Just a few years ago Sergey Kovalev (26-0-1, 23) was a relative unknown in boxing circles. Today he is the unified Light Heavyweight champion having added the WBA "super" and IBF titles to the WBO title he won last year when stopped Nathan Cleverly and announced himself on the world stage. The stoppage over Cleverly was Kovalev saying "look at me, I'm destructive" today however he impressed by boxing, using a great game plan and out-boxed boxing master boxer Bernard Hopkins (55-7-2-2, 32).
In more than 20 years nobody had really out boxed Hopkins. He had been beaten 6 previous times but they was usually down to faster fighters out working him not out boxing him, not dominating him and certainly not making him look lost in the ring. Those however were all adequate descriptions for what Kovalev did from the opening round to the final bell.
The fight started very slowly, it was at Hopkins's pace and tempo. Usually that spells failure for fighters as Hopkins slows bouts down and wins them on skill, timing and ring IQ. This time however Hopkins wasn't able to do what he usually did, the pace suited Kovalev who imposed himself with intelligent pressure, smart timing and very calculated offense which saw him dropping Hopkins in the opening round with a well timed right hand. Despite the bout being incredibly slow prior to the knockdown, it seemed to give Kovalev the belief that he could stop Hopkins and he went on the offensive in the final minute.
Having failed to put Hopkins away in round 1 Kovalev let the pace slow, continued to pressure Hopkins and seemed to "out Hopkins" Hopkins with patience, smart boxing and controlled work. There wasn't a lot of hard solid shots landed early on but plenty of body jabs got through from Kovalev who fought a very respectful fight knowing that Hopkins could be dangerous if he was given chances. When Kovalev did open up, notably at the end of round 3 and part way through round 4, he seemed to shake Hopkins who should true resiliency to remain up right despite the pressure.
By round 6 it was looking like a masterclass from Kovalev who was at total ease with the pace of the bout. There was no reason to rush, no reason to get reckless and no reason to even think about stepping up the pace. In many ways it seemed less like he was fighting Hopkins's tempo and more like he was fighting his own controlling everything about the contest.
Despite being in total control Kovalev was given a reminder that he had to keep his concentration up in round 7 when Hopkins landed a couple of clean shots. Sadly for Hopkins it really was just a couple of clean shows whilst he was out worked, out landed and completely shut down for the rest of the round. It was true that Hopkins landed the 2 best shots of the round but that was all he did in the fight's closest round. Sadly for the American legend he was punished in the next round as Kovalev detonated a monstrous right hand that had Hopkins shaken momentarily and left everyone wondering how he remained up right. The huge right wasn't the only notable connect from Kovalev in the round with the Russian landing some notable counters late in the round and it seemed like he was really breaking Hopkins down.
If the 8th had been bad for Hopkins then the 9th was worse as Kovalev seemed to put his foot on the gas and landed several eye catching and hurtful shots that would have seen off lesser fighters than Hopkins who took them amazingly well but seemed to be sent into survival mode by them. It was a time where a corner may have considered pulling their man out, after all Hopkins was needing a KO by that point and, apart from a single bit of success in round 7, it never really looked like he had what was needed to even rock the Russian.
Hopkins knew he was in a hole by the start of round 10 and seemed to show fire in his belly for the first time as he landed several big looking shots, unfortunately for him they bounced off Kovalev who landed far more shots than Hopkins and landed the more impressive shots. It was almost like seeing Kovalev go "I can do anything you can do, better than you".
Typically in a Hopkins fight we see some messy action, some wrestling, some holding and some spoiling. We didn't really see much of that until round 11 when both seemed happy to partake in some wrestling. The reason we saw so little of it was due to the fact that Kovalev was a stronger man than Hopkins and it was shown the few times they did clinch with Hopkins being the one who looked uncomfortable.
The discomfort Hopkins felt in the clinch was nothing in comparison to the discomfort he felt through much of the final round. Hopkins began the round well and appeared to rock Kovalev early in the round. The Russian must have felt disrespected by Hopkins hitting him and the Russian went on an all out offensive onslaught rocking Hopkins time and time again. It was as if Kovalev had said to himself that he wanted to stop Hopkins and really unloaded shots that bounced Hopkins around the ring. It seemed both were tired but Kovalev wanted the stoppage regardless. Sadly the Russian was against the clock and the clock won with Hopkins just seeing out the round. Had their been another minute left we suspect the referee would have had to have saved Hopkins.
Although the bout went the distance there was no real question as to who won and for once the judges all got it right scoring the bout 120-107, 120-107 and 120-106, presumably scoring the final round a 10-8 round.
For Kovalev this is a win that gives him a fantastic claim to being the best Light Heavyweight on the planet. It's clear that Adonis Stevenson is the "linear" champion but Stevenson has shown no inclination to get in the ring with the Russian and with that in mind, and with this performance in the bag, there is no real argument against having Kovalev as the #1 Light Heavyweight out there. For Hopkins this loss probably spells retirement. Aged 49 this was likely the last time Hopkins will fight as a professional boxer and although he lost here he showed what a tough son of a gun he was, whether you like him or not it's hard not to respect him for what he's managed to do in a long and impressive career
World Title Results
Whether you like them or not World Titles add prestige to any bout as a result we've included the results of world title bouts in this special section.