By Matthew Hurley: The accolades Bernard Hopkins
is now receiving for his master class performance against Kelly Pavlik
are all warranted. The wily old veteran proved most of us wrong yet again. In retrospect the stylistic match up should have evened up the odds a bit – Hopkins has always excelled against straight ahead bangers – but even we Monday morning quarterbacks are still scratching our heads in bewilderment at what this physical and fistic marvel is capable of inside the ring at forty-three years of age.
He’s a wizard, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Gandalf in an executioner’s mask. You think he’s finally dead and buried and then he sneaks back into the mix and disarms the latest young gun on the prairie. He’s a ring genius, an all time great who would fit in comfortably in any era. What more can be said?
And then there is the victim of that insane brilliance. In this most recent case it was a young kid from Youngstown, Ohio who had, and still has, all the makings of one of boxing’s new rising stars. As the aging elite of boxing have entered their twilight years fight fans have been looking for new burgeoning stars to take their place. Kelly Pavlik
represents everything a true boxing fan has been searching for – blue collar, hard punching, humble and willing to step in the ring with anyone. The kid had it all in the palm of his hand until he ran into a veteran who could expose all of the faults and fissures in this young lion’s game. And Hopkins himself dubbed Kelly a young lion whom he admired.
Pavlik and his camp, including Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, did not want the Hopkins fight. They knew it could turn into an ugly affair. Pavlik was surging, a cross over star in the making. They didn’t need or want a cagey tactician with a granite jaw and a propensity for making even the best fighters in the game look bad make this middleweight meal ticket stumble through a boring decision victory. They took the bout because Hopkins was a big name and there was no one else out there to fight. They also took it because they never truly believed that Hopkins, who looked so tired at the end of his bout with Joe Calzaghe, could possibly beat the twenty-six year old punching machine.
Very few did, and Hopkins loved it. He didn’t have to sell this fight with his penchant for controversial sound bites. It was all about whether or not the young stud would put the old horse out to pasture. Hopkins was fine with all of that. A more sedate Hopkins in the weeks leading up to the opening bell we have not seen.
And then he schooled the kid.
Despite Pavlik’s recent impressive string of victories it should be noted that he had only gone past nine rounds once and that was in his over-the-middleweight limit rematch with Jermain Taylor. In that fight Taylor employed a more tactical approach and Pavlik was unable to double up on the jab, a weapon he needs in order to cloak the right hand bomb behind it. He proved his grit and determination in the final rounds when he chose to switch his attack to the body. The decision victory and Kelly’s somewhat uninspired performance led some to believe that not only did Taylor create a blueprint for fighting Pavlik but that Kelly was slightly uncomfortable fighting above one hundred and sixty pounds. Hopkins obviously studied that fight very closely and Kelly would admit after the fight that he just couldn’t double up on the jab. It nullified his right hand and there is no fighter out there better at nullifying his opponent’s greatest strength than Bernard Hopkins
There was also the Trinidad factor. It’s generally accepted that Hopkins reached his peak, or his first of many peaks, against Felix Trinidad in 2001 when, as an underdog, he dominated the Puerto Rican icon, stopping him in the twelfth round. Pavlik is very much like Trinidad in his approach. Where Trinidad had the left hook Pavlik has the right hand but both men are straight ahead fighters who need to set their feet before they unload. Hopkins feasts on fighters with shaky footwork, never allowing them to position themselves to gain optimum leverage. In both the Trinidad and Pavlik fights Hopkins made these two power punchers appear completely lost as they meandered after a target that seemed to be right there in front of them but was nearly unhittable. As frustration mounted both men became sloppy and Hopkins began to unload at will until Tito, seven years ago, and the Ghost this past Saturday were reduced to rubble.