylor (33-4-1, 20KOs) without ever being able to avenge the loss despite ample opportunity. At that time, Taylor was someone who while a hard puncher didn’t have the same power aura as the bigger Light Heavyweight Kovalev. Conversely, Kovalev hasn’t fought nearly the caliber of competition that Taylor had at that point in time or what Hopkins has now come to see as his bread and butter. To Hopkins’ calculated advantage in signing on the dotted line, professionally Kovalev has never fought past eight rounds – perhaps indicative of the fact that no one of true note would fight him, or to Hopkins’ disadvantage, the hallmark of a truly singular ability to deliver the great KO. Naturally, the ultimate deciding factor between the two is what everyone is giddy to discover. As such, hats off to Hopkins for agreeing to make the fight – a step that many of his contemporaries clearly are not ready to make. “…this is a unique situation and this is a challenge to me,” Hopkins shared in a recent conference call with the press. “I feel like if you are in the game, you might as well be in the game on top. I always look for the best. I always wanted to take on the toughest, the most dangerous, and what else is new?” With the potential to reap an electrifying show of might and skill, Hopkins really deserves thanks from more than just Kovalev for delivering a real event for the fans.
Predictions have proved hard to come by in this matchup. Indeed, when a Krusher is going up against a self-professed alien, it is anybody’s guess how things will shake down on fight night. Hopkins, a master of reinvention and mental gymnastics when it comes to savvy self promotion has very publicly gone from the Executioner to The Alien in his current conquest. He has even gone so far as regularly to wear a green alien mask to signify this changing of the guard. However, it does not go unnoticed by the attentive Hopkins watcher that while Hopkins has more than won the respect of fans in cementing his legacy as one of boxing’s greatest he is looking now to capture the hearts of those fans he previously held at length as the coldly efficient executioner. Different from before, it would appear that the freshly supernatural Hopkins wouldn’t shy away from being adored as a relatable champion despite a new moniker that would paradoxically suggest anything but common ground. “..every 40 and up person…whatever job they have… they are afraid that this young intern is coming to take it… they can relate to that, then they will root for me … I'm representing them… black, white, Chinese, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, it doesn't make any difference, they will look at the age and they will say ‘Rumble, old man, rumble,’ and I will do that… I will make them proud when I'm done November 8th .... I must prove, and I will prove that this is not some promotional hype job.”
Team Kovalev is understandably rolling their eyes with regard to the whole question of age. Not at all disrespectful, they smell a rat with regard to a possible taint of Kovalev’s victory against Hopkins should Hopkins fall short of his plans for remodeling himself as the older people’s champ. As Kathy Duva tartly expressed in a pointed preemptive strike, “I don't want to hear about how old Bernard Hopkins is, no matter what the outcome. This is a great fight between two fighters, it is competitive… Bernard's never been stopped. Sergey has knocked out just about everyone he's fought… I'm going to be very unhappy if the press decides that when it's over they're going to start raising the fact that Bernard is 50 years old, because they're not raising it now.”
Indeed, on both sides a lot has been made of what the media may or may not say as the fall guy between these two warring factions come November 9th when the proverbial blood has hit the mat. Perhaps it is just showbiz as usual with the carefully fashioned misdirection, deception and general manipulation that truth be told makes things extra spicy leading up to the fight. As a member of the media, I kind of feel like Rodney King entreating, “ can’t we all just get along?” However, as a fan I don’t care really. I’m just excited for a really great match up on both sides no matter what the wrapping.
Nevertheless, I do enjoy Bernard Hopkins’ beguilingly rubber responses to the direct suggestion that he plays a mental game on all of his opponents before he even gets into the ring and is subsequently doing the same with the comparatively greener Kovalev. Of course this is what he does. Why the hell not? But that Bernard suggests so vociferously that he doesn’t is the tell that like the smart alien that he is, is exactly what he is doing to subconsciously sell Kovalev on losing before either of them enter the ring:
“I really don't know…where humans get that from…how I'm getting in the guy's head, so maybe that's why I won so many fights over the years. To me that's the lame excuse for being not as confident as your next guy or next opponent, or the champion or non-champion. To me that's a lame way of saying, look, yeah, he beat me, but he got in my head…. You give credit where credit's due, but humans normally don't think that way, and I understand it. I know them. They don't know me.”
A very nice and very persuasive argument on the part of Hopkins delivered with a lot of passion. Yet this member of the press would say that the matter is not so black and white because to credit only physical prowess in honoring Hopkins’ epic abilities as a fighter would be an egregious slight of deserved credit. Yes, Hopkins is a physical beast in the ring but this alien’s considerable ability to evolve mentally and out think, out maneuver and immobilize threats before even raising a finger is something that needs to be heralded as major unique fight game craft. Indeed, once you get to the top level of the sport, doesn’t it become all about the little mental shifts that put one man or being over the top as the supreme being in the ring? No disrespect, but with physical prowess being limited in direct comparison to the mental ability to rise above and surpass all obstacles wouldn’t recognition of this ability be a compliment and not an insult? Belief in one’s supremacy is priceless. It is what separates the king from the herd and what can grind a prince down into a hopeless pauper. And with regard to where we humans got this idea from about Hopkins, it was from none other than Hopkins himself - unsolicited in enumerating his recent preparation for Kovalev: “I’ve been watching this guy… I know everything about him. That's what I do with every opponent that I'm getting ready to fight. I want to know my enemy. I want to know how he thinks. I want to know how he sleeps. I want to know what he's uncomfortable with… I've been around so long I can read these guys without even them speaking their mind, I understand just by… how they fight how they think and what they're thinking about. Your reaction is how he reacts.”
Indeed we as fans wait with baited breath to see the chain reaction collision when supernatural meets Krusher in the battle of set for this Saturday, November 8th.
Written by Kylie Krabbe
Photos by Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions
November 6th 2014