Eastman's Head in the Noose for Executioner’s 20th Defence
By Andrew Mullinder (January 25, 2005) 
Photo © German Villasenor
The kind of mental and physical hardness needed to succeed as a professional boxer is not likely to be developed during the course of an easy life. Perhaps, given the opportunity to make his choices in life again, Bernard Hopkins would not have become involved in the habitual violence that characterised his adolescence. Certainly, a man with as formidable a personality as Hopkins would have probably succeeded whatever his background. But it could be sensibly argued that without the grim portents provided by the battery acid attacks, male rapes, and ice pick stabbings he witnessed as prisoner Y4145 at Gaterford State Penitentiary between 1984 and 1989, the fanatical discipline that has propelled Hopkins to his current standing as the outstanding Middleweight of his generation may not have developed.

It is this insatiable desire for success that drove Hopkins forward early in his career when times were so tough he and his wife had to sleep on the floor of a small apartment. It manifests itself in the obsessive preparation that has been focused through the erudite tutelage of Bouie Fischer to provide Hopkins with a command of boxing’s full range of techniques that is probably more comprehensive than all of his contemporaries. The same hunger is catalyst for Hopkins’ monastic devotion to the fitness training required to keep his 40 year old body in condition to maintain his pre-eminence among not only the Middleweight division, but the Ring Magazine’s respected pound for pound rankings.

Hopkins brings this intensity to every fight, whether it is to be against a superstar like Felix Trinidad or Oscar Dela Hoya, or a mandatory challenger like Morrade Hakkar or Carl Daniels, and it means no opponent will ever face a below par Bernard Hopkins. Certainly, Howard Eastman, from Battersea, England, can expect no complacency from Hopkins when he challenges for his WBC World Middleweight Title in Los Angeles on February 19th. Indeed, it is testament to Eastman’s own credentials and boxing ability that observers from both sides of the Atlantic feel that his challenge to Hopkins will be the Champion’s toughest test since his 2001 unification superfight with Felix Trinidad.

In many ways, Eastman can be viewed as a European mirror image of Hopkins. Like Hopkins, during his early career, Eastman toiled in the shadows without the support of a big name promoter to fast track him toward big money fights. Like Hopkins, there is something old fashioned about the boxing style and career of Eastman: rather than the easy route toward fights for lower level alphabet ‘world titles’ that is favoured by many present day English prospects, Eastman built his credentials through the more traditional route British, Commonwealth, and European titles. He has followed in the footsteps of Randolph Turpin, Terry Downs, and Alan Minter who gained their shots at World Titles through being the outstanding European Middleweight, rather than through the weight of a padded-out undefeated record.
But while it is Eastman’s style and his strengths as a boxer that will probably make him Hopkins’ toughest challenge since Trinidad, ironically, it may be also his style and strengths that point toward defeat for Eastman.

Eastman may not be the most dramatically concussive puncher, have the spectacular hand speed of Joe Calzaghe, or the thrilling attacking style of Ricky Hatton, but it would be difficult to identify a more complete boxer currently operating in Europe. While his knockout ratio of 83% might suggest single punch knockout power, Eastman, like Hopkins, tends to break down opponents with a systematic barrage of damagingly selective attacks rather than with single punches. Eastman is competent boxing off the back foot, using his well rounded boxing skills to outmanoeuvre opponents, but he appears more effective attacking off the front foot behind a solid jab or using his natural strength to demoralise opponents at close quarters.
These attributes are likely to provide Hopkins with a far more spirited argument than natural Welterweight, Oscar de la Hoya, the hopelessly overmatched Morrade Hakkar, or the fading Robert Allen and William Joppy.

Unless calamity strikes, Eastman’s teak tough body, granite chin, and underrated defensive skills should ensure that Hopkins will not win by knockout. Indeed, the challenger’s natural size, strength, and sound technique should mean that most rounds are closely contested. But despite Eastman’s not inconsiderable qualities, this writer can not help but feel that the Philadelphian Champion can do everything Eastman can do, but that little bit better.

Where Eastman is adept at in-fighting, Hopkins is a master: positioning his body where he can unload his own spiteful blows but an opponent can’t land cleanly with their own efforts, Hopkins uses a kind of human brail to identify his opponent’s weak spots and deliver his cruelly accurate, tight punches. While Eastman’s jab is sound, Hopkins’ is a flexible and cultured weapon which bewildered and ultimately destroyed Trinidad and provides the cornerstone of his boxing. Hopkins may not be the heavy right handed puncher of old, but he has sacrificed some of this power, rather than lost it. While Hopkins has retained enough power to floor Robert Allen and become the first to knock out De La Hoya in his last two fights, he has substituted some of his power for speed, flexibility and elusiveness. Furthermore, Hopkins deploys his weapons with a cerebral and metronomic efficiency that means the full extent of his strengths are brought to bear on opponents.

Styles make fights, or more to the point, clashes of styles make fights. In a recent interview for Doghouse Boxing, Larry Holmes was asked who gave him his toughest fight, to which Larry replied “Norton gave me the hardest fight. Also Carl Williams was hard because he fought just like me.” I would argue that any sane boxing fan must rank Ken Norton considerably above Carl Williams in terms of quality. Yet Holmes felt their two fights were at least comparable in terms of difficulty because Williams “…fought just like me.” For the same reasons, Howard Eastman should provide Hopkins with a tough night in Los Angeles next month. Unfortunately for Eastman, Holmes beat Carl Williams.
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