by Cliff Rold
Unification made a nice narrative, but it wasn’t really the point.
Bernard Hopkins wants, at age 49, to be the Light Heavyweight Champion again. When he beat Antonio Tarver, he didn’t win the lineal title in the purist sense, but he captured the line of ‘best Light Heavyweights’ dating to Roy Jones’ unification of the three most recognized titles in the 1990s. When he beat Jean Pascal, he did both.
Since moving to Light Heavyweight with the Tarver bout in 2006, nearly eight years ago, Hopkins is 9-2-1 with 1 No Contest. Only the loss to Chad Dawson is entirely without debate about the outcome. Of the foes he’s faced in that run, Shumenov qualifies as one of the softer touches and he held a belt (if by virtue of a bad call) and was at least a top ten Light Heavyweight.
Now, the real prize lies ahead. The winner of Adonis Stevenson-Andrej Forfara will be the man who beat the man who beat Hopkins. Should Stevenson prevail, as he is favored to do, can he finally be the man to end the game’s resident living legend?
If not, will the only other man who can get his shot?
Let’s go to the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Hopkins B; Shumenov B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power – Hopkins B; Shumenov B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Defense – Hopkins A+; Shuemov C/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Hopkins A+; Shumenov B/Post: A+; C
The bout started like many recent Hopkins affairs: slow. The first round was as even as any could be. Neither man really did anything so there was no reason to prefer either. In the second, Shumenov made case.
After six minutes, Hopkins had the nearly two decades younger opponent about solved. Sometimes, Hopkins makes things ugly to win. He didn’t have to Saturday. Shumenov’s low hands and lack of strategy made Hopkins almost youthful. He slipped shots, blocked them, and timed counters with relative ease. On the occasions where he took a hard shot, his chin remained as sturdy as it’s always been.
There have been, throughout his championship years, a select group of fighters who one could say were better than Hopkins for periods of time. His consistency over nearly twenty years could see him rated above most if not all of them.
Now he is looking at a new physical challenge beyond just the existential challenge of age. Stevenson is faster than him. Stevenson hits a country ton. Yes, the age looms too. Hopkins was clear that Stevenson is the contest he wants but he never said no to WBO titlist Sergey Kovalev. Should he get by Stevenson (or Fonfara, a reasonably live underdog too easily overlooked prior to his challenge), there will be plenty that insist he needs to face the other monster of the class as well.
Hopkins, speaking to the assembled press after the fight, made clear that Kovalev would need him more than the other way around and have to fight on Showtime to make it happen. One assumes Kovalev, currently tied to HBO, would be more than willing. Would the business of boxing allow for it?
Hopkins can say he doesn’t need the WBO belt to be undisputed. He’s right. But for a man who knows history, and his story, so well, does he really want to finish one short. Nearing fifty, he has the chance to clean out the top of the class he’s in one more time.
The landscape at 175 lbs. is clear: Stevenson-Fonfara leads to the winner against Hopkins. From there, Kovalev looms. It’s as simple, in the ring, as anyone could ask for. Boxing doesn’t always get simple right. Let’s hope it can this time around.
Report Card Picks 2014: 15-6
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org