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18 JUNE 2018


Hopkins Never Ending Story Lingers On

Pavlik vs. Hopkins:
Pavlik vs. Hopkins:

By Matthew Hurley

“Kelly got the championship the right way. He earned it. I became a fan because of that.” So said Bernard Hopkins in regards to his October 18 opponent, WBC/WBO middleweight world champion Kelly Pavlik.

The two will meet at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City at a catch weight of 170 pounds, the second time Pavlik has had to step up in weight since winning the crown from Jermain Taylor in September of 2007. (A rematch clause in the contract for the Taylor fight stipulated that the return bout would be fought at 165 pounds. Kelly won a unanimous decision.)

After one defense against over-matched challenger Gary Lockett the Youngstown native has again found himself in the awkward position of putting his beloved belts on the shelf when no viable opponent could be found. The one fight at middleweight everyone wants to see would be against IBF champion Arthur Abraham. Abraham, who took out Edison Miranda in the fourth round of their rematch, was immediately scheduled to fight mandatory challenger Raul Marquez on October 4th. With Abraham unavailable Pavlik, in his stoic manner, lobbied for a fight with super middleweight and light heavyweight champion Joe Calzaghe who squeaked by Hopkins in April. Calzaghe opted for a fight with Roy Jones and then injured his brittle right hand during training, postponing the bout. With nary an option Hopkins, convinced that he deserved the decision over Calzaghe (and many in the media agreed), stepped into the breach and suddenly boxing fans are faced with another go-round with the forty-three year old Philadelphia fighter.

When the matchup was announced even Pavlik was caught somewhat by surprise. It wasn’t the fight he wanted or in any way anticipated. But once it was signed he warmed to the idea. It’s an opportunity to put a legendary name on his ledger, no matter how old that legend may be.

“He’s the biggest name (still) out there,” Pavlik said at the promotional kickoff press conference in New York. “It’ll be a pleasure for me to be in the ring with him. Never in my life did I think I’d be fighting Hopkins.”

Hopkins deserves all the accolades that should be afforded a first ballot hall of fame fighter but there is also plenty to criticize about this aging version of the ‘Executioner’. Put simply, his fights, as of late, are boring. Hopkins’ bouts have become tedious affairs because of both his technical proficiency and his understanding that he can no longer fight three minutes of every round. That necessitates a lot of backing up, clinching and picking his shots judiciously, not to mention a well placed foul or two. Of course Hopkins views his style as professorial but after thirty-six rounds of studious non-aggression against Antonio Tarver, Winky Wright and Calzaghe many fans were hoping that B-Hop would call it a career. Ok, he did knock Tarver and Calzaghe down but those were mere ripples in a very calm pond.

His shtick is also getting a bit tiresome. His motor mouth will still be among his best weapons even when his legs finally give out, but we’ve heard it all before. He’ll promise destruction – he says this bout will be a “bloodbath” – and yet when has he delivered that kind of fight? His last knockout came against undersized Oscar De La Hoya in 2004. His signature victory over Felix Trinidad was way back in 2001. He deserves all the credit in the world for his longevity but by lingering on the boxing scene he has become something of an annoyance to boxing fans outside of his diehard believers.

And then there are the pre-fight histrionics. He has become one of those athletes who revert to speaking in the third person whenever talking about his “greatness” as if not only should we be in awe of him but that he is equally in awe of himself. In Hopkins defense it is that very self-confidence and self-belief along with his Spartan-like self-discipline both in and out of the ring that has allowed him to trudge forward at forty-three years of age and take on elite fighters like the aforementioned Tarver, Wright and Calzaghe regardless of how tepid the end result may have been.

fists forward:
fists forward:
Now he’s taking on one of boxing’s budding superstars; a guy who hits like a mule, is probably close to peaking and knows only how to move forward. Six or seven years ago it is conceivable that Hopkins would have picked Kelly Pavlik apart. Now there is the foreboding sense, once again, that Hopkins talent for negating his opponent’s main strength, in this case Kelly’s powerful right hand will turn this fight into a dull affair. It is smart tactics that have kept him afloat, and you would be hard pressed to name a smarter fighter than Hopkins in the last ten years, but it also inevitably leads to dreadful bouts. Couple that with Bernard’s diminishing offensive output and what you’re left with in Pavlik - Hopkins is a name brand dud.

In previous fights Hopkins was able to generate interest and controversy with his pre-fight tirades. Against Calzaghe he uttered the now infamous, “I’ll never lose to a white boy” which galvanized reporters to take him to task for the comment. It was a stupid remark but in its own twisted way helped hype the fight and Hopkins knew it would before the words left his mouth. Against Felix Trinidad he tossed the Puerto Rican flag to the ground incurring the wrath of Trinidad loyalists and the fighter himself, which again was his plan all along. He got in Trinidad’s head and beat him psychologically before the opening bell even rang. He shoved Winky Wright at a press conference, infuriating the usually unflappable southpaw and then he mocked Antonio Tarver’s appearance as heavyweight Mason Dixon in the movie Rocky Balboa.

As for Pavlik? Well, he likes him. There won’t be many verbal fireworks in the build up to this fight, one that no one expected and no one really wanted. Although Bernard did offer this quip in reference to Pavlik’s nickname, “I’m a fan (of his) but I never been afraid of ghosts.”

In the end Hopkins is in a no-lose situation. He got this fight by default and his recent history dictates that he can probably keep it close, albeit in an unappealing way. That doesn’t bode well for pay-per-view buys. But like anyone with years of experience under his belt Hopkins feels a sense of entitlement and he couldn’t care less what critics say about him as he prolongs the twilight of his career. He’s earned that right but the fans he keeps trying to sell his never ending show to are quickly turning their backs on him. Eventually, should he continue fighting, no one will pay any attention to him at all – until that day when he enters the hall of fame. On that day everyone will cheer.

August 7, 2008

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