Friday, October 25, 2013

Is Murat Under The Radar For Hopkins?

A storyline that many fans will occasionally hear in regard to the sport of Boxing is when a contender who may not be considered to be well known particularly among casual fans, prepares to challenge for a world championship against a champion who is well established and considered a star of the sport, a question that some might have could be is the champion overlooking his opponent? In the case of the upcoming IBF Light-Heavyweight championship fight between a future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins and IBF number two rated contender Karo Murat, some might argue that a question of whether Hopkins might be overlooking Murat might be warranted.

After all, Bernard Hopkins is a legitimate legend the sport. A man who has fought the best of his era, fought long and hard for the respect and recognition deserving of a champion. One could argue that Hopkins at age forty-eight, with his place in any Hall of Fame associated with the sport of Boxing assured would be justified to only seek big money fights against fighters with significant marquee value at this stage of his career.

Hopkins however, has always been a fighter who has been willing to take on all comers. Many will remember Hopkins for his historic Middleweight championship reign in which he won the Middleweight title, fully unified the title becoming the only man in Boxing history to hold the titles of the IBF, WBC, WBA, and the WBO; considered the sport’s major sanctioning bodies at the same time to become the undisputed champion of the Middleweight division. A title reign in which Hopkins successfully defended his crown twenty times. After suffering two controversial losses to Jermain Taylor, Hopkins would then go on to win two world titles in the Light-Heavyweight division.

Following his dominating performance in regaining a portion of the Light-Heavyweight championship by defeating previously undefeated IBF champion Tavoris Cloud in March of this year, breaking his own record as the oldest fighter to win a world championship in the history of the sport, there were some who questioned what may be next for Hopkins. One could certainly say that Hopkins really does not have anything left to prove and at this point with his legacy etched in stone any further accomplishments is icing on the cake.

It was no surprise to this observer however, to hear that Hopkins would accept a mandatory title defense of the IBF title against Karo Murat. After all part of Hopkins legacy, is that as champion he has always been willing to take on all comers which includes challengers mandated by the sport’s sanctioning organizations. There were however, questions regarding whether or not this fight would happen. A fight that was originally scheduled to take place in July was postponed due to Murat having difficulty in obtaining a U.S. visa.

For a brief period of time it appeared that Murat would lose his opportunity at the title after the IBF staged an elimination bout to determine a new mandatory challenger for Hopkins. The fighter who emerged victorious in that bout, the undefeated Sergey Kovalev, opted instead to challenge WBO champion Nathan Cleverly. In a move that was seen as a gamble by some, but ultimately paid off for Kovalev who dominated Cleverly stopping the previously undefeated champion in four rounds to win the title.

Ironically, what seemed to be a gamble by Kovalev, turned out to greatly benefit Karo Murat who after getting his visa problems resolved was right back in line to challenge Hopkins. Murat the former European Super-Middleweight champion, who is a winner of twenty-five out of twenty-seven professional fights, certainly has a record that most would consider credible to challenge for a world title. It should not be overlooked that Murat has only lost one fight, a tenth round stoppage by Nathan Cleverly in 2010 and earned a draw in his second fight with former WBA Light-Heavyweight champion Gabriel Campillo in 2011. Although Karo Murat may not be well known to most casual observers he has earned his chance at a world title.

A point that some may argue however, is Murat has not fought anyone of the caliber of Bernard Hopkins. Questions regarding how Murat will handle the atmosphere of the event, and deal with a fighter who is a master of the craft of Boxing in Hopkins are indeed valid.

The one obvious thing that some will look at as a potential advantage for Murat will be the question of whether or not Bernard Hopkins’ age will be a factor. It is inevitable that each time Bernard Hopkins enters the ring that he not only faces an opponent across the ring from him, but also faces father time. As great as Bernard Hopkins has been throughout his entire career, and even though he has continued to defy the odds, one has to wonder how many more fights Bernard Hopkins realistically has left in him.

One could expect that Hopkins will use to his advantage as a master of the craft of Boxing, he not only has physical ability, but also the wit to mentally beat his opponents. It will be interesting to see how Murat will deal with fighting a master tactician. The key to this fight in this observer’s eyes will be whether or not Murat can force Hopkins to fight at a high pace and whether or not he will be able to maintain that pace for a full twelve rounds.

Fighters such as Joe Calzaghe, Jermain Taylor, Jean Pascal, and Chad Dawson all were able to have periods of success against Hopkins when they were able to dictate the pace and bring the fight Hopkins. Hopkins has however, been able to be successful when he is able to fight at a measured tactical pace. Although Hopkins lost disputable decisions to Calzaghe, Taylor, and Dawson there were periods in those fights where Hopkins was able to fight in his comfort zone.

The best example of Hopkins’ ability to turn a fight around in his favor in my opinion was in his first fight with Jean Pascal. In that fight Pascal got off to a good start and was able to score knockdowns of Hopkins in rounds one and three. As the fight progressed however, Hopkins was able to gradually take control and by the end of the fight, despite suffering two knockdowns, was believed to be the winner by a convincing margin in the opinion of most observers this one included. Although it is crucial that Murat bring the fight Hopkins from the outset, it is just as crucial that he establish the pace and maintain that pace for the entire fight and not give Hopkins any room to maneuver or gain any momentum. It goes without saying however, that accomplishing this task against a fighter like Hopkins is far easier said than done. Whether Karo Murat can pull off what most would consider an upset remains to be seen.

Although Bernard Hopkins has not been one to overlook his opponents throughout his career, an interesting subplot that some may keep in mind going into this fight is should Hopkins be successful in his first title defense of the IBF Light- Heavyweight championship what would be next? There are a number of options.

It would seem obvious to most observers that a logical choice would be WBC champion Adonis Stevenson, who has emerged as Boxing’s newest star after scoring a first round knockout of Chad Dawson earlier this year and who most recently stopped Tavoris Cloud in seven rounds. A fight between Stevenson and Hopkins would certainly be considered a big money fight for Hopkins particularly in Montreal where Stevenson has been a solid marquee draw.

There is also the possibility of Hopkins facing WBO champion Sergey Kovalev at some point and even some speculation of a potential fight between Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather, possibly at the Middleweight limit of 160lbs.  Although it would seem more logical for Hopkins to pursue unification fights with either Stevenson or Kovalev, especially given his age and the potential physical effect a drop in weight from the Light-Heavyweight limit of 175lbs. back to the Middleweight limit of 160lbs. or potentially a catch weight could have on him. Hopkins must first deal with the opponent who will be next to face him. Karo Murat.

The idea of Hopkins facing Stevenson, Kovalev, or even Mayweather is certainly mouth watering for any Boxing enthusiast. Hopkins may indeed have those options available to him, but for Murat who is just seeking his opportunity at a world championship, this is the only fight that he is concerned with. Although Hopkins has never been one to overlook his opponents, a fighter with nothing to lose and everything to gain, who most would consider to be under the radar should still be considered very dangerous. It goes without saying that when it comes to the sport of Boxing, one should always expect the unexpected. Hopkins beware…

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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