Kelly Pavlik versus Bernard Hopkins: The Price of Betrayal

By Michael Klimes: This article might as well be called, ‘How Boxing Loses’ as the sport’s fans, many of whom are loyal, perhaps too much so are again being made victims of a crime. In these scenarios it is best to be brutally eloquent as it is cathartic. How can the chief executives, emperors or czars at HBO, whatever one wants to call them, justify charging hardcore fans fifty dollars to watch Kelly Pavlik fight Bernard Hopkins?

Is this is not an example of people with considerable power abusing it? I say “Yes” and their abuse of power should be met with virulent abuse. Are you in the mood as I am to say “No!” to this betrayal? At times like these, I wish Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft or Lytton Strachey were boxing aficionados as they never suffered shams lightly and called them for what they were. Their modern descendent Christopher Hitchens does a damn good job of exorcising swindlers as well.

HBO’s spin machine is undoubtedly competent. It can regurgitate the most clichéd rhetoric while administering the shiniest polish. Inevitably fans will hear about Pavlik’s tremendous power, work ethic, humbleness and blue collar roots. You will also hear about Hopkins’s discipline, toughness, skill and ring intelligence. These are all true. Hopkins will also use his business savvy to let the world know what is happening. One of boxing’s most respected fighters is also one of the game’s smoothest talkers with an ability to generate controversy. His infamous “White Boy” comment to Joe Calzaghe in Las Vegas prior to the Mayweather-Hatton tussle was pure genius. So was his, “I am an old man but an old man who can fight.” No one has articulated the premise for fighters like Hopkins, Archie Moore and Mike McCallum better.

Fortunately none of Hopkins’s hubris, HBO’s advertising brilliance or Pavlik’s desire to prove he can beat anyone can make me buy this fight that eats at the grassroots of boxing supporters. I am sure Hollywood’s A-Team like Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino will turn up to cheer their men but these are at the top end of boxing’s fandom. They will pay because they can afford to. For the rest of us who find the cash wanting, HBO’s reply at its best is an indifferent shrug or at its worst is to appropriate a catchphrase from the wrestling legend Mick Foley, “Have a nice day”. Sadly, it’s “Have a nice day” with an expletive at the front. You don’t need any imagination to envision what that is. If HBO is trying to be funny, it is a sour attempt at humour.

I am sympathetic to many of the varying interests going into this bout. I can sympathize with Kelly Pavlik who wants to fight as often as he can because he needs to: Bills have to be paid; he is in his physical prime at twenty six years of age, is proud of what he does and loves being a champion. I can also empathize with Hopkins: He loves being the underdog, sunbathes in his own vanity, and has a fond attachment of earning huge paydays and authoring new chapters in the history books. I can also see why Bob Arum is making Pavlik fight Hopkins. There are few options out there in the middleweight division, Pavlik needs to keep developing and Arum has to enhance one of his most lucrative commodities by making him fight a big name. Furthermore, Pavlik is supposedly looking to settle north as he is finding it tougher to stay at the middleweight limit, why not test the waters now? However, it still perplexes me that Arum cannot or does not use his influence to make what could be a significant contest more fan friendly.

Now we go to the actual bout. By any standard, Hopkins is a remarkable boxer who has done and still seems to be able to do a lot in the ring. But at the age of forty three and the fact that he cannot go the full twelve rounds anymore or terminate the fight before then, he is presented with two dilemmas - His age and the adversary he faces. It is true that Hopkins still moves gracefully across the ring, has the best sneaky right hand and throws magnificent punches. He is as picture perfect and technically sound as any fighter can be. Even so, it is not a question of playing the part but being the part. If Freddie Roach, a coach who knows Hopkins and boxing better than anyone is voicing his concerns about this fight, shouldn’t he be noticed? Even more importantly, shouldn’t we be worried?

In Pavlik, Hopkins is taking on a wrecking ball. Jermaine Taylor demonstrated the explosiveness of Pavlik can be suffocated to a degree with lateral movement and angles but Hopkins does not have the stamina to overcome Pavlik’s physical and athletic advantages. Stamina is the one of the keys required to unlock Pavlik’s undefeated streak.

It is easy to put this showdown into context. Boxing has a record of newly established champions taking on the old ones which can unfold in tragic scenes. Sometimes the old champion prevails and defeats the young challenger seeking to steal the glory he possesses. Joe Calzaghe’s out pointing of Mikkel Kessler, Felix Trinidad’s stoppage of Fernando Vargas and Roberto Duran’s obliteration of Davey Moore are examples of this. Tragically it can go the other way as the cases of Rocky Marciano beating down Joe Louis, Mike Tyson vanquishing Larry Holmes and Muhammad Ali’s putrid effort against Trevor Berbick. In the upcoming fight between Kelly Pavlik and Bernard Hopkins I feel a resigned sadness. Hopkins has repeatedly beguiled the odds. He is a genius but the fault line between genius and madness is the only the short distance from success to failure. Courage is easily interchangeable with stupidity. Resilience can really be stubbornness. Toughness can disguise pride. Faith can blind critical thinking.

I do not think we are just being overcharged to see a passing of the mantle from one generation to the next. We are being invited to witness what could be a ruthless beating. Greed has triumphed over fairness.

Article posted on 09.08.2008

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