|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY - November 08, 2014||
KOVALEV DOMINATES HOPKINS
Story by John DiSanto
When Saturday night's light heavyweight championship fight was over, the winning formula seemed quite simple. Sergey Kovalev resisted falling into the trap that Bernard Hopkins had set for so many others, and just kept punching his way to the biggest victory of his career, a one-sided unanimous decision over the 49 year old living legend.
Instead of allowing Hopkins to turn the fight into one of his near-stalemate masterpieces, Kovalev used his size, power, activity and age advantage to earn a surprisingly easy victory on all three judges cards by scores of 120-106 and 120-107 twice. Kovalev also added Hopkins' WBA and IBF belts to the WBO strap he already owned.
In round one, Kovalev sent Hopkins an early message that this fight would be different from his others. A looping right hand landed on the side of Hopkins' head and had Bernard sprawling to the canvas. Hopkins, always the wily old pro, got right up, and always selling it, looked to the floor for an imaginary slippery spot on the canvas. It was the first of Hopkins' tricks that went nowhere on this night.
Although he tried all night long, Hopkins could not lure Kovalev into a non-punching dance with him. Kovalev was there to fight, and did so for 12 full rounds. Every time Hopkins landed, Kovalev came back with his own, more powerful, shots. Every time Hopkins clutched, Kovalev punched. When Hopkins backed up, Kovalev punched his way back with him. Everything that Hopkins tried Kovalev answered with the most basic response - a punch.
It was an effective strategy that won Kovalev every single round of the fight. He hurt Hopkins again in the third round, which kept the threat level high enough to make Bernard think twice before he threw a punch. So Hopkins fought in spurts, but mostly waited for an opportunity to turn the fight around. However, that chance never came.
The closest round of the fight was the fifth, when the action slowed enough to make me wonder if Hopkins had hypnotized another victim. But Kovalev did enough to win that session and picked up his more aggressive approach in the sixth.
In round eight, Kovalev landed a big right that appeared to almost drop Hopkins a second time. But Bernard stayed on his feet and made it to the end of the round.
The ninth round was new territory for Kovalev, the longest any of his fights had ever gone. But he had no issue with stamina. Sergey kept punching away and winning rounds.
Between the rounds, Hopkins' trainer Brother Naazim Richardson asked his charge for more activity, but the old champ had little more to give.
Kovalev swept every round through the eleventh, and entered the final three minutes looking to complete the shutout. However, Hopkins, knowing that he was far behind, changed his tactics for the first time in the fight.
In a rousing 12th round, the fighters went toe-to-toe in the only action-packed three minutes of the fight. Hopkins was looking for a chance to turn the fight around, but Kovalev was bigger, stronger and better.
Over and over, Kovalev's punches were the harder shots and repeatedly hurt Hopkins. Bernard kept punching, trying his best to make something happen. It was a valiant last gasp, but it was no match for Kovalev's return attack.
If it wasn't the 12th round and if it wasn't Bernard Hopkins, another referee may have stopped the fight. However the referee on this night, David Fields, let the beating continue until the final bell.
At the end, there was no question about the decision. I gave Kovalev every round, plus an extra point in rounds one and twelve for a 120-106 tally. One official judge, Lawrence Layton agreed. Carlos Ortiz and Clark Sammartino did not give the extra point in the final round and turned in 120-107 scores.
"I got my dream, one of them," Kovalev said. "This unification fight. I'm very excited. A very big respect to Bernard Hopkins for this opportunity. He's 49 years old. He's unbelievable. The 12th round was a very big surprise. I tried to knock him out but, no. He was too tough, strong chin."
After the bout, Hopkins, 55-7-2, 32 KOs, said there was a 50-50 chance that he would fight again.
"Asking me to fight again right now," Hopkins said, "is liking asking a woman after nine hours of hard labor if she plans to have another baby."
Hopkins had no excuses and handled the defeat with much class.
"I'll tell you what, you can't take anything away from the champ, Kovalev," Hopkins said. "Sergey, you fought a smart fight. You knew not to engage in something that was going to benefit me. He is for real, and he'll be around a long time at light heavyweight if he wants to be."
He certainly won't be around as long as Hopkins was, but then again, who else could be?
This was a satisfying night with a clear-cut result, scores that matched, and two excellent fighters doing the best they could in the ring.