• Steve Bunce

Hopkins and Kovalev ... What a mad fight

Steve Bunce August 5, 2014
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The summer is here and a crazy world title fight has been made for November between Bernard Hopkins, who turns 50 in January, and Sergey Kovalev, who has stopped or knocked out his last 14 opponents.

They both hold versions of the light-heavyweight world title and it is clear they both think the other one has made a big mistake by signing for the fight; it does look like a bold move by Hopkins as Kovalev is far more than just a fearsome puncher.

Kovalev, however, appears to be fully aware of what makes Hopkins such a freak athlete, an athlete capable of beating the very best for over 20 years and a boxer skilled at exposing upstarts inside the ring. Kovalev is talking about boxing and not going for a knock out and I believe him; I think that makes sense.

"I will box him and he will teach me how to be a great fighter," said Kovalev on Saturday after blasting Australian Blake Caparello in two rounds to retain his WBO light-heavyweight title - it was also the 22nd time that he has won inside the distance in 25 fights.

Hopkins, as expected, took an early lead in the mind-games' department on Saturday night when he talked about how relieved he was that Kovalev had won (it was a brutal mismatch, to be honest). He said: "I wanted him to win by a devastating knockout and he delivered - what a test it will be." He failed to mention who would have the 'test'. Kovalev by the way sent poor Caparello down three times in round two.

Kovalev ruined Nathan Cleverly last summer in Cardiff to win the WBO title and since then three men have tumbled to the canvas clutching their chins and their stomachs and all in pain; Kovalev is known as "Krusher" and that is what he does in style. Cleverly was stunned by the power last year and it looks like it still haunts him now as he tries to rebuild his career up a weight at cruiser.

It is possible that Hopkins has met men with Kovalev's power and he has certainly met better fighters during a career that started in 1988, when Kovalev was just a boy of five growing up in Chelyabinsk, Russia. However, in previous high-risk fights Hopkins was younger, his body faster and fresher and his legs far more solid; there has never been a problem with his chin and it remains made from ageless granite.

The problem with Kovalev is that he can box, he can adjust and he will not feel under any macho pressure to stop Hopkins. The Russian is capable of playing as patient a waiting game as Hopkins, who we need to remember has been bashing the daylights out of Father Time for about a decade.

Hopkins could easily win a stand-off fight, where tangling replaces ferocity and every single one of Krusher's trademark deep body shots is questioned by Hopkins. It will still be fantastic if the fight is bad, which is likely because of the way Hopkins nullifies dangerous men. It could also be an incredible scrap if Kovalev lands clean and Hopkins then has to stand and deliver. It is too easy to forget that when pushed into a corner Hopkins can be a dangerous man.

It looks like they will fight on November 6 at either the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn, New York, or the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Last Saturday less than 1,800 paid to watch Kovalev in Atlantic City, which is a mystery figure to me as I'm sure more would pay to see a fighter like Kovalev here in the UK.

There is, make no mistake, a bizarre reluctance in America with fighters from the old Eastern bloc and that is probably part of the Klitschko legacy: They have spent a decade making winning look too easy and far too often too predictable.

Hopkins had been looking at a fight with Canada's Adonis Stevenson, another world champion and feared banger, but opted, for a variety of reasons, to fight Kovalev - Kovalev is a better fighter than Stevenson, who struggled in his last fight and had a bit of his 'danger' rubbed away by a resistant Polish fighter called Andrzej Fonfara.

"I know Hopkins is a sneaky man," said Kovalev. "He is smart but I'm a fighter and I can get to him if I'm also smart. It is a big, big fight for me."

Hopkins will go away, retreat into a closed camp and start planning what would be one of his very best wins; it is not just a "big, big" fight for Kovalev. Hopkins has far more to lose and that is what makes it such a fantastic main event.

It isn't just a "big, big" fight for Sergey Kovalev - Bernard Hopkins has far more to lose © Getty Images
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Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.