Can Hopkins beat Pavlik?

Kelly PavlikBy Geoffrey Ciani: Boxing fans are in for a real treat when former middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins squares off against reigning champ Kelly Pavlik. In one corner, we have a 43 year old proven veteran whose tactical genius inside the ring has been in the lime light for the past fifteen years. In the other, we have a 26 year old rising star whose obscene power has left most of his foes sprawled out on the canvas. Making matters all the more interesting, this bout will take place at 170 pounds with no belts will be up for grabs—this one is all about pride and legacy.

The most obvious difference that jumps out is the vast difference in age between these two pugilists. This begs the question, can the ageless warrior find a way to win against his younger determined foe? Frankly, I am not so sure that he can.

In his last bout against Joe Calzaghe, Hopkins proved he is still an elite talent who is clearly amongst the pound-for-pound best in the sport. However, the ‘Modern Day Archie Moore’ showed more than a few kinks in his armor, and this may be reason for concern, especially since he is now slated to face one of the most tremendous young power punchers in boxing. Simply put, Hopkins showed clear signs of age in his last fight, and against a disciplined puncher like Pavlik, this can prove disastrous.

Against Calzaghe, Hopkins’ impeccable defensive skills were on full display, and his well timed counters often found their mark. He even managed to drop Calzaghe in the opening round with a perfectly timed counter punch that Joe never saw coming. His movement was still world class, and he remains fast and strong enough to cause problems for any pugilist south of the light heavyweight limit. There were, however, two problems for Hopkins that reared their ugly head in the Calzaghe bout—stamina and work rate.

Not only did Hopkins uncharacteristically fade down the stretch (when he usually begins turning things up), but his work output was abysmal. To be sure, in recent years, Hopkins has never relied on a high punch output to win fights, but against a relentless fighter like Calzaghe, it was much more noticeable than it had been in past contests. Many observers felt that Calzaghe won the fight on punch output alone, and on the surface, this appears to be the case, especially since Hopkins was unable to turn up the heat in the championship rounds, as he had previously done in every fight he had ever had, including losses against Roy Jones Junior and Jemain Taylor.

If the 36 year old Calzaghe was seemingly able to outwork and out hustle Hopkins, then what chance does he have against Pavlik, who is both younger and stronger? Well, perhaps he does not have much of a chance, but maybe he has a better chance than many realize. One of the things Calzaghe was very effective at was crowding Hopkins. Ordinarily, Hopkins likes to maul his opponents on the inside, but usually this happens on his own terms. Against Calzaghe, this was not the case. He was able to crowd Hopkins in such a way that Bernard was unable to find his comfort zone. In other words, he was not being given the type of space he is accustomed to having when he implements a successful fight plan.

Against guys like Antonio Tarver and Winky Wright, Hopkins was able to dictate the distance between himself and his opponent. With Calzaghe, this was simply not the case. Calzaghe disrupted Hopkins’ spacing, which made him fight harder and exert more energy than he is accustomed to using throughout the early and middle rounds of the contest, ergo, when Hopkins usually turns it up late in a fight, after his younger foes begin to tire, he was uncharacteristically left with nothing in the tank.

This might be the one thing Hopkins has going for him. Style-wise, Pavlik is certainly more ‘orthodox’ than Calzaghe. Pavlik uses the jab to set up his power shots, and he uses basic fundamentals to get the job done. In other words, Pavlik may be an easier puzzle for Hopkins to figure out than Calzaghe. If he can find a way to neutralize Pavlik’s jab, he should be able to keep things competitive and might even find a way to win. However, if Hopkins is unable to neutralize that jab, he is going to be in for a tough night, and perhaps even a painful one. For Pavlik has some grossly underrated skills, and he has more than enough power to stop anyone at this weight, even the iron-jawed Hopkins.

Incidentally, I actually thought Hopkins did just enough to win his fight with Calzaghe. I had it six rounds apiece, which means 114-113 in favor of Hopkins. I had no problem with the official verdict for the fight was extremely close and it could have gone either way—unlike Hopkins’ rematch with Taylor, which I thought he clearly won, despite unanimous dissent from the official judges. This all brings up another point worth noting: Hopkins has been on the short end of the stick the last three times he was in a close contest (and of those three losses, I pegged him as the winner in two of those three). This means that, in order for Hopkins to win, he is most likely going to need to win decisively, as he did against Winky and Tarver.

At the end of the day, I am not sure how this one will unfold, but I suspect Pavlik will reign victorious in a true passing-of-the-torch encounter. Whether he wins inside the distance, or whether he wins a decision, narrow or wide, remains to be seen. But I would be shocked if Hopkins somehow managed to win this one. Even if he does manage to nullify Pavlik’s jab, it is going to take a masterful effort for Hopkins to win. At 43 years old, I think the odds are stacked against him. Then again, I thought the odds were stacked against him when he decided to face Tarver, so only time will tell.

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Article posted on 23.09.2008

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