It’s really still just soaking in, the enormity of what ol’ Bernard Hopkins did Saturday night to lil’ Kelly Pavlik. Hopkins, 43, was 17 years older than Pavlik. Seventeen. Years. Older. And he looked old, too, in his most recent fight in April. Stranger still, Hopkins, who usually fights like a snail, threw more punches than Pavlik, who usually fights at a torrid pace even by a 26-year-old yardstick. There’s plenty more to absorb about an extraordinary Saturday evening, besides.
First, Hopkins absorption.
- Is Hopkins, off this win, now the best “old” fighter ever? Two other contenders come to mind — George Foreman, who re-won a heavyweight title belt at 45, and Archie Moore, who first won the light heavyweight (175 lbs.) championship at 39. Yahoo’s Kevin Iole is voting Hopkins the best 40-plus boxer of all time, and I’m tempted to get on that bandwagon. Foreman took his belt from a talent lesser than Pavlik, Michael Moorer, and fell short against Evander Holyfield and Tommy Morrison after feasting on inferior competition, so I vault Bernard above George. After turning 40, Moore, for his part, beat fellow Hall of Famers Joey Maxim and Harold Johnson, gave a real scare to the considerably larger Rocky Marciano and waged what many considered the greatest fight of all time to that point in his win over Yvonne Durelle. Based on all that, I give a slight edge to Moore, but Hopkins is definitely in his ballpark with wins over Pavlik, Antonio Tarver, Winky Wright and a close loss to Joe Calzaghe. And Hopkins looks like he’s going to be around a little longer.
- Hopkins did it all in a considerably more fashionable way than he has in his recent fights. Although he was his usual defensively astute self, he spent a lot of time and energy on offense. If it wasn’t the best performance of his career, then I haven’t seen the one that is. He threw every kind of punch with considerable accuracy, particularly his power punches, and somehow bucked his trend of recent years of throwing one right hand at a time then tying up his opponent, instead firing beautiful combination volleys that left Pavlik rocked and bloody on several occasions. What the hell happened to the panting, whining old man who looked terrible late in his bout against Calzaghe earlier this year?
- Not that I’m looking to start a national conversation about race or anything, but, um… Hopkins said this to Pavlik after the fight, not me: “You have to learn one thing. You have to learn that slickness that black fighters have and then you’ll really be a great champion.” I think Hopkins actually may have meant well, because he volunteered to help train Pavlik if necessary, although it’s also possible that he was being racist the way he was in the build-up to the Calzaghe fight, when he vowed, “I’ll never let a white boy beat me.” I honestly don’t know. But I’m surprised people aren’t talking about this.
- I adored Hopkins’ showmanship in the fight, the way he winded up his punches a times, and the way he sneered at the one clean right hand Pavlik landed in the 12th round, and most especially the way he glared at the media after the fight concluded, knowing that most everyone picked him to lose. I didn’t even mind the crass commercialism of him name-checking his Affliction t-shirt afterwards and urging the company to “send the check.” Hey, if a fighter’s looking good in there and there’s no risk to showing off, by all means, he should have at it. And Affliction should send him a check. (Barack Obama’s logo made a cameo on some of the Hopkins crew’s gear, too, noticed the politically-attuned attendees of the boxing viewing party I hosted.)
- I’m surprised at some of the surprise about Hopkins’ win. HBO commentators kept marveling at how much faster Hopkins was, but I thought that was a given going in. I also didn’t think Hopkins should have been such a severe betting underdog. If I were a betting man, I would have laid some dough down on Hopkins at 4-1, despite my prediction that Pavlik would win. It’s the same way I would have put some money on Antonio Margarito to beat fellow welterweight (147 lbs.) Miguel Cotto despite my prediction of a Cotto victory; everyone should have known both of those fights would be close, and when the odds are that skewed, why not lay a little extra down on the underestimated underdog?
- Hopkins wants the winner of Calzaghe-Roy Jones, Jr., and that makes perfect sense. The close and disputed nature of Calzaghe’s victory would make a rematch warranted, and I’ve long pined for a Hopkins-Jones rematch. Given the way Hopkins fought against Pavlik and his vow to fight that way for the remainder of his career, Calzaghe-Hopkins II presumably wouldn’t be the suckfest the first one was, and Hopkins-Jones II would have a tremendous storyline of two greats seemingly on their way out after dominating the 1990s who won their most recent bouts as major underdogs. The fighter I might give the best chance to topple Hopkins of all of them is Chad Dawson, because speed — see: Calzaghe and Jermain Taylor — is what troubles Hopkins above all these days.
Next up, Pavlik absorption.
- As I said in my initial reaction (although due to the “under construction” nature of the site, this remark didn’t make it into that particular blog entry straightaway), I really don’t think Pavlik should have taken this fight. You couldn’t have invented an opponent who was more of a style nightmare for Pavlik than Hopkins. Pavlik had never fought anyone with advanced boxing technique, let alone a guy like Hopkins who would win a Nobel for it if there was such a category. Even if Pavlik won, he still might have coming out looking bad, just owing to Hopkins’ tendency to ruin his opponents’ aesthetic appeal.
- Pavlik and his team have to shoulder some of the blame for this fight happening, but not all of it. Pavlik said before the bout that he only intended to fight two or three more times before retiring. As such, the Pavlik team may very well have been focusing too much on the short-term monetary score. HBO, though, really forced the hand of Pavlik’s promoter, Top Rank. They turned down a number of opponents for Pavlik. That’s within their rights, and after Pavlik steamrolled Gary Lockett in a complete mismatch, it’s understandable why they weren’t enamored with the idea of Pavlik fighting Marco Antonio Rubio on their network next. But from accounts I’ve read, their list of acceptable opponents was far too short. Given Pavlik’s strength of schedule in 2007 and spilling over into early 2008, he earned one or two less ambitious middleweight (160 lbs.) title defenses.
- That said, no one should write off Pavlik based on one loss, and the circumstances of this particular one loss make it even more forgivable. There was the quantum leap of the skill level of his opposition in this fight. There’s the fact that he’s just 26 and has plenty of room to improve as a fighter. Pavlik might have fared better, even if he still probably would have lost, if the fight had been at middleweight, instead of the 170-pound catchweight. At 160, Pavlik is a monster. Above that, he is siginficantly less special, even though he only weighed in at 164 for this year’s rematch with Taylor. And you know what? When you fight quality opposition, sometimes you lose. Too many boxers and boxing fans put an emphasis on a fighter with an unblemished record, but one of the reasons I kept Hopkins ranked so high (#4) on my list of the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighters when others had not is because he’d consistently fought top competition and fared well despite some lo
sses. I feel considerably justified in that decision today.
- Despite the forgivable nature of Pavlik’s loss, I have to imagine Top Rank’s Bob Arum is sweating about the Dec. 6 Oscar De La Hoya-Manny Pacquiao bout at welterweight. Arum’s trio of Cotto, Pavlik and Pacquiao has been the best in the sport, both in actual quality of fighter, raw excitement and money-making potential. Cotto and Pavlik have both lost this year in bouts that were of maximum risk, and no matter what your opinion of De La Hoya-Pacquiao, Pacquiao’s leap upwards through two boxing divisions is nothing if not risky. Even though I was opposed to Hopkins-Pavlik and De La Hoya-Pacquiao, I hope the losses of Cotto and Pavlik doesn’t turn Arum gun-shy and make him start matching his charges with tomato cans. Fighters taking risky bouts is usually a winning recipe for great fights, and that’s what I’m in this for.
- I think it’s fair to say based on all this that Pavlik probably wouldn’t have beaten Calzaghe, had that match happened instead of Hopkins-Pavlik and Calzaghe-Jones, as was my preference. It’s pretty incredible that Hopkins ever loses, and Calzaghe’s defeat of him makes Calzaghe look all the more formidable. Match-up wise, Calzaghe would have posed some of the same trouble to Pavlik that Hopkins did, i.e., speed and advanced technique, and the weight limit surely would have been well above 160, also serving Pavlik poorly. I like the idea of Pavlik staying at middleweight and owning that historically rich division, or at least trying. Now, with Rubio the mandatory challenger to one of Pavlik’s middleweight alphabet title belts, Pavlik-Rubio is even less objectionable. A fight with Arthur Abraham is no less interesting to me after Pavlik’s loss, and if Paul Williams doesn’t get a rematch with Margarito, Pavlik-Williams is also a very attractive match. Both may even be more interesting, since Pavlik will surely come in as less of a favorite now. But Pavlik should dodge Wright until he gets his doctorate in boxing skill from Hopkins.
Finally, it’s time for absorption of the undercard and remaining tidbits.
- This was my first look at super middleweight (168 lbs.) prospect Daniel Jacobs, and his offense is pretty special. He made short work of Tyrone Watson, who lasted the distance against another prospect, Fernando Guerrero. It’s possible Guerrero softened up Watson — their fight was just two weeks ago — but I suspect Jacobs is just a better prospect. Watson never wilted against Guerrero, and after fighting bravely for a minute and a half, Jacobs took the fight out of Watson with some nasty body punches. It’s always good to see a young fighter show a knack for body shots. I didn’t get a good feel for Jacobs’ defense or chin, but he might have a few holes in the former that need to be worked out.
- Rubio’s win over Enrique Ornelas was an incredible war. I understand fans being interested in the headliners more than the undercard, but how could you watch Rubio-Ornelas and not be roused even occasionally? I scored it a draw, but mostly I just hope both men get that big payday they’re both looking for. They earned it with the way they went after each other. The 12th round is a Round of the Year candidate for me, because it was bad-ass how Ornelas, on the verge of unconciousness, slugged toe-to-toe with Rubio, knowing he needed to win every round he could. It was the highlight of an otherwise atrocious undercard.
- I understand Steve Luevano has been in some good fights, but I only seem to see him in the bad ones. This time the culprit was his opponent, Billy Dib, who appeared to be trying to master some kind of performance art centered on making a boxing match completely unviewable. Luevano, off this win, will likely move up from 126 lbs. to face Rocky Juarez, maybe at a catchweight between 126 and 130.
- Whose idea was it to dress Roy Jones up in a funny hat, nerdy glasses and sweater vest for his interview between fights? Either I’m hopelessly out of touch with what counts as fashion these days or that was some kind of practical joke. Also, he kept saying — between wild, professional wrestling style pointing — that Pavlik had to win big against Hopkins or else Pavlik would shortly lose his middleweight belt just like Taylor did after beating Hopkins by a narrow margin. As one of my viewing party attendees quipped: “Someone needs to teach him the difference between correlation and causation.”
- I hate to say it because he’s been so great over the years, but I never understand anything Larry Merchant is saying these days. I have a hard time discerning any point he’s ever making anymore. He’s still worlds better than the gibberish-laden awfulness of Lennox Lewis, of course, and he’s good for an acidic quote or two every night, but for all the heat HBO took for trying to force Merchant out not too long ago, I’m beginning to grow a little sympathetic to their point of view.
- That Bunny Sigler rendition of the national anthem was INSANE.
- I wonder what that scuffle between the two corners at the end of Pavlik-Hopkins was all about.
- I do like the talk between Pavlik and his trainer Jack Loew between rounds. Loew called Hopkins a “kid” for some reason, and when Loew was jumping on Pavlik at one point, Pavlik just said, “I’m trying.” There’s something very impressive about Pavlik’s realization of the situation he’s in and the way he doesn’t give up when things look bad. “I’m good,” was the line he uttered after Taylor decked him in the 2nd round of their first fight, and he was. “I’m trying,” he said, and he was, despite the obvious despair anyone would have had in there. At the end of the fight, he acknowledged Hopkins gave him a “lesson.” Pavlik’s tendency to be self-deprecating when he should be and confident when he should be — coming into this fight being the exception, but Pavlik was said not to be thrilled about fighting Hopkins — is very admirable in an industry where guys routinely over-hype themselves or refuse to admit defeat even when it’s obvious.