|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY||
This weekend, light-heavyweight champ and Philadelphia son Bernard Hopkins takes on undefeated Welshman Joe Calzaghe in a hotly anticipated showdown and super-fight of sorts. The big bout will play out at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas and before a national television audience on HBO.
For the 44-0 (32 KO) Calzaghe, the stakes are clear. After more than ten years as a super-middleweight belt-holder, 21 title defenses, a patchwork unification job in the 168-pound division, and a handful of truly impressive recent wins, Calzaghe needs a big fight on the world stage to rise to the elite level. Bernard Hopkins represents that final hurdle to legitimate boxing stardom for Calzaghe. A victory on Saturday night against the 43-year old Executioner will validate the steady rise in stock Joe has experienced since he dominated Jeff Lacy two years ago. But beating Lacy, Sakio Bika, Peter Manfredo, and Mikkel Kessler, no matter how impressively he did it, is a far cry from having his hand raised against the likes of a Bernard Hopkins. Joe needs this win over Bernard. A loss would be a real setback instead of the career cap he's looking for. So expect Calzaghe to show up in Las Vegas looking to make an impression. The sports books say he can do it and have made him a -260 betting favorite. But can Calzaghe execute against the Executioner?
Bernard Hopkins is 43. He's three years past his promise to retire after he hit the big 4-0. But Hopkins is no old man in the ring. I can't say he's getting better, but his style is becoming more crystallized and it seems to be working for him. These days, Bernard Hopkins' fights are not thrillers. But it is fascinating to watch how this wily old pro keeps coming out on top against younger foes who, on paper, should beat him. Hopkins is like a snake charmer who somehow hypnotizes his opponents, and takes the fight out of them psychologically. Tarver should have beaten Hopkins, but he couldn't. Neither could Winky Wright. This week's question is how will Calzaghe do?
Calzaghe is no spring chicken at 36. He's logged a lot of rounds in his 44 bouts and seems to be winding his career down. Most of his boxing life, although well documented by Showtime, has been a well kept secret in this country. Only after defeating Lacy, has Calzaghe gotten some press. And most of that press has centered around his eventual match with Hopkins.
There is something about Calzaghe's style that matches up well with Hopkins. The main advantage Joe has is his work rate. He's a busy fighter. If he can bring that style into this fight and keep Bernard working every round, he very well could earn a victory over the course of the fight. But it's not going to come easily. Calzaghe will have to display a lot of mental toughness to pass this test. It is a challenge he's never faced in the past. Sure, he's had to be mentally strong in other fights, but not to the degree he'll need against Bernard.
Hopkins has spent his entire career out-thinking the boxing world. He's taken an unconventional approach from day one. His whole M.O. is to come out on top in everything he does - whether it is navigating his promotional or network relationships or turning back another young buck in the ring. More or less, Hopkins has succeeded every step of the way. He has fought well and positioned himself in boxing as a force to be reckoned with. When he lost his middleweight title and subsequent re-try against Jermain Taylor, he could have remained out in the cold. But Hopkins reinvented himself as a light-heavyweight and paved the way for more lucrative fights by somehow thrashing Antonio Tarver. If De La Hoya had made such a statement there would have been a coronation. Hopkins was given his due, but he wasn't re-embraced by the boxing community. No one says "I told you so" like Bernard Hopkins, and many resent his continued success. The frank, no nonsense persona that seemed like a breath of fresh air ten years ago, has gotten a little stale for many. Combine that bristling attitude with the lack of pure action in his recent fights, and Hopkins has turned off many fans too.
The thing about Hopkins is that these days, he doesn't really care. Although he's always been his own man, I've seen his hunger for acceptance surface in the past. When he made the rounds on TV talk shows after defeating De La Hoya, you could tell that he wanted to be liked. He actually was nice on the Tonight Show and showed none of the jagged edge that makes him who he is. It didn't work. He's no George Foreman and such a popularity never developed for Hopkins. So Hopkins returned to his natural surroundings of the small pond that is boxing. Back in his element, Hopkins has the advantage over all the other fish. In boxing he can simply be Bernard Hopkins and focus his attention on getting the last laugh. Even when everyone else has stopped laughing. We know he's different than all the other fighters, but that doesn't stop Bernard from thinking of all of us as still being doubters. He has to show everyone once again how good he is and prove himself to be a winner. In his mind he will take on all of us Saturday night - not just Joe Calzaghe.
It is easy to say that Hopkins is too old and that Calzaghe has the desire and the style and skills to beat Bernard. It makes sense. Time eventually has to run out on Hopkins, right? Of course it does, and I will not be shocked if Calzaghe comes away with a win. But I would never bet a penny against the old fox. Hopkins is just too strong between the ears to let anyone beat him. If Calzaghe is to win, it will be because he took the fight from Hopkins and didn't allow that extraordinary brain to counteract every physical advantage Joe may have.
fight becomes a corporate negotiation, Hopkins will come away smiling
and again saying "I told you so." Calzaghe's only chance is by hostile
takeover. It should be interesting to watch. Will this fight just be
more icing on Hopkins already more than sweet cake or will it be
Calzaghe's big moment?
John DiSanto is the Editor of www.phillyboxinghistory.com.
April 18, 2008