It would be easy to write that Sergey Kovalev’s dominating victory over Bernard Hopkins was perpetuated by Hopkins suddenly getting old during the fight.
Easy, but not exactly accurate.
First off, Hopkins IS old.
He's two months shy of his fiftieth birthday, but what Kovalev did last Saturday night in Atlantic City, NJ, was something no other fighter in recent memory had been able to accomplish.
He made Hopkins fight like an old man.
Hopkins has engaged in 11 fights since 2008, winning nine. He boxed the ears off Kelly Pavlik, avenged a loss to Roy Jones, and took Jean Pascal’s IBF and WBC light heavyweight titles in the latter’s hometown. He won his last fight against Beibut Shumenov with relative ease.
Against Kovalev, it was apparent in the opening stanza that Hopkins was facing something he wasn’t used to.
Kovalev attacked, and when his blows landed, they made a thudding sound. Hopkins moved side-to-side but not in a comfortable way. He tried to surprise Kovalev with a move that had worked often in his long career. He bounced off the ropes and threw a counter left hook, hoping to catch the WBO champion off balance.
Kovalev was ready. He timed Hopkins move perfectly. He let fly with a right hand that caught Hopkins near the top of his head and put him down. The soon-to-be hall of famer got up, but the die had been cast.
It was only the fifth time that Hopkins has been floored in his 26-year career.
“I was trying to turn things around, until the end,” Hopkins said at the post-fight news conference. “Even in the last round until the bell rang…I couldn’t overpower him. I felt like a middleweight in there against a cruiserweight. I simply couldn’t engage. Tonight, Kovalev was the better man.”
The conventional wisdom before the match was that Hopkins, though 18 years older than Kovalev, would be the faster fighter. Not so. Kovalev moved easily. He cut off the ring. His jab kept Hopkins from finding any kind of rhythm.
"When he got hit with some of my shots he would step back,” said Hopkins. “But he used his reach and his distance and that was the key to his victory. He has very good mechanics and patience. It was smart that he stayed patient. He had a really good game plan. I will give him that.”
Kovalev, of Russia, brought an extra motivation into the fight. Three weeks ago, his wife Natalia gave birth to the couple’s first child, Aleksandr. Kovalev was ecstatic when he heard the news, but he didn’t break camp. The fight with Hopkins was the most important of his career. He went back to work and remained focused on the task at hand.
The result was the best performance of his career.
“He was a really tough opponent," said Kovalev of Hopkins. "He is very good at keeping distance. I really respect him for the fight but he needs to stop his career, I think, because he's already done a lot in the boxing world and he needs to give an opportunity to younger fighters to be champions. I'm next.”
Before Kovalev and Hopkins met, Sadam Ali stepped into the squared circle to face the heavily-favored Luis Carlos Abregu.
At 26, nobody said Ali was old.
What they were saying was that Ali didn’t have the power or experience to stand up to the heavy-handed Abregu, who had iced 29 of his 36 previous opponents.
Ali easily got off to a fast start. Abregu chased after him, but was unable to land anything of significance.
The crowd didn’t like it, but Ali was determined to fight his fight. That changed in round five when Abregu landed a hard blow to the body. Ali started to engage more in round six. A sharp right hand in round six dropped Abregu. The highly-ranked Abrego pulled himself up, but was legs were like Jello.
Ali circled and darted inside with crisp punches. He wobbled Abrego again, and finished matters in round nine. A left hook--followed by a right, sent Abregu to the canvas. A few seconds later, after Abregu ate some more head blows, the referee waved the fight off.
Ali’s corner went bananas. They hugged their fighter. They had taken a calculated risk when they accepted the Abregu fight. They were sure their man would win.