Preview & Predictions: Hopkins/Eastman & Taylor/Eduoard

18.02.05 - By Paul Ruby - HBO has assembled an exciting middleweight card at the Staples Center in Los Angeles being broadcast live this Saturday evening as part of their “World Championship Boxing” series. In the main event, middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins takes on the man many feel is his toughest foe in the division today: Guyana-born, British-residing Howard Eastman. In the co-feature, 2000 Olympian and rising star Jermaine Taylor tackles “The Haitian Sensation,” Daniel Edouard.

Hopkins/Eastman: Depending on who you ask, Howard Eastman has anywhere between absolutely no chance of winning this fight and a very good chance of winning it. Though I’d prefer not to sound like a politician, I believe the real answer is that we really don’t know how good his chance is (though my gut reaction is that it’s about zero).

In his favor, Eastman has very good size and strength for a middleweight; he may be physically stronger than Hopkins. In any event, the physical differences between the two men are negligible. Eastman also possesses above-average power… we think.

The problem with assessing Eastman is his level of competition. During his career, Eastman has feasted largely on opponents who are very good domestic English fighters, but not quite world-class and certainly not world-title contenders. In his career, Eastman has fought two men that could be considered elite fighters – Sam Soliman and William Joppy. Still, when Eastman fought Soliman, Sam was in a stretch where he lost three of six fights and really lacked the skills and maturity he flashed in his most recent, widely-seen fight against Ray Joval.

Howard Eastman fought William Joppy on the undercard of Lewis-Rahman II; it was his only time fighting outside of Britain. It was a fight in which Joppy was clearly the more sophisticated fighter in the ring, although Eastman managed to improve during the course of the fight, scoring a flash knockdown in the final round. It was a close fight and, in retrospect, Eastman claimed to be “playing with Joppy.” Personally, I didn’t see the playing. The problem in that fight for Eastman was that he did not fight the level of competition of his opponent and consequently had a hard time elevating his game to the elite level required at the top of this sport.

Since that time, Joppy went back to England and continued fighting good – but positively unspectacular – opponents. Sure, he beat them all, but what does that prove? Honestly, I see him as having the same problem here that Junior Witter will encounter when he seeks to take on an elite junior welterweight. Like Eastman against Joppy, Witter was a little too green when faced with the biggest test of his career in Zab Judah. Both Eastman and Witter performed admirably in those fights, but went back to England and continued fighting non-world-class-caliber opponents. Finally, I think it noteworthy that Howard Eastman and his 29-0 record were chosen as the ‘bounce-back’ opponent by William Joppy and Don King after the brutal, back-country whuppin’ Joppy absorbed at the hands (or, more accurately, left hand) of Felix Trinidad six months earlier.

Basically, Eastman has a pretty record and has shown both skills and power. Still, he’s fought a pedestrian level of competition and had trouble the only time he ever stepped up. To be honest, I think there might be six or eight guys at middleweight who could be where Eastman is right now if they fought an identical list of opposition. Eastman went nine rounds with Hassine Cherifi – a guy who Trinidad and Felix Sturm summarily dismissed in seven rounds between the two of them. Eastman has managed to look great against domestic English fighters, but really has not beaten (or even fought) the intermediate-level of fighter he needs to in order to give him a realistic shot of being able to compete with Hopkins. In other words, Eastman took on Joppy, who was top-5 (maybe top-3) at the time they fought. Other than that, he has not faced guys ranked between there and – say – 20 or so like Ray Joval, Maselino Masoe, Felix Sturm, Robert Allen, or Carl Daniels.

You know, Bernard Hopkins’ level of competition gets knocked all the time, but you can at least say this – He always does what he’s been paid to do. Did Hopkins’ reflexes look their sharpest against Oscar de la Hoya? No. Did he win the fight? Yes. Did he get hit fairly hard by Felix Trinidad? Sure. Did he go down? Nope. Did he win the fight? Of course. Personally, I’m never going to be a Bernard Hopkins fan because I am not crazy about his personality and I really like wars in the ring and his style is not conducive to that. Nonetheless, I respect him as the most dominant champion in the sport today and – arguably – the pound-for-pound king. People will talk about his age, but Hopkins trains harder than his foes and lives a cleaner life. The bottom line is that – like him or not – Hopkins deserves a tremendous amount of respect for his skills in the ring and the work he puts in out of it.

In this fight, Hopkins is going to be his usual patient self. Bernard tucks his chin tighter than anyone in the business, fights with a tight guard, and stalks his opponent at a measured pace. Bernard likes to find the range of his jab before getting adventurous with hooks. Certainly, it is not the most exciting style in all of professional prizefighting, but it may be the most effective. Hopkins also throws a great overhand right following a feint; look back at the punch that knocked Robert Allen down to see a prime example. Bernard is also the most skilled fighter today in terms of bending the rules to suit him. Another problem with Eastman’s lack of competition is that he will never have faced anyone nearly as resourceful as Hopkins, and I believe that will be an issue. Eastman would be best served to try to box with Hopkins to see if he can spot any weakness in Hopkins Saturday night.

I doubt Eastman will find one. I really think this is going to be a fine show for the Executioner and Eastman’s prediction that he’ll knock ‘Nard out within 5 rounds will appear foolish within the first minute of the fight. If Hopkins wanted to, I think he could stop Eastman in 3 or 4 rounds. Unfortunately, he won’t take the kind of chances he’d need to take in order to make that happen. Thus…

Hopkins TKO 8 Eastman

Taylor/Edouard: Jermaine Taylor is by no means a perfect fighter and he is still learning the game of professional boxing, but he already possesses the skills and natural gifts to take him further than most in this sport. In assessing Taylor, many writers and commentators point to his weaknesses first. To me, this typically signals that he has some great strengths that people want to forget about. Taylor’s size and reach are atypical for a middleweight. He has broad shoulders and generally arrives in the ring at 170+ pounds. Jermaine has a great jab and works an effective 1-2 combination. Jermaine’s left hook is also above average. Taylor’s weaknesses include not being a terribly effective body puncher, penetrable defense (aided by a lack of head movement), and the fact that he is troubled by lapses in concentration. In my opinion, those are weaknesses that he is improving and also weaknesses that will not hurt him until he is faced with an elite technician. That technician was thought to be William Joppy who unfortunately disgraced himself by turning a 36 minute fight into a 16 minute fight and a 20 minute track meet. Thus, we’re still waiting to see Taylor in there with a live, elite-caliber opponent.

Daniel Edouard is not that opponent. Eduoard is best known his great battle with Willie Gibbs last year on an ESPN card. That was a special fight that was truly a battle for the ages. Other than that, though, Eduoard has proven himself to be a durable, but mediocre fighter. He fought to two draws with the modestly-skilled Dorian Beaupierre and was fighting four-rounders as recently as a year and a half ago. I would love to see him do well here, but his heart and chin are his best attributes. He will have no answer for Taylor’s jab and handspeed. If I were Eduoard, I would try to make this into a four round fight and try to drag Taylor into exchanges. Taylor has never really been pushed, so Eduoard needs to come out throwing a lot of punches to both the head and body in an attempt to engage Taylor and make this into a dog fight.

I sincerely doubt Eduoard will succeed in forcing Taylor out of his comfort-zone. Taylor well-trained and patient (perhaps even a little too patient at time), and it will be tough for Eduoard to make him want to fight. As I mentioned earlier, I think Taylor’s jab will be too much and Taylor will start putting a little more behind it when he notices Eduoard tiring. Eduoard’s defense is not the best and I’ve always felt he looked a little too muscle-bound to be in great shape, so I think this will happen within four rounds or so. Hence…

Jermain Taylor TKO 6 Daniel Eduoard.

Article posted on 18.02.2005

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