Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hopkins Dominates Murat, Could Floyd Mayweather Be Next?

When future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins entered the ring on October 26th to defend his IBF World Light-Heavyweight championship at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey against mandatory challenger Karo Murat, the question was not so much about whether or not the 48-year-old Hopkins would be able to defy father time one more time. Instead, the question that many asked entering this fight was whether or not Murat belonged in the ring with Hopkins. Although Karo Murat did have a credible record of 25-1-1, with 15 knockouts entering the fight with Hopkins as well as being a former European champion in the Super-Middleweight division, he entered this fight as the great unknown to most observers due to his never fighting previously before in the United States.

When a fighter who is not particularly well known despite an impressive record, as an observer you really do not know what to expect. Some will remember Bernard Hopkins’ Middleweight championship defense in March of 2003 against then mandatory challenger Morrade Hakkar of France. Much like Murat, Hakkar entered his fight with Hopkins with an impressive record having won thirty-one out of thirty-four professional fights prior to facing Hopkins. Much like Murat, Hakkar despite having that record was not particularly known to most observers and had not previously fought in the United States. What resulted however, on March 29, 2003, sparked some criticism when the two met at the Philadelphia Spectrum.

Hakkar spent most of the fight unwilling to engage Hopkins, offering no resistance and doing virtually anything he could to avoid contact. Although Hopkins was able to score a knockdown of Hakkar in round six, the fight did very little for a man in Hopkins who was still seeking long overdue respect. The bout which most observers considered an embarrassment not only for the sport, but also for Hopkins ended when Hakkar’s corner stopped the fight following the eighth round. Following the fight, some criticized Hakkar’s ranking as a mandatory challenger at the time based on his performance or lack thereof. In the decade since that fight, Hakkar although still active as a fighter as of 2012 has not been seen on a major stage in the sport since.

Unlike Hakkar however, Murat would have more to offer in his challenge of Bernard Hopkins. In previewing this fight last week I stated that the key to the fight in my eyes was whether or not Murat could force Hopkins to fight at a high pace and whether or not he could maintain that pace for the entire fight. It was not surprising to see this fight begin at a measured pace, which favored Hopkins. Murat however, did establish that he was there to fight by consistently coming forward and looking to land punches. Murat was able to control the tempo of the fight in the first two rounds simply based on effective aggression in that he brought the fight to Hopkins.

Despite Murat’s aggression Hopkins was able to make the challenger miss often and land counter punches. Murat was able to connect with a lead left hook early in the third round that seemed to have landed flush on the jaw of the champion. Hopkins however, would respond by shaking his head and sticking his tongue out at Murat. As I have said many times over the years Bernard Hopkins is a master of the craft that is Boxing and knows virtually every trick in the book to get under the skin of his opponents. The master tactician gradually began to implement his fight plan.

Although it was clear early in the fight that Murat was the more active of the two fighters, Hopkins was frustrating the challenger by using great defense to evade and slip the majority of Murat’s offense. Along with solid defense Hopkins is also able to dictate the fight on the inside, which increasingly frustrated Murat. Hopkins however, was also able to show in this fight that as a forty-eight year old he could step up his pace and fight at a higher pace than most would expect, being willing and able to engage and exchange with Murat. 

As the fight progressed Hopkins was able to slow Murat’s pace and start to take over the fight. Murat did not seem to have an answer to nullify Hopkins’ ability to slip and evade punches. The challenger’s frustrations boiled over in round six when he threw Hopkins to the canvas and threw two punches on a downed Hopkins. Some may be tempted to make what many will feel would be a justifiable argument that Murat perhaps should have been disqualified immediately after throwing those punches as throwing punches on a downed opponent normally constitutes automatic disqualification. Murat however, was allowed to continue by Referee Steve Smoger.

Smoger did issue a stern warning to the challenger that he would deduct a point from him if he attempted to throw Hopkins down again. Although some may criticize Referee Steve Smoger for not disqualifying Murat, it should be noted that Smoger has been considered one of the best referees in the sport for many years and although he would have been fully within his rights in disqualifying Murat, Smoger has always been a referee that will let fighters fight and not intervene unless absolutely necessary. It should also be noted that even though Hopkins was down on the canvas he was able to block the punches Murat had thrown. This observer believes that had Hopkins been hit cleanly while on the canvas Smoger would have stopped the fight immediately and disqualified Murat. In this instance Smoger gave the challenger the benefit of the doubt by allowing the fight to continue. It was really a case of a referee’s discretion.

Smoger however, would deduct a point from Murat in round seven for hitting on the break and issued a strong warning to the challenger that he was on the verge of being disqualified. Although some may disagree with Smoger’s decision to allow the fight to continue after round six, he deserves much credit for understanding that this fight was physical and at times ugly and for being willing to give both fighters the benefit of the doubt without interjecting himself too much into the contest.

Despite the fight gradually becoming lopsided in Hopkins’ favor, it was also a fight that although rough and ugly at times was also quite entertaining to watch. It was amazing that Bernard Hopkins was able to gradually out work and out land a fighter eighteen years his junior. Hopkins’ confidence in this fight was demonstrated in the eighth round when he turned his back and walked across the ring after Murat had been pushed through the ropes and began to talk to the challenger’s corner. This seemed somewhat reminiscent of the 1992 fight between former Heavyweight champions Larry Holmes and Ray Mercer. Holmes, who was widely viewed as the underdog heading into the fight, dominated the fight to the degree where his confidence was such that he began to talk to the television cameras filming the fight. Although Hopkins did not directly duplicate Holmes, his confidence level, dominance and willingness to talk to his opponent’s corner during the fight did bring back memories of that fight in February of 1992 for this observer.

One similarity that both Hopkins and Holmes share however, is both are graduates of the master class of Boxing. On this night Bernard Hopkins displayed a little bit of everything. Great defense, ring savvy, the ability to take a punch when he needed to, and the willingness to trade punches. As has become the custom, Bernard Hopkins earned yet another decisive decision victory over a man much younger than himself. Despite being tactically outgunned, Karo Murat deserves a lot credit in that he came to fight and was very “Game” and never stopped trying to turn the momentum in his favor. In a scenario where he had nothing to lose, and everything to gain Murat proved that he was a deserving opponent. Although this performance was in a losing effort, it is not out of the realm of  possibility that Murat could see further opportunities against the elite of the Light-Heavyweight division down the line. He may have lost the fight, but Karo Murat certainly has nothing to be ashamed of.

As for Bernard Hopkins, it is really hard to say what is next for him. On one hand logic would suggest that Hopkins would seek a unification fight with one of the other champions of the division specifically either WBC champion Adonis Stevenson or WBO champion Sergey Kovalev. A possibility exists however, that Hopkins may fight Floyd Mayweather in May of next year possibly at the Middleweight limit of 160lbs. 

Although a potential duel between two masters of the craft of Boxing in Hopkins and Mayweather is certainly intriguing, this observer does not believe that Hopkins going back down in weight to the Middleweight division would necessarily be beneficial. Two examples of historical precedent that would suggest that it might not be a good idea for Hopkins are when Sugar Ray Leonard attempted to drop down in weight from the Super-Middleweight  division of 168lbs. back down to the Jr. Middleweight division of 154lbs. to challenge then WBC champion Terry Norris in 1991. Leonard had not fought in the Jr. Middleweight division since 1984 when he defeated Jr. Middleweight contender Kevin Howard.  In his fight with Norris, Leonard displayed all of the signs of a fighter who’s best days were behind him. Whether or not the drop down in weight had anything to do with how easily Norris was able to dominate that fight and dish out a terrible beating to Leonard is a subject of much debate. This observer believes that Leonard made the wrong move by opting to drop down in weight rather than continue to compete in the Super-Middleweight division where he was the WBC world champion in that weight class.

A more recent example is Roy Jones, a man who many will consider one of Hopkins rivals throughout his career. Many will remember Jones’ historic performance in March of 2003 when he then as the unified Light-Heavyweight world champion moved up in weight to challenge John Ruiz for the WBA Heavyweight championship. Jones dominated that fight and in the process became the first former Middleweight champion to move up in weight and capture a World Heavyweight championship since Bob Fitzsimmons who defeated James J. Corbett for the Heavyweight title in 1897.

Many including this observer believed that Jones would have been justified to retire after that fight after dominating multiple weight classes for his entire career. An argument should be made that Jones could not have achieved a higher feat after defeating Ruiz. Some believed that Jones were to continue fighting it would certainly be in the Heavyweight division. Jones however, would opt to go back down in weight to the Light-Heavyweight division to continue to defend his unified championship. Although Jones would successfully defend his title in his first fight with Antonio Tarver later that year, it was clear that the drop in weight had affected him. Tarver’s second round knockout of Jones in the rematch in 2004 set off a steady decline for a man considered to be one of the best pound for pound fighters not just of his era, but in the history the sport. Jones was not and has not been anywhere near the fighter he was when he defeated John Ruiz since dropping back down in weight.

Whether or not Bernard Hopkins would consider such examples in any decision making process as to whether or not he would drop down in weight to fight Mayweather, a fighter who has never fought above 154lbs. is a question that only he can answer.  Hopkins however, has always been a fighter who has defied odds and defied logic. No matter what’s next for Hopkins it will certainly generate significant interest and could excite the Boxing world.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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