In only a few hours, fight fans around the world will get a chance to see potential history as the legendary Bernard Hopkins (55-6-2, 32KOs) takes on the very dangerous Sergey Kovalev (25-0, 23KOs). Few in the sport have stepped up to take such a challenge. Weeks away from age 50, one warrior took the bout without flinching. For Kovalev, a resume short on credibility has led to many questions. Most which will be answered by the final bell. As we prepare for this showdown, we’ll take a look at “Keys to Victory”, “Four to Explore”, and an “Official Prediction”:
BERNARD HOPKINS – KEYS TO VICTORY
For Hopkins, this is a very dangerous fight. Rarely has ever been hit flush, but it’s even more rare to see him hit often. Kovalev has been trained to attack without fear. Hopkins wasn’t able to get in his head with pre-fight antics, but fans can expect that to change in the ring. Hopkins is known for setting traps and frustrating an opponent early with clinches and a cunning defense. He will need to bait Kovalev and get him to open up, taking that opportunity to countershot with precision punches, mainly his patented lead right hand. This will make Kovalev hesitant to fire. If Hopkins can frustrate Kovalev early, the entire dynamics of the fight changes, and Hopkins can cruise to victory.
SERGEY KOVALEV – KEYS TO VICTORY
For Kovalev, this could be the most difficult fight he’s ever had, or perhaps one of the easier. There’s no question he has the power to hurt Hopkins, but how he applies that power will dictate his shot at victory tonight. Kovalev will have to be a very patient puncher, knowing in advance that this is someone he won’t be able to hit as often as he did past opponents. This entire bout for Kovalev is mental. He will need to He will need to cut the ring off, set up his punches, and condition his mind (and hopefully his body) to go the distance. Kovalev will need to show Hopkins early that he has no fear. Body work will be paramount, and if he starts there, he can end it all quicker than most think.
FOUR TO EXPLORE (CRITICAL QUESTIONS TO WATCH)
The “Rose” or The “Thorn”?: Kovalev has been one of the most feared punchers the sport has seen during his rise, but each of his victims fall well short of the legendary greatness of Hopkins. For power punchers, dominance comes often and early, but the bright lights and a world stage have a way of changing that. This reality prompts the question: is Kovalev the “rose” or the “thorn”? Roses look great to the naked eye and are highly coveted, yet they tend to wilt under intense heat and pressure, never to be the same in the aftermath. Thorns are sharp and on point in all conditions. Tonight, when the lights shine bright and the pressure is on, will Kovalev be the “rose”? Or can he be the “thorn”?
“If the Gloves Fit, Will Fans Acquit”?: Trainer Naazim Richardson has a penchant for spoiling the moment before the ‘moment’. In the cases of Felix Trinidad and Antonio Margarito, both found themselves very frustrated before they even left their respective locker rooms when handwrap techniques were questionable and found to be “abnormal” under his watchful eye. No one in the past has questioned Kovalev, but one wrong move by hand-wrappers can change this quickly. If Kovalev is successful in his bid to drop and permanently stop Hopkins, which will follow: Questions or Respect?
“The 8th Wonder”: Kelly Pavlik was a very heavy-handed puncher who’s power was both a curse and a blessing. A blessing in the sense that it allowed him to knock out nearly everyone he faced, pre-Bernard Hopkins; a curse in the sense that no one was able to take him beyond 9 rounds until Bernard Hopkins. Many power punchers enter the ring with that one bullet in the chamber, falling short when that bullet fails to hit the target. Kovalev has never gone beyond 8 rounds and has barely been tested beyond 5, with all of his victims choosing to finish on their feet rather than on their shields. How does he respond if the clock strikes “12” (rounds)?
“History Hit or History Missed”?: When the headlines go to print tomorrow morning, there’s a strong chance the word “history” will be attached. When we examine that word closer, we realize that it could lead us down two vastly different paths. Bernard Hopkins could continue his historical run by dominating the most dangerous opponent in his division who’s nearly half his age; or Bernard Hopkins could see his historical run ended by more history, marking the first time that he loses via TKO stoppage. Either way it goes, it’s safe to say that we’re on the cusp of something major. What will it be?
OFFICIAL PREDICTION – (UPSET BAROMETER: RANGE 1 – 5)
Early on, expect Kovalev to press the action, while Hopkins attempts to capitalize on subtle mistakes and make him pay, reminding him that he’s now fighting on a different level. Hopkins will have his way early, and actually find himself in a comfortable lead mid way through the fight. Unfortunately for him, this fortune will change late. Like other legends of the past, Hopkins will be faced with a career defining moment on a very big stage with the world watching closely.
With a comfortable lead on the cards and a young, desperate power puncher driven by his corner to empty his clip and go out on his shield, Hopkins will have to engage in an epic gun-fight to secure this victory down the stretch. One unlike any we’ve ever seen him in before. A timely knockdown could make the cards interesting, but the ring IQ of Hopkins which will allow him to build an early lead will save the day late. This will go down as Hopkins’ most gutsy performance to date, and will earn him a level of credibility naysayers have previously opted to withhold. Epic night, epic fight!
BERNARD HOPKINS via SPLIT DECISION (UPSET BAROMETER PEAKS AT 4 of 5 – AS KOVALEV HAS A PUNCHERS CHANCE)
(Vivek “Vito” Wallace can be heard every Tuesday night on “Left-Hook Lounge Radio”. He can be reached at Twitter (@vivekwallace747), Instagram (ViveksView), and Facebook).