by David P. Greisman
When Bernard Hopkins was sentenced to hard time behind bars, Beibut Shumenov had not yet even been born. For the entirety of the 30 and a half years that Shumenov has been on this earth, Hopkins has either been incarcerated or in the ring.
Hopkins went from prison to professional prizefighting more than 25 years ago. He’s 49 years old now, at least a decade beyond the age at which boxers are typically resigned to retiring or consigned to fighting in crossroads bouts for short money against younger opponents whose reflexes are fresher and whose futures are brighter.
Hopkins vs. Shumenov was a unification bout between two world titleholders in the light heavyweight division. But to phrase it like that is to imply that there was some comparison in terms of accomplishment, capability and experience. There was no comparison. This was no even fight. This wasn’t a crossroads bout. This was a mismatch in favor of Hopkins, who put on another master class against an opponent who was often made to look as if he had no clue and no chance.
Forget what the record book says in describing the win as a split decision. The fact that one judge somehow had Shumenov slightly ahead after 12 rounds says far more about the judge than it does about the fight. The other two judges rightly had Hopkins the victor, scoring the bout 116-111, eight rounds to four with an additional point taken from Shumenov for the knockdown he suffered in the 11th round. Even that score makes it seem as if Shumenov had more success than he did.
The amount of success that Shumenov would have was dependent on Hopkins, on whether he would finally show his age in the ring, and on what Hopkins would do, and let Shumenov do, in the fight.
If that seems a harsh depiction of Shumenov’s talent, then look at it more as a description of the disparity between him and Hopkins. After all, Hopkins’ body is so well preserved that he had an advantage in speed over Shumenov, who at 30 could be considered to be in his prime years. And Hopkins’ skills and technique are so well honed that he can make his opponents feel hesitant and look foolish.
Shumenov represented Kazakhstan in the 2004 Olympics, which were held back when Hopkins was 39 and getting ready to face Oscar De La Hoya to unify every single major sanctioning body world title at middleweight. Shumenov lost in the second round of those games, turned pro in 2007, and fought for a world title in his ninth fight. He lost that bout to Gabriel Campillo by majority decision, then won a rematch by split decision in early 2010, though many who’ve watched believe that Campillo clearly deserved the victory.
Nevertheless, that began Shumenov’s title reign, which included just five title defenses in four years against lower-tier opposition. He was self-promoted, and the top names weren’t taking fights against him. Finally Shumenov, who had previously moved to the United States, was able to sign with powerful boxing adviser Al Haymon and one of the two leading promotional companies in the United States, Golden Boy Promotions.
They put Shumenov in a bout in December against Tamas Kovacs, with the understanding that a win would get Shumenov a fight with Hopkins. It was Shumenov’s first fight after a year a half away from the ring. He stopped Kovacs in three, and that landed him in the main event at the D.C. Armory in Washington, D.C., on Saturday night.
Both Shumenov and Hopkins were leaning their weight forward as the opening bell rang. Yet neither was eager to engage in the opening moments. Hopkins circled to his right, moving away with ease when Shumenov stepped forward with jabs. Shumenov sometimes stood firm in the center of the ring, not wanting to chase Hopkins around, attempting to make Hopkins come forward and hoping to counter him in the process.
Hopkins changed things up early in the second round. First came one of Hopkins’ trademark dirty tactics, as he leaned his head forward and dug it into Shumenov’s during a clinch. Soon afterward, Hopkins charged forward with a pair of jabs and a wild overhand right that missed the mark, yet may well have been intended to send a message that Shumenov should be careful. Still, it was Shumenov who was busier in those three minutes, and he led 20-18 on all three judges’ scorecards after two rounds.
As the third round neared its halfway point, Shumenov threw a right hand to the body and Hopkins turned, took the shot on the lower left side of his back, and moved toward the blue corner before turning around. Shumenov dropped his gloves for some reason to complain to the referee, and Hopkins circled to his right and then moved in with a looping right hand to Shumenov’s head.
Hopkins began to land isolated jabs and lead right hands. He began the fourth with a good right from a distance, and later tagged Shumenov with a short right hand counter from in close. Though Hopkins was usually only landing single shots, they served to demoralize Shumenov. Hopkins was making it hard for Shumenov to hit him, and he was showing Shumenov that Hopkins could hit him whenever desired.
If that wasn’t enough, toward the end of the fourth Hopkins stood against the ropes, dropped his gloves and stuck out his tongue.
Hopkins continued to land. Shumenov continued not to.
“I think that he was really surprised of the way I can stand there and let him miss,” Hopkins said afterward. “I didn’t use my legs up. I didn’t run. I didn’t jump in and out of danger. I stayed in the pocket. I had my better moments on the ropes. … I disarmed him from his right hand because I kept my shoulder up with the roll so that when he throws his right hand, it gives him the delusion that he can hit me, but it ricochets off my shoulder. Then I know he’s close, and I can touch him.”
And there was no one in Shumenov’s corner who could truly help him make adjustments. Shumenov trains himself, working with his team members in camp. And though he can consult with other experts while preparing for a fight, and while he heard from one or two of his corner men between rounds on Saturday, he fought without an experienced chief second among them.
As smart as Shumenov might be, as much as he might prefer to mull over what happened in the previous round by himself, a fighter still has tunnel vision and can benefit from a second set of eyes and a good guiding voice. Hopkins, one of the smartest boxers in the sport, still knows that he can and should count on his longtime trainer, Naazim Richardson.
Shumenov was getting hit with those counters and crosses. Even though he was throwing more punches than Hopkins, he wasn’t putting them together enough nor putting forth enough pressure to trouble Hopkins. Shumenov’s shots often missed their target, with Hopkins easily ducking and moving. Those that did land didn’t hurt him.
Hopkins was able to hurt Shumenov, though.
About a minute into the 11th round, Hopkins moved away from Shumenov and along the ropes before turning toward the ring again, moving to his right. Shumenov’s right glove was at his waist. His left glove was even lower. And Hopkins’ gloves were soon in his face.
Hopkins leaped in with a left hook that landed, followed by a right that missed. But Hopkins immediately reset and followed up with a jab that was short, perhaps intentionally so, blinding Shumenov as a hard right hand came and crashed against his cheek. Shumenov went down to his right knee, his right glove touching the canvas, before rising quickly and putting his glove to his nose to check for blood.
Hopkins landed several more punches, none enough to put Shumenov back in danger. Shumenov recovered and began to come forward, though he still couldn’t do much of anything to Hopkins. To underscore that, Hopkins stood in the red corner with 17 seconds left in the round, stuck out his red glove with the palm side up and waved his fingers, inviting Shumenov in.
Halfway through the final round, when Shumenov should’ve been going for the knockout, Hopkins dropped his gloves, ducked his head forward and spoke a few words to his opponent. Shumenov didn’t take advantage, nor could he have had he tried. Instead, Hopkins jumped forward with a left hook.
It was a mental beating more than a physical beating.
Hopkins landed about half of his punches on the night, according to CompuBox, which credited him with hitting Shumenov with 186 of 383 total punches, a connect rate of about 49 percent, and an average of about 16 punches landed per round for every 32 thrown.
Half of what Hopkins landed came in the form of jabs, 93 in total out of 201 thrown, a 46 percent connect rate, which is quite high. He was even better with his power shots, going 93 of 182, a 51 percent connect rate.
He didn’t throw power punches often — about 15 per round — but the eight or so that landed per round were more than enough to build up a lead on the scorecard and tear down any hopes Shumenov had of success.
Shumenov, meanwhile, threw more and landed less, going 124 of 608 in total on the night, a 20 percent connect rate, an average of about 10 punches landing per round for every 50 thrown. He was 57 of 276 with jabs, a 21 percent connect rate. And he was 67 of 332 with power shots, a 20 percent connect rate, an average of less than 6 landing per round for every 28 thrown.
Hopkins landed one out of every two punches. Shumenov landed one out of every five.
It was what we expected to happen, given the fighters involved. Shumenov was 14-1 going into the bout. Hopkins, in contrast, had 64 pro fights, about half of which had been for world titles and/or lineal championships. The number of title fights was more than twice the number of Shumenov’s total fights in his pro career.
It was also to be expected, given the storyline. Hopkins has said he wants to once again become the true light heavyweight champion, regaining the throne he held after beating Jean Pascal in 2011. Hopkins went on to lose to Chad Dawson in 2012. Dawson was stopped in one round by Adonis Stevenson last year. The talk had been that Hopkins and Stevenson could fight toward the end of the year, so long as Hopkins beat Shumenov and Stevenson defeats Andrzej Fonfara this May.
We continue to wonder when Hopkins will show his age in the ring — not with his experience, but rather at his expense. It was nearly nine years ago when Hopkins, then 40 years and 6 months of age, lost his middleweight championship to Jermain Taylor. The day before, boxing writer Jake Donovan had an article go online headlined “Still Waiting for Bernard Hopkins to Grow Old.”
Hopkins had gotten to the point that he no longer fought three minutes per round or 12 rounds per fight back in the Taylor days, and that approach helped Taylor take consecutive controversial decisions, as well as the middleweight championship. Hopkins then moved up to 175 and defeated Antonio Tarver for The Ring magazine’s championship in 2006.
He’s had big wins and a couple losses in the nearly eight years that have passed since. He’s had his share of boring and ugly fights, and he’s had some stellar performances. He lost to Joe Calzaghe and then embarrassed Kelly Pavlik. He schooled Pascal, then soon dropped a decision to Dawson.
He captured a title belt last year with a decision over Tavoris Cloud, defended it against Karo Murat, and has now unified it with Shumenov’s belt. He was a 49-year-old against a 30-year-old, yet his age never mattered. Shumenov couldn’t make Hopkins look old.
Sure, Hopkins was slipping — he slipped nearly everything that Shumenov threw.
The 10 Count will return soon.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]