By John Lumpkin: How many of us have bet against Hopkins in the past? On paper, his upcoming fight with Joe Calzaghe seems daunting. Aging fighters often find it difficult to deal with speed and activity. Calzaghe has both in spades. Combine these with Calzaghe’s ability to create angles along with his underrated defensive maneuvers and it is hard to imagine anything other than a dominant decision win for Calzaghe. So what makes us doubt the seemingly inevitable?
Hopkins is not the ageless wonder so many portray him as. Quite the contrary as what makes Hopkins special is that he has accepted his age and adapted his style to accommodate his physical limitations. Long gone is the man that made starched Joe Lipsey or beat down Felix Trinidad. Hopkins does not have the energy to fight like that anymore.
The first round of any Hopkins fight begins before the first bell has rung. His first assault is verbal as he probes his opponents for weakness in character and plants whatever seeds of doubt he can. We have all seen him do this often enough where it now seems like a telegraphed punch, but then again, it is amazing how many telegraphed blows actually hit their mark. Truthfully, it would be a bit surprising if a seasoned professional like Joe Calzaghe succumbed to these tactics. However, how often has he had to face such an assault?
The early rounds in Hopkins fights of late can be slow and painful to watch. He is a master at making his opponents miss and controlling the distance. He does not punch in the conventional ways and tends to rely on leaping right that easily converts to a forearm or elbow accompanied by the impact of his body. In between, he will mix in some rough house tactics, infighting and an occasional stiff punch. It does not seem like it should be particularly effective, but the aim is not to win rounds. The goal is to disrupt the style of the opponent, take them out of their game plan, and wear them out mentally and physically. It is only when Hopkins senses the decline of his opponents will does he showcase his arsenal, albeit in spurts these days. He gambles that the early rounds will be close enough to split the judges’ cards and that his late rounds surge will be enough to win the decision.
The fight boils down to what Calzaghe does and in a very real sense, victory should be his if Calzaghe fights like Calzaghe. In the best case scenario for Calzaghe, the fight will remind us somewhat of Raheem-Morales or Toney-Holyfield. A stoppage is possible if he can land enough unanswered leather, but this seems unlikely. If Calzaghe gets caught in Hopkins’ trap, look for the fight to end in a less than satisfying decision with the loser seemingly having a claim to victory. Regardless of how this fight plays out, expect Calzaghe’s activity level to be the difference.
April 9, 2008