by Cliff Rold
The pre-fight report card began with a simple premise:
A significantly younger fighter of the highest quality, in his prime, should never lose to a 49-year old man. Not even when that 49-year old is Bernard Hopkins.
Saturday night was, for those who relish the storytelling aspect of the sport, the story of whether Bernard Hopkins could continue to defy time. For those with less romantic inclinations, it was about a question.
Was Sergey Kovalev as good as he’s looked to date?
The answer is in. Handing Hopkins the first shutout loss of his career, with a knockdown in the first and a final round beating worthy of a 10-8 score, Kovalev didn’t legitimately lose more than a few seconds of the fight all night.
The Hopkins story was great narrative. Kovalev is reality in 2014.
Let’s go to the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Hopkins B; Kovalev B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power – Hopkins B; Kovalev A/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Defense – Hopkins A+; Kovalev B/Post: B+; B+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Hopkins A+; Kovalev A/Post: A+; A+
Here is the irony of boxing’s many belts: assuming all other events remain constant, Kovalev could have entered the ring defending all three of the titles on the line. Hopkins entered the ring with IBF and WBA belts at Light Heavyweight. Both of those titles were worn by men who received terrible victory nods over Gabriel Campillo.
The win that put Kovalev on the map was a third-round knockout of Campillo after those heists. In retrospect, our eyes were telling us the truth from that moment forward. Kovalev, using underrated boxing ability, didn’t just outfight Hopkins on Saturday.
He outboxed him.
With his range, jab, power, and overall boxing IQ, Kovalev might be the closest thing to Bob Foster since, well, Foster. His mental approach is commendable as well. He laughed off Hopkins pre-fight antics. He punished them in the ring.
In the final round, when it looked like Hopkins might have shaken him, Hopkins followed by taunting and sticking out his tongue. Kovalev responded by dishing out the worst punishment of the night. It was indicative of the mentality that has moved Kovalev to this point.
He didn’t buy into the magic. He knew he was younger, stronger, and more dangerous. He acted like it. Very few have been able to do the same with Hopkins since the “Executioner” moved to 175 lbs. Even against a 49-year old version of Hopkins, it was impressive.
The future is here and Kovalev will have to work to find foes. Adonis Stevenson never seemed to want him and is likely thanking Al Haymon that being with Showtime can act as a buffer for the fight. Fans shouldn’t accept that garbage. Stevenson-Kovalev was the best looking fight at Light Heavyweight a year ago. Now, it’s the only fight that matters.
If Stevenson doesn’t take it, he deserves every bit of shaming and ridicule he’ll get. Boxing is a business. It’s also a sport. Fans of the latter should insist and keep insisting. They should also feel free to fantasize about what Kovalev-Gennady Golovkin or Andre Ward could look like down the road.
For Hopkins, maybe it’s over. Maybe it’s not. It doesn’t matter. He proved long ago he’s one of the best to ever do it. Just in taking the fight he showed how he got to that esteem.
Kovalev is for now. He has a long way to go before joining Hopkins in the pantheon for all time.
Report Card Picks 2014: 52-22 (including staff picks in Stieglitz-Sturm, Adamek-Szpilka, and Ali-Abregu)
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 [email protected]