I'm thinking to myself, "Is this f*cking guy really here courtesy of a UFO?"
Forget the fact that Bernard Hopkins had me spilling orange juice on my shirt a few months ago when I saw his nude shot for ESPN and their Body Edition. He actually had the balls to do this (I would've died if I saw those) and still maintain street credibility at half a century, but then again, that's classic Hopkins. He doesn't merely upset the apple cart - he pushes it all the way down the damn hill.
Type "A" personality that he is, B-Hop got bored and decided to he wanted to try a monster in Sergei Kovalev of all people. He gets an improbable deal done in no time, and gets him to sign papers to fight him right before his bout against Blake Caparello. Hopkins essentially tried to freeze Kovalev.
Round 1: 10-9, Hopkins
Savvy veteran that he is- it put instant pressure on Kovalev; who as relative novice to these things, came out cold under lights Hopkins had made red hot. He not only got a personal ringside scouting report on Kovalev, but he got a free surge in initial publicity for this fight with his lascivious tactics, and froze Kovalev again when Max Kellerman got the two of them in front of the camera for the first time.
Round 2: 10-9, Hopkins
Kovalev's limited English with his shaky interpreter was no match for "The Alien" and his other-worldly mouth full of sardonic wit. Another bizarre (but true) twist to this fight is, Bernard actually beat up his trainer John David Jackson 17 years ago. Certainly Kovalev knows this, probably courtesy of a gift wrapped video Bernard sent him in the mail, along with a picture of him and his toothy smile. Talk about losing psychological warfare.
Round 3: 10-9, Hopkins
I guess the fair question to ask is, just wtf is he supposed to learn from Jackson about how to beat Hopkins? But anyway...
Assuming Hopkins gets past the first three rounds (and its a good assumption he does) this coming Saturday night, can he actually put the majority of the other ones in his pocket? Or better yet, can he survive to the distance at all against the feared Russian product?
I'll be damned if he isn't an actual "alien" if he does.
Experience really is the best teacher in a very unique way in this fight on both sides. Hopkins has seen the likes of Kovalev before, and knows how to vaporize offense. He is an absolute master of subtlety in the ring, particularly when it comes to space and crowding.
Kovalev is a better and more powerful fighter than his trainer was 17 years ago, and I think Jackson is a better trainer now than he was a fighter. His experience with an earlier Hopkins should actually help Kovalev with this much older version, and it would surprise me if it didn't.
The last time Hopkins really didn't surprise me was way back in 2001 against Felix Trinidad. In one of my better moments in predicting the outcome of a fight (and with Las Vegas), I had Hopkins doing exactly what he ultimately did to Trinidad. "Tito" had a certain rhythm he would settle into each time if you watched him. He would almost give away what he was throwing - and when he was throwing - by the way he would hitch his launching foot and position his gloves before striking.
He did almost the same things every single time.
Kelly Pavlik had similar issues that were even more glaring. So too did the likes of Antonio Tarver, the green Jean Pascal, and even greener Tavoris Cloud, as Hopkins knew he was dealing with waiters who would "Tip". Kovalev won't really offer such gratuity.
He wasn't himself in the 1st round against Caparello, coming out dry and unfocused which resulted in poor foot positioning and a flash knockdown. But his special, sudden striking ability was on display before the round was over, and it didn't take him long to dispatch Caparello in the 2nd. The most impressive aspect of this fight was the straight right hand to the body he used to floor Blake.
I never thought Jermain Taylor or Chad Dawson were good match-up for Hopkins, and I think this is a far worse one. Jermaine and Chad properly advanced Hopkins with lots of aggression, and didn't allow him pockets of space to dig into his sizable bag of tricks. They hid it from him with volume, and correctly approached him as an older fighter.
You can't allow him to play games, control space, or allow him to dictate the pace at all - and they didn't.
Kovalev has way more iron in his will and in his chin than those two and is a few years better now, just as Hopkins is a few more years removed from quicker reflexes.
The spartan approach he lives and trains by is truly remarkable and worthy of some sort of DNA inspection to see if he is indeed comprised of non-human elements. To say he is an anomaly is a profound understatement, but no matter his array of skills and vast mental capacity, he's exceeded physical limits in this match-up.
And that's why I'm not going to hesitate in betting against him this time.
I think Hopkins decided to take this fight after liking what he saw in Kovalev during his bout against Cedric Agnew. The Chicago native made things ugly in there at times, using headbutts and smothering tactics to mute Kovalev while launching timed attacks.
Hopkins figures he can apply more tactically - in a way more physical - than the far younger Agnew did, but that just doesn't seem possible to me.
The other part Hopkins really isn't considering is just how special a puncher Kovalev is to the body, which will help to end his night. Bernard is going to take more punishment than he has ever taken in his entire ring life. While he's still quick with shots and very sneaky - he's lost a huge amount of speed, flexibility, agility and dexterity. Plus he's gained rigidity in certain movements and is starting to show balance issues.
That he's overcome it at such an advanced age is truly remarkable in a very historic sense, but he's about to take a very historic beating.
Ultra tough as he is, I see him getting struck at will as this fight progresses, and he'll probably look like an actual alien before being abducted somewhere near the 10th round and taken to God knows where.
We'll look for you in the telescope Bernard.