Why Hopkins will beat Calzaghe

By Geoffrey Ciani: The highly anticipated showdown between Bernard Hopkins and Joe Calzaghe is finally upon us. Saturday night boxing fans will have an opportunity to see two of the best fighters in a generation square off in what will likely become a tactical chess match of technical genius. For the better part of the past twelve years, Hopkins and Calzaghe have respectively ruled the middleweight and super middleweight divisions. In an ironic twist, the two will finally do battle at light heavyweight in a battle of legacies..

Who will win?

On the surface, Calzaghe appears to have most of the advantages. For starters, he is 36 years old, a full seven years younger than Hopkins, and at age 43, conventional wisdom suggests Hopkins is an ancient relic well past his expiration date. In addition, Calzaghe is the faster fighter with better reflexes, who also appears to have greater stamina, given his obscene work rate where he often throws in excess of 1,000 punches during a single contest. This combined with the fact Calzaghe is more apt to throw a lot of combinations and lightning-fast flurries, has lead many observers to speculate that this should be an easy night for the Welsh fighter. After all, if Jermain Taylor could secure two victories against Hopkins on “work rate alone”, surely, things will be even easier for Calzaghe.

Scratching beneath the surface, however, Hopkins has a lot more advantages going into this bout than many seem to realize. Aside from obvious advantages like quality of opposition and big fight experience, Hopkins has a slew of other benefits that should work in his favor. Most of these are of the intangible mental variety, but in a battle of elites, the smarter, craftier fighter often prevails, and I fully expect this to be the case come Saturday.

One of the more obvious advantages Hopkins holds going into the bout is defensive prowess. This is not to say that Calzaghe is one who neglects defense, nor does it suggest that his defensive skills are sub-par. The fact remains, however, that Hopkins is a much better counter-puncher, he is much better at dodging, blocking, and deflecting punches, and he is much better at setting traps which enable him to land flush shots against unsuspecting foes. That Calzaghe’s success is largely predicated on his ability to mount a successful attack plays right into Hopkins’ hands. Nobody in boxing is better than Bernard when it comes to neutralizing high punch volume, putting Calzaghe at an inherent disadvantage right from the onset.

Many observers point to the Taylor fight as “proof” that Hopkins will succumb to Calzaghe’s relentless pressure, but such arguments are predicated on several false presuppositions. For starters, Calzaghe and Taylor fight nothing alike. Taylor is a tall fighter who utilizes his size and commits to his punches. The same cannot be said of Calzaghe, who prefers an in-and-out style that is more reliant on volume than power. Then there is the fact that in both Taylor fights, Hopkins dominated over the final six rounds, despite finding himself on the wrong side of two controversial decisions (particularly the rematch).

Furthermore, this line of reasoning undermines the fact that Hopkins was having difficulty fighting at the middleweight limit of 160 pounds when he faced Taylor. As Manny Steward duly noted during the Hopkins-Tarver bout, Hopkins looked much more comfortable fighting at 175 pounds where he was no longer starving himself to make weight. Many enthusiasts seem to be under the false impression that since Calzaghe spent most of his career fighting at a higher weight class that he is the naturally bigger fighter. This is a superficial argument which neglects the fact Hopkins has experience in this weight class, whereas Calzaghe does not. In reality, Hopkins probably should have made the jump to 175 years ago.

Another intangible working in Hopkins’ favor is his uncanny ability to bend the rules in his favor. Many fans might refer to this as ‘cheating’ which is a grave injustice to the art form Hopkins has perfected throughout his long and illustrious career. Cheating happens when one fighter blatantly breaks the rules and gets caught, and this is hardly indicative of what Hopkins does when twisting the rules. Hopkins is always on the sly when bending things in his favor. There is never anything ‘blatant’ about it, yet, some how or another, Hopkins has mastered the art of properly positioning himself in such a way that whenever a clash of heads occurs, he is rarely the one who takes the brunt of it. Likewise, he always seems to be just out of the ref’s plane of vision whenever his punches wander low or his elbows journey high. Even though such antics are clearly against the rules, this does not preclude Hopkins from using them to his advantage.

Many members of the boxing community tend to frown upon the roughhouse tactics employed by Hopkins, but few would argue against their effectiveness. For Hopkins, one of the keys to success is winning the mental war, wherein, he first wears his opponent down mentally before beating him down physically. This requires a certain swagger that cannot be taught at training camp, it is something you either have or you do not. Hopkins has it, and it has helped enable him to win many a mental battle long before the opening bell. One of the keys to winning the psychological edge is throwing an opponent off his game plan, and nobody does this quite like Hopkins as evidenced in his most recent outing against Ronald “Winky” Wright.

Yet another thing working in Hopkins’ favor is his versatility and ability to make changes. Few fighters are capable of mixing things up quite like Hopkins. He can fight well both from the outside and in at close quarters, as an aggressor or a counter-puncher, as a brawler or tactician, and both within and outside the rules. This variety gives Hopkins several means by which to confuse and bamboozle opponents, and also enables him to adapt and make adjustments throughout the entire duration of any given contest. Calzaghe is also known for adaptability, but he rarely needs to rely on a plan B, let alone plans C, D, and E. Hopkins is known to switch things up at the snap of a finger, often leaving foes in a dismayed and flustered state of mind.

I suspect we will see a tactical match-up with each fighter feeling the other out during the early going. These are two highly intelligent pugilists who have been in the game long enough to understand the stakes in a marquee match such as this. In all likelihood, the fighter who is able to make the best adjustments will reign triumphant, and I believe Hopkins has too many tricks up his sleeve for Calzaghe to handle. The cagey veteran knows how to fight and he knows how important the psychological battle is for this forthcoming mega bout, and I fully expect that his crafty style to be on display come Saturday.

On the other hand, Joe Calzaghe is certainly no push-over. He is an established champion who has never been beaten, and he certainly has a chance in this one. If Calzaghe is able to outmaneuver Hopkins in the battle of adjustments and if he is able to mix his angles up just enough without becoming predictable, he certainly has the tools to muster up a points victory, and make no mistake, if Joe does do enough to prevail, it has nothing to do with Hopkins’ age and everything to do with Calzaghe being the better man.

That said, I am extremely hard-pressed to envision a scenario where Calzaghe wins the all-important battle of adjustments. On the contrary, after a cautious start from both fighters, I suspect Hopkins will grow stronger as the fight goes on, with Calzaghe becoming more and more weary as he grows ever more reluctant to engage the ageless warrior. Calzaghe will certainly have his moments, but in the end, he is going to lose to the better fighter, and there is no shame in that. Hopkins wins on points.

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Article posted on 17.04.2008

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