Don’t count Hopkins out against Calzaghe!

bernard hopkins05.11.07 - By Geoffrey Ciani: Joe Calzaghe looked absolutely brilliant in his victorious performance against Mikkel Kessler. In what was undoubtedly the most historically significant bout in super middleweight boxing history, Calzaghe dominated Kessler en route to a one-sided unanimous decision victory. In the process, Calzaghe showed tremendous heart and also proved a sturdy chin as he repeatedly shrugged off solid shots from Kessler while continuously applying non-stop pressure in vintage-Calzaghe fashion.

Before the bout, in an article entitled Why Calzaghe will prevail, I accurately predicted that the big difference in the fight would be Calzaghe’s high punch output. In the end, this proved true: Kessler was unable to cope with the tremendous punch volume unleashed by Calzaghe. According to Compubox numbers Calzaghe threw over 1,000 punches in the bout—a staggering number by any standard. Calzaghe is truly one of the most relentless fighters the sport has seen in recent years.

Even still, I am utterly baffled by the number of fans who believe it is a foregone conclusion that Calzaghe would undoubtedly win a potential match-up against Bernard Hopkins. Given the fact that neither fighter has many plausible options at this stage in his career, coupled with the expressed desire from both fighters to face each other, it seemed as though this contest could become a reality. Now, along with Calzaghe’s recent career-defining victory, which has gained him some long overdue recognition in the United States, all the pieces seem in place bring this match-up to fruition.

That fact that so many fans believe Calzaghe will beat Hopkins is one thing; that so many believe he will beat him easily is quite another. Incidentally, those holding the view that Calzaghe would definitely beat Hopkins are citing the very same reasons as those I stated in my pre-fight analysis stating why Calzaghe would beat Kessler—work rate! The big problem with this hypothesis is that it erroneously assumes Hopkins and Kessler share a similar style with similar weaknesses when nothing could be further from the truth.

Apparently, those who are convinced Calzaghe will win (and win easily) adhere to the following logic:

* Bernard Hopkins is an old man who can no longer deal with a high punch volume.
* He lost two times against Jermain Taylor because he was outworked.
* Calzaghe is much better than Taylor and possesses an even greater punch output.
* Ergo, Calzaghe will destroy Hopkins!

To be sure, Calzaghe’s ability to throw punches in bunches borders on the obscene. Joe is a very smart fighter who will not make the mistake of loading up on his punches against Hopkins. Instead, he will simply try to pile on points by hitting Hopkins anywhere and everywhere he can, including the shoulders, the forearms, the gloves, etc. However, I do not believe that Calzaghe can simply out hustle Hopkins the way he did Kessler. Lest we forget, Hopkins is one of the most versatile pugilists the sport has ever seen, and his ability to adapt and make adjustments is unrivaled.

While it is true that Calzaghe is one of the most offensively gifted fighters today, it is equally true that Hopkins is one of the most gifted defensive tacticians. Regardless, there are still many who question the abilities of the 43 year old defensive counter puncher, most of whom question whether or not Hopkins packs a big enough punch to throw Calzaghe off his game. After all, Hopkins has never been known for tremendous power.

Despite this lack of one punch knockout power, Hopkins has proven an effective puncher who picks his shots wisely, often inflicting an accumulative effect upon his opponents. He also proved to wallop a big enough punch to catch Antonio Tarver off balance and drop him. Calzaghe has very poor balance, and his offensive-minded nature often leaves him in undesirable positions. I can envision a scenario wherein Hopkins uses Calzaghe’s high work rate against him, keeping him constantly befuddled and off balance—a scenario seemingly ignored by those who believe a Calzaghe victory is a foregone conclusion.

Those who make the Taylor comparison and claim that since Hopkins ‘could not cope’ with Taylor’s activity rate means he will not be able to cope with Calzaghe’s are making a huge error in judgment. Taylor and Calzaghe fight nothing alike, much in the same way Kessler and Hopkins fight nothing alike. Simply put, styles make fights. The things that made Taylor successful against Hopkins probably had more to do with punching power than work rate. It is also worth noting that Bernard’s two losses against Taylor were controversial (I had him losing the first fight and winning the rematch) and that at this stage, Hopkins was beginning to have trouble making the 160 pound limit—a point duly noted by Manny Steward during the Hopkins-Tarver broadcast.

Aside from that, this misconception that Hopkins just chugs along throwing six punches per round is nothing more than an oft-repeated myth. According to Compubox numbers, Hopkins threw 640 punches in his last match against Winky Wright, and while that number may fall way short of the 1,000-plus punches Calzaghe threw against Kessler, it is more than adequate enough to remain competitive and afford him a chance at victory. Not only does Hopkins’s defensive prowess give him the ability to slow Calzaghe down, but he also possesses the accurateness to land the more telling blows.

Another point worth noting is that Hopkins is often known for winning the mental battle weeks before the actual fight takes place. It is possible he may be able to impose his will on Calzaghe before the two even enter the ring. Once in the ring, Hopkins is has a knack for beating opponents down mentally and physically. To be fair, Calzaghe is a mentally tough fighter, too, and he was able to impose his will on Kessler who seemed like a beaten man throughout the second half of the contest. Winning a battle of wills against Kessler was impressive, but it hardly means he can do the same with Hopkins.

It also seems to me as if Hopkins is the hungrier fighter of the two. While this may seem shocking to some at first glance, consider the fact that Calzaghe has seem preoccupied with retirement for some time. It almost seems as if he is going through the motions with his sights set on hanging up the gloves. Such an attitude will not bode well for him against Hopkins—especially if Calzaghe presupposes a fight against Hopkins will be a walk in the park the same way so many others in the boxing community seem to believe.

I am not saying that I do not believe Calzaghe would have a chance against Hopkins. On the contrary, I believe Calzaghe is an outstanding fighter who has an excellent chance at winning a potential bout with Hopkins. What I am saying is that I cannot believe how many members of the boxing community are ready to write off an elite fighter like Bernard Hopkins against anyone south of the cruiserweight division. After all, let us remember, Hopkins holds several key victories against elite, pound-for-pound competition, including his last two fights against Tarver and Winky—to date, Calzaghe still does not hold such a significant victory on his ledger.

Regardless of who would win, I sincerely hope this bout comes to fruition sometime in the coming months. Also, since both men have such impeccable stamina, it would be great if this could somehow come off as a fifteen rounder. The rumored prospects of this contest taking place at Yankees Stadium is rather appealing, especially consider the fact that The House that Ruth Built will no longer be home to the New York Yankees after the 2008 season. Considering its rich history, it would be fitting to have one final mega-bout at that location.

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Article posted on 06.11.2007

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