That damn Bernard Hopkins did it to me again! I have no one to blame but myself, well, and maybe Kelly Pavlik a little bit, right? I, more than any other boxing expert, know what Hopkins is capable of doing as I have been actually in the ring with this guy who first hand demonstrated his wide variety of wonderful boxing skills and other boxing attributes.
When I first came up with the idea of my IN RING DEMONSTRATIONS SEGMENT on IN THIS CORNER, Bernard Hopkins came to mind as the one who would be the most interesting because I have felt for the last eight years that he was the most skilled boxer/fighter in the world. He proved on Saturday night in his lopsided win over the previously unbeaten 26-year old Pavlik that, even at age 43, he still holds that lofty crown.
As I wrote in my column last week, I thought Bernard would have a shot at beating Kelly if he really committed in the fight, but I felt he probably would not do that as we have not seen Bernard really put out over 12 rounds since the Felix ‘Tito’ Trinidad fight and that was way back in 2001. Well, Bernard went back seven years on Saturday night on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Part of this was the due to the style and lack of performance on the part of Pavlik. In Hopkins’ last fight before Saturday, he lost a close decision in an uninspiring fight against unbeaten Super Middleweight and now Light Heavyweight Champion Joe Calzaghe of Wales. Bernard scored a first round flash knockdown, and kept it close by fighting sparingly and ugly. In the end, he lost, in my opinion, a close but clear decision to Calzaghe. Now, the style of Calzaghe made it much tougher for Bernard than most of his recent opponents as Calzaghe is a southpaw who throws as many punches as anybody in the sport. He is constantly moving forward and he makes his opponents really work. He is not an easy guy to break down his style, and nobody, not even Bernard, has really been able to do it thus far.
Pavlik on the other hand is much more one dimensional and therefore much easier for Hopkins to dissect. In fact, Hopkins should change his nickname from the Executioner to the Dissectioner. I know that is not a word, but it’s a boxing nickname so it does not really matter. Bernard breaks down and dissects his opponent better than anyone in boxing today or that we have seen since maybe a guy like Sugar Ray Leonard or Roberto Duran, the post Lightweight Duran. Hopkins has this tremendous ability to take away opponents main or best weapon. He also never puts himself in a position to take a hard punch let alone any combinations.
One of the things Bernard knew going into this fight was that Kelly primarily fights in straight lines and has to be set to punch. Trinidad was kind of the same, but at least Tito did have a left hook and right hand. Even though Kelly does throw nice combinations at times, it is usually when an opponent is against the ropes and already in some trouble from Kelly’s big-time power. Against Hopkins, Kelly could not even get set to throw his left jab, let alone think about landing a combination. It was not so much the hand speed of Bernard, but it was his quickness of hand and foot and his subtle movements that constantly kept Pavlik off guard and by the middle rounds had Kelly the same way Trinidad was against Bernard, totally bewildered, befuddled, and confused.
I saw a look of total disarray from Kelly several times during the fight. It was almost as if he, at a point, had given up on trying to beat Bernard, and he was just trying to figure out what this guy is doing and how do I get some skills like his. It was obvious Kelly had never, and I mean never, been in the ring with an opponent anything like Bernard Hopkins. It was like the USC football team against a high school team from Youngstown. I hear they play good high school football in some parts of Ohio, but there not Trojan-like!
This dissection of Pavlik was mostly about Bernard brilliance, however I do think we witnessed a totally flat Kelly. Part of this was due to the weight. He fights best at 160 lbs., even if he has to starve to get and remain there. He fought Jermain Taylor the first time at 159 and knocked him out; in their rematch he weighed in above 160 and went the distance. My former trainer, the late great Mac Goodman, once told me that suffering to make weight can make a fighter lean and mean, and fight like they’re mad and angry, just like a fighter who abstains from sex before fights, maybe there is something to this.
Kelly took this fight for the money, I think, but maybe he should have thought twice about it. He now has to regroup physically and mentally even though he still does possess the Middleweight Championship. The way he was totally dominated by a 43-year old may take some time to get over; fortunately, he did not take a real physical beating. Kelly should stay at middleweight for at least another year or two, period.
As for the dissectioner, Bernard Hopkins, you know I said back in the year 2001 that I felt he was a better pure fighter than Roy Jones, who had beaten him eight years earlier in their careers. Most everybody disagreed with me then, but I wonder if they do these days. What has made Bernard so good? Is it his well chronicled checkered background, those rough nearly five years in prison? Maybe it was all those legendary Philadelphia gym wars, maybe it was great training from his longtime former trainer Bouie Fisher, (by the way Nazim Richardson, his current trainer, who has been with Bernard a long time, also does a nice job). Maybe it is the fact that Bernard does not have bad habits and does not allow himself to get out of shape, he made 160 pounds for nearly all of his twenty year career and for all of his record twenty Middleweight Title defenses. Or, maybe, just maybe, a whole heck of a lot of Bernard’s brilliance in terms of his ability to fight so well for so long is also God-Given genetics, passed on from some other longtime ago physical specimen or specimens somewhere in the Hopkins’ family history.
It is also very important to point out how smart Bernard is, not only for hiding so much of his money in a mattress somewhere avoiding the Wall Street meltdown, but for knowing his body, his mind, and his sport. Bernard knows who and when to fight and fights a few times a year for big bucks and has not really taken any significant punishment his entire career. Did you hear me, no real punishment his entire career! Never stopped, knocked out, and only down a few times over twenty years. He is without question one of the best defensive fighters of all time, on a very short list. Combine that with a good punch, selection on punches to the head and body, excellent footwork, and among the best ring guile I have ever seen and you have a truly, all-time great fighter. Even if he fights Wladimir Klitschko, I refuse to pick against him anymore, it aint happening.
You know another winner in this whole thing is Joe Calzaghe, because if he does beat Roy Jones Jr. when they do battle next month, Joe can truly retire without worrying about having to fight Pavlik as he may have done to go out without any arguments. Now that he has beaten Hopkins and Bernard beat Kelly decisively and Jones beat Bernard, well if he beats Roy, I really feel Joe may hang them up and retire as an unbeaten fighter and World Champion, now that would be saying something.
We’ll preview Calzaghe vs Jones and I’ll have plenty more pugilistic stuff in the coming weeks. Remember boxing fans hand high and chin down.