Over the last year or two we've seen the Light Heavyweight division really explode into life with the emergence of some vicious punchers and aggressively minded destroyers. One of those is WBC champion Adonis Stevenson, who decimated Chad Dawson last year, one is Artur Beterbiev, who completely steam rolled Tavoris Cloud earlier this year, and the other is Russian destroyer Sergey Kovalev (25-0-1, 23).
This weekend sees Kovalev taking part in his most significant bout to date as he battles against American legend Bernard Hopkins (55-6-2-2, 32) in a bout to unify the WBO title, held by Kovalev, with the WBA "super" and IBF titles that are currently held by Hopkins. For both men this is a chance to solidify their claim as the premier Light Heavyweight on the planet, despite the fact Stevenson holds the "linear" title, though there is so much more to this bout than just that claim and the three titles.
For Kovalev this is his chance to really break through and go from heavy handed and exciting fighter to a legend killer, in fact if he stops Hopkins there will be few doubting his credentials as one of the most destructive fighters of his era. For Hopkins however this is a chance to further prove that he is one of the all-time greats and that he really will defeat father time and go out on his terms, not when others tell him he should.
Of the two men it's Hopkins who is the better known fighter, after all his 65 fight career has seen him do it all and more in a career that spans more than 25 years and has seen him unifying titles at both Middleweight and Light Heavyweight. Aged 49 he has really staved off the aging process better than any other fighter and proven himself against more top class fighters than anyone else of his era, which has been a distinctly long one.
The veteran fought his first world title fight in 1993 though came up short to fellow future Hall of Famer Roy Jones Jr. Less than two years later he claimed his first world crown in after stopping Segundo Mercado and would later add the WBC, WBA and WBO titles to become the first fighter to fully unify a division. In 2006 he moved up to Light Heavyweight and dominated Antonio Tarver, since then he has become a 2-time Light Heavyweight world title holder winning the WBC title in his first reign before claiming the IBF title last year, then adding the WBA title this year with his win over Beibut Shumenov. Amazingly a win over Kovalev would see Hopkins becoming the first fighter to win all 4 major titles in 2 separate divisions.
As a fighter Hopkins is a historic fighter though he's also a frustrating one. In the ring h's incredibly highly skilled, very intelligent and knows what a fighter is going to do before they do it, but he is also very negative, holds, spoils and seems to be more capable of lulling an opponent to sleep then knocking them out. It's been that ability more than any other that has allowed him to remain so competitive at such an age and over-come younger fighters like Shumenov and the somewhat poor Karo Murat.
Through his sensational career only one thing has really bothered Hopkins, speed. His 5 high profile losses so far have all come against speedy fighter in the form of Roy Jones Jr, Jermain Taylor, twice, Joe Calzaghe and Chad Dawson and it's fair to say that he has avoided some other quicker fighters due to these losses. Despite that he has continued to fight good fighters, just slower ones.
In Kovalev we have a fighter who really emerged on the world scene last year by destroying a talented foursome of Gabriel Campillo, Cornerlius White, Nathan Cleverly and Ismayl Sillah in a combined 12 rounds. Those four fights took Kovalev from relative obscurity to WBO world champion and he has quickly become one of the sports must watch fighters due to intense offensive mentality and crushing power, power that has seen him dubbed "The Krusher".
Since winning the WBO belt Kovalev has continued to enhance his reputation through 2014 with two more earlier victories as he took out the unbeaten pairing of Cedric Agnew and Blake Caparello in a combined 9 rounds to continue his destruction of the division. In total he has now stopped his last 9 opponents in a combined 33 rounds and it's worth noting that hose opponents had a combined record of 184-26-6 with 3 of the men being unbeaten fighters.
Aged 31 Kovalev is coming into his prime money making years and knows that he needs a win over Hopkins to continue that. That however is easier said than done and Kovalev certainly isn't a speedster like those that have typically over-come Hopkins. Instead Kovalev is a very heavy handed pressure fighter who bring educated pressure, a lot of punches and heavy hands to the ring. His shots aren't thrown as hayemakers but all heavy handed with every shot coming with real force despite many looking like little more than stay busy arm punches. Although not the most skilled he is among the most devastating.
The bout is stylistically very interesting with Hopkins's sharp but negative boxing put against the come forward and intelligent pressure of Kovalev. If Kovalev does manage to fight his usual style he should win, likely by stoppage, though Hopkins always seems to get fighters out of their game plan and fighting his style of fight. If he does that again here then he will likely lull Kovalev into inactivity and take a clear decision himself. It really is a case of whether or not Kovalev can fight his fight or not. If he has too much respect for Hopkins then the old master will do it again and will celebrate his 50th birthday next year as a triple title holder however if Kovalev fights like his usual self and with his typical "I don't give a shit" attitude then we suspect the Russian will become the biggest thing in the Light Heavyweight division, at least for now.
(Image courtesy of Goldenboy Promotions)
Not many people are described as "living legends" whilst still participating in their chosen field but for the ageless Bernard Hopkins (54-6-2-2, 32) that is an apt description. The current IBF Light Heavyweight champion is truly one of boxing's legendary fighters and whether you like him or not you simply need to respect him for being able to compete at the elite level in his and late 40's.
Now aged 49 Hopkins is battling father time just as much as opponents and just like like his opponents he seems to find a way to halt the assault of father time like no other. He's fitter than our team and we're all relative young "whippers nappers" compared to Hopkins, in fact we're barely his age when you combine us.
This weekend however Hopkins faces his most determined opponent in a long time as he battles Kazakh Beibut Shumenov (14-1, 9), a man who is attempting to unify his own WBA "super" title with the IBF belt of Hopkins and prove that he is the strongest fighter at 175lbs.
For many their entire viewing history of Shumenov was his victory last time out against the horribly over-matched Tamas Kovacs. Kovacs went in to that bout unbeaten in 23 though simply couldn't cope with the strength of Shumenov who hurt almost every time he landed until finally finishing the show in the 3rd round. From watching that fight alone Shumenov looked sensational though it was a clear showcase event for him to look having just signed with Golden Boy Promotions. That was his first fight with Golden Boy and it seemed clear that the intention, even then, was to pit him with Hopkins down the line.
Before being able to pit Shumenov with Hopkins they had to "legitimise him" for the US audience and the blow out over Kovacs did just that. It made Shumenov look a killer.
Unfortunately for Shumenov he's not a killer. That's not to say that he's not talented because he is very good, very strong and powerful with both hands however he is awfully basic and the victory over Kovacs allowed him to hide his flaws by simply using his strengths. Kovacs was unable to make Shumenov pay for technical limitations, his lack of speed, his somewhat basic foot work and his less than great engine. These were flaws shown in both of Shumenov's bout with Gabriel Campillo's and whilst he "won" one of those, very questionably, they are flaws we still think he has to this very day.
For Hopkins, one of the most technically sound fighters on the planet, it's the flaws of Shumenov that will come in to play. Hopkins is smart, accurate and very technically accomplished. He may now be lacking speed but he has fantastic timing, spots weaknesses in a heartbeat and most worrying for Shumenov he can control opponents both mentally and physically. With a fighter who has obvious flaws Hopkins tends to have a field day and we'd not be shocked if he landed his counter right straight time and time again on Shumenov.
On paper we all have to favour Hopkins his skill level, like his nick name "The Alien", is out of this world. At 49 though and against a genuinely strong, determined fighter with genuine power and desire to be the best this isn't a given. Hopkins's fight with father time could take it's toll at any point, Shumenov's natural strength may take it's toll and although Hopkins is wonderfully gifted and defensively very cute he has been taking more risks in recent bouts with his contest against Karo Murat last year being full of Hopkins aggression which is unusual.
If Hopkins takes unnecessary risks against Shumenov here he may be forced to pay for it with Shumenov's thudding power. Shumenov isn't like fellow Light Heavyweight champions Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson, who both have lights out power when they connect, but he is heavy handed and when he connects fighters do feel it. That's the sort of power that can certainly take it's toll on a 49 year old body, even one taken care of like that of Hopkins.
Although Hopkins is rightfully the favourite we do think the American could be given a few troubles at times from Shumenov. The big question as for Shumenov's chances are whether or not he has too much respect for Hopkins or not. If he does then he's already lost but if he refuses to show Hopkins too much respect in the ring he stands half a chance the upset victory and a career defining victory for the man who was, for a long time, left out in the cold and avoided by most other top Light Heavyweights.
Can Shumenov retire Hopkins? Possibly, be he's going to need some serious help from father time
(Picture courtesy of shosports)
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.