Monday, April 28, 2014

Wladimir Klitschko: 16 Successful Title Defenses, Pulev Next?

When long reigning IBF/WBO/WBA/IBO Heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko entered the ring to make the sixteenth defense of his world title against WBO number one contender Alex Leapai on April 26th in Germany there was not a feeling of suspense. Leapai, the relatively unknown challenger had emerged on the scene after scoring a convincing ten round unanimous decision upset win over previously undefeated number one contender Denis Boytsov in November of last year.

There is no doubt as this fight approached however, that most considered Leapai to be a considerable underdog against a fighter who in addition to being a two-time Heavyweight world champion had also not lost a fight in over a decade. In the lead up to this fight I stated that Leapai needed to bring the fight to Klitschko from the outset and not allow him to establish distance. I went on to say that there was no way that the 6’0 Leapai could win this fight from the outside against the 6’6 Klitschko, who in addition to his height also has an eighty-one inch reach.

When the two fighters entered the ring there would be no element of surprise, but rather a great fighter at his best giving the Boxing world and another demonstration as to why he has been so dominant since regaining the Heavyweight title in 2006 in his second fight with Chris Byrd. Leapai began the fight trying to establish head movement and looking to apply pressure on Klitschko. Klitschko however, would score a knockdown of Leapai with the jab midway through the first round.

Although Leapai did not appear hurt he was not able to disrupt Klitschko’s rhythm in that Klitschko was able to establish his jab and in doing so began looking to land his right hand. This has been the fundamental style that has befuddled many an opponent for Klitschko in the last decade. It may not be the most entertaining style to watch in the eyes of some, but you simply cannot argue with success.

As has become the norm any time an opponent gets close to Klitschko, Klitschko immediately ties that opponent up and does not allow an opponent to get off with anything effective. Such was the case for Alex Leapai. Any time Leapai got close, Klitschko quickly tied him up and then reestablished the distance. Even though Leapai continued to try to get underneath Klitschko’s jab he eventually became a stationary target for Klitschko’s offense and could not establish hardly any offense of his own.

The one-sided encounter came to an end as the effects of Klitschko’s jabs and right hands gradually broke Leapai down as the champion scored two knockdowns in the fifth round to force a stoppage of the fight. In all truth and honesty there is not much to say about this fight nor is there much to analyze.

Sometimes it is a simple as one fighter doing what he has to do. With the win Klitschko has now successfully defended his title sixteen times leaving him four title defenses away from tying Larry Holmes who had twenty successful title defenses during his title reign from 1978-1985. Currently, Klitschko is nine defenses away from tying the all-time record of twenty-five successful title defenses, which was set by Joe Louis from 1937-1949.

Although there will be some who will say that Leapai, who was out landed 147 to 10 over the course of the fight simply did not provide any resistance for Klitschko and say that this title defense does not prove anything, I respectfully disagree. At the end of the day this was another day at the office for Wladimir Klitschko. In the bigger picture however, this fight was one more step on Klitschko’s march towards Boxing history. Even though there will be detractors who will say that there was a lack of depth in the Heavyweight division during Klitschko’s era, I believe statistics do not lie and when Wladimir’s career is said and done it will be hard for anyone to say that he was not an all-time great. All a fighter can do is face who is put in front of them.

Some may choose to debate as to the state of the Heavyweight division and whether or not that has played any role in not only Wladimir’s dominance, but of the Klitschko brothers as a whole. This observer believes that it may not necessarily be a case of a weak division, but maybe the two men who have dominated the last decade of Heavyweight Boxing Wladimir and older brother Vitali are simply just that good.

As for what’s next for Wladimir, it is logical to assume that he will face the IBF’s top contender the undefeated Kubrat Pulev later this year in another mandated title defense. As for the rest of the division, all the attention will now focus on the bout to determine a new WBC world champion as top contenders Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola meet in a rematch on May 10th. The winner that fight will probably be mandated to face undefeated top contender Deontay Wilder who defeated Malik Scott in March in a fight that was billed as an elimination bout.

No matter what happens with the WBC championship, the biggest story in the Heavyweight division will continue to be Wladimir Klitschko’s march towards Boxing history. As Klitschko’s reign atop the division continues it is logical to assume that if he were successful in defeating Pulev that Stiverne, Arreola, and Wilder would all be potential future opponents no matter who might be WBC champion.

The question that this observer will continue to ponder is can any of the above or anyone else in the division for that matter derail Wladimir Klitschko’s march towards Boxing history? It will surely be interesting as opponents continue to attempt to answer that question.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

The Boxing Truth® is a registered trademark of Beau Denison All Rights Reserved.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Can Leapai Derail Klitschko’s March Towards History?

For over a decade one name has dominated the Heavyweight division. Klitschko. A name shared by the most dominant brothers in Boxing history. Both Vitali and Wladimir have ruled over the division with two iron fists and have become what this observer has called “The Two-Headed Heavyweight Championship Monster.”

There have been few challengers that have been able to go the distance with the brothers, much less been able to compete effectively. It’s no secret to those who have read my work over the years that I have been of the opinion that the Klitschko brothers are not likely to get the respect that either of them are due for their dominance until both are long retired from the sport.

After a decade at the top of the division, and having taken possession of the World Heavyweight Championship between them, I wondered if there would come a time when the Heavyweight championship of the world would become universally vacated. This scenario did seem as though it were a possibility as most are probably of the opinion that the brothers were likely to retire on top as world champions. Part one of that equation came when Vitali vacated the WBC title earlier this year to focus on his political ambitions leaving a vacancy in the Heavyweight division, and more importantly the first time since 2008 that a portion of the Heavyweight championship of the world is not in possession of either Klitschko.

This now leaves Wladimir as the sole Klitschko in the Heavyweight division. What has gone unnoticed by some is since regaining a portion of the Heavyweight championship in 2006 and successfully unifying four of five world titles, Wladimir has also been quietly marching toward history.

Following his fifteenth successful title defense over previously undefeated Alexander Povetkin in October of last year, Klitschko has put himself on the verge of joining elite company in regard to the most dominant Heavyweight champions of all time. There are two legendary fighters that have successfully defended their titles more times. Larry Holmes who successfully defended his Heavyweight title twenty times and Joe Louis who holds the all-time record for title defenses in any weight class in Boxing history with an incredible twenty-five successful defenses.

For the thirty-eight-year-old Klitschko it would be a fitting way to close his career if he were to come closer to Holmes and Louis, and maybe even break the all-time record. The next step for Klitschko is title defense number sixteen, which will come on Saturday when he defends his unified IBF/WBO/WBA/IBO world title against WBO mandatory challenger Alex Leapai in Germany.

Leapai, an Australian-based native of Samoa emerged on Wladimir’s radar after he scored an upset ten round unanimous decision over previously undefeated number one contender Denis Boytsov last November. Leapai, who will enter the fight with a record of 30-4-3, with 24 Knockouts comes into this fight with a five fight winning streak.

Leapai however, is probably not well-known outside of Australia and is likely to be viewed as an underdog as this fight approaches. This opinion could be based on his record. Although Leapai has built momentum coming into this fight, he has beaten several fighters who are not particularly well-known. Despite his victory over Boytsov, Leapai’s most notable opponents were former world title challengers Owen Beck and Kevin Johnson. Leapai scored his sixth round knockout over Beck in 2010, but was stopped by Johnson in nine rounds two years later.

Although some may consider this fight to be a mere formality as Klitschko continues to rule over the division, it is important to remember as I have said many times over the years that anything can happen in Boxing and that is what makes the sport great. There was also a time when Klitschko was susceptible to being caught off guard, most notably in his fights with Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster.

There is no doubt however, that in the years since suffering those losses Wladimir has become a much more technically sound boxer who makes full use of his physical advantages. Even though both of the Klitschko brothers have been criticized over the years for their Boxing styles, you can’t argue with success.

It has proven to be an extremely difficult task in the last decade for opponents to land anything effective on Wladimir. This can be attributed to the legendary late great trainer Emanuel Steward, who took over as Klitschko’s trainer in 2004. Under Steward’s guidance Klitschko was able to make full use of his 6’6 frame and eighty-one inch reach. Even though some may criticize the Boxing styles of the Klitschko brothers, Wladimir’s career in the last decade is a shining example of why Emanuel Steward is regarded as one of the greatest trainers in the history of the sport. Some might argue that if it weren’t for Steward, Wladimir’s career might have been different and probably would not have achieved the level of dominance he has over the last decade.

How can Leapai win this fight? Although some might say that Leapai has a puncher’s chance, he needs to get close enough in order to attempt to land that punch. He must bring the fight to Klitschko from the outset and not allow Klitschko to establish distance. Simply put, there is no way that the 6’0 Leapai can win this fight on the outside. He needs to make Klitschko fight.

This is however, easier said than done. In Klitschko’s last fight Alexander Povetkin attempted valiantly to bring the fight to Klitschko, but was nullified every time that he got on the inside.  Klitschko was able to make full use of his height and weight as he roughed up and grappled with Povetkin on the inside, scoring four knockdowns and dominating throughout.

Much of the blame for Klitschko’s ability to rough up Povetkin throughout that fight was pointed in the direction of Referee Luis Pabon. This observer however, stated following the fight that if a referee will allow you to make full use of your physical advantages and size, why not use it to your advantage?

Povetkin is only two inches taller than Leapai. This means that Leapai will be in the same predicament of having to find a way to get on the inside of Klitschko and avoid being caught where Klitschko can lean and use his body weight to his advantage. In order to do this Leapai must first find a way to get on the inside and avoid Klitschko’s jab and straight right hand, which has gradually beaten down many opponents. Alex Leapai clearly faces an uphill battle in this fight and we will have to see what he has to offer in the ring.

Although this fight has been dismissed by some and from a business standpoint has been passed on by some networks both here in the United States and abroad, this fight does have an element of intrigue. Wladimir Klitschko’s march toward Boxing history. If he is able to get past Alex Leapai, each successive title offense will continue to increase interest regardless of who the opposition might be. Wladimir Klitschko must now deal with two opponents each time he gets in the ring. The opponent standing across the ring from him and the increasing element of chasing Boxing history.

For Boxing fans in the United States Klitschko-Leapai will be televised by ESPN on Saturday afternoon at 5PM EST/2PM PST. Will Klitschko continue to inch closer to Holmes and Louis? Or, will an unheralded challenger be able to pull off another upset?

We will have to wait and see.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

The Boxing Truth® is a registered trademark of Beau Denison All Rights Reserved.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Hopkins Gives Another Lesson In The Science Of Boxing

The Light-Heavyweight championship unification clash between IBF champion Bernard Hopkins and WBA champion Beibut Shumenov had in it’s lead up what has become a familiar storyline to all Boxing fans. Could the future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins continue to defy father time and in the process continue to rewrite the book of Boxing history?

After only fifteen fights as a professional, despite holding the WBA championship for over four years, and defending his title five times, Shumenov entered this fight as an underdog. In addition to the storyline that accompanies practically all of Hopkins’ fights at this stage of his career, this fight also had the question of whether or not Shumenov could defeat a fighter with the skill level and experience of Bernard Hopkins. All questions would be answered when the two world champions entered the ring Saturday night at the D.C. Armory in Washington, D.C.

In the lead up to this fight I stated that some may have said going into the fight that Shumenov was to establish a fast pace with the intention of making Hopkins feel uncomfortable from the outset.  Shumenov was after all facing a man nineteen years his senior.  Most Boxing aficionados will likely agree that the approach in just about every case where there is a significant difference in age between two fighters, the younger fighter should try to make the older fighter fight the younger’s type of fight where the advantage would be in their favor.

This however, would not be the case as right from the beginning of this fight the pace was tailor-made for Hopkins. Shumenov needed to establish that this would be his kind of fight and not the type of fight where Hopkins would not only dictate the pace, but look as though he was putting on an exhibition.

The pace of this fight could likely be described as a pace of a friendly sparring session. Both fighters seemed a bit reluctant to make the first move. In the early rounds this seemed to be an example of the Boxing equivalent of a chess match. The first three rounds could have a significant difference of opinion as to who won those rounds due to the lack of action and offensive rhythm.

Although some may not consider the way the early rounds were fought to be entertaining, it is important to remember that Boxing is a science and therefore, can be extremely tactical at times. Shumenov seemed to be slightly more active early on, but simply being more active does not always translate into winning rounds. As is the case with most Bernard Hopkins fights, he was very elusive, able to deflect much of his opponent’s offense, and work effectively in spurts looking for opportunities to counter punch.

In most instances where Bernard Hopkins is allowed to dictate the pace he uses the first couple of rounds to study his opponent and as the fight progresses, he begins to implement his strategy. This is essentially what happened in this fight.

Hopkins’ ability to be elusive, make his opponent miss, and make the most out of his offense, particularly when he threw his right hand was really what this fight was all about. A future Hall of Famer giving a lesson in the science that is Boxing. As the fight progressed, Shumenov just couldn’t find an answer to turn the fight in his favor.

What was most troublesome for Shumenov is that he trains himself, and there was no one to offer input as the fight went on as to any potential tactical adjustments that Shumenov might have attempted to make. Although Shumenov appeared to the aggressor in this fight he was not able to land consistently and this played right into Hopkins’ hands. The highlight of the fight came in round eleven when Hopkins knocked Shumenov down with a right hand and appeared that he might have been able to get stoppage in this fight. Hopkins, who has not scored a knockout since his victory over Oscar De La Hoya in September 2004, at age forty-nine being able to stop a man nineteen years his junior would have been impressive. Nevertheless, a forty-nine-year-old man dominating a younger opponent is impressive and noteworthy. 

Although one may not expect to see a knockout whenever Bernard Hopkins fights, to see a legendary figure of the sport continue to outwit much younger opposition and to do so with relative ease is entertaining to watch. What by all accounts was a dominant victory for Bernard Hopkins was briefly overshadowed by one scorecard at the end of the twelve round championship bout.

The consensus is that Hopkins dictated the fight from start to finish and was able to win most of the rounds. The consensus however, was not the opinion of Judge Gustavo Padilla who scored the fight 114-113 in favor of Shumenov, while judges Dave Moretti and Jerry Roth both scored the fight 116-111 for Hopkins getting Hopkins a split decision victory.

Following the fight I commented on Twitter that Boxing needs some sort of regulatory board to oversee the sport beyond the local and state athletic commissions. Even though it is very tempting to criticize judge Gustavo Padilla for his scorecard in this fight, the reality is that the scorecard is evidence of an ongoing problem throughout the whole sport. The memories of judge C.J. Ross’ scorecards in the first Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley and Floyd Mayweather-Saul Alvarez fights are still and will likely remain in the conscience of Boxing fans for years to come.

Much like Ross’ scorecard in the Mayweather-Alvarez fight, the scorecard of Gustavo Padilla differed significantly from the consensus opinion as to who won the Hopkins-Shumenov fight. Not only did Padilla’s scorecard differ as to who won, but it also differed from what happened in the ring from a visual standpoint. This fight was not close and although it was very tactical, it was easy to see who was dictating how the fight was being fought. That man was Bernard Hopkins.

Unlike the scorecard of C.J. Ross in the first Pacquiao-Bradley fight, Gustavo Padilla’s scorecard would not lead to a controversial outcome much as Ross’ scorecard in the Mayweather-Alvarez fight ended up not being a focal point as to who won the fight. Credit to judges Dave Moretti and Jerry Roth for turning in adequate scorecards in this fight.

There is no doubt in my mind that had Gustavo Padilla’s scorecard been the determining factor in the outcome of this fight that Boxing fans and experts alike would be filled with great passion and anger over what would be another black eye for the sport. The ongoing problem that continues throughout the Boxing world is the absence of an independent regulatory board to oversee the sport worldwide.

The slight controversy notwithstanding, the bigger story that emerged out of this fight was Bernard Hopkins’ quest to become the first man in Boxing history to completely unify world championships in two weight divisions. The logical next step in my eyes would be to see Hopkins face the winner of the Adonis Stevenson-Andrzej Fonfara fight that will take place next month, later this year in another unification clash.

There is of course the possibility of a fight between Hopkins and Sergey Kovalev as well at some point. If circumstances were to emerge where rival networks and promoters were to come together, it is possible that we would see Hopkins vs. Kovalev sooner, but does not seem likely at this point in my eyes.

At the end of the day Hopkins-Shumenov was another demonstration of a master of the craft of Boxing plying his trade. The loss for Shumenov will only benefit him in the long run if he can take the lessons taught to him by Hopkins and use it to improve as a fighter. Shumenov has only had sixteen professional fights and this may only be the beginning for him. I am of firm opinion however, if he does not obtain a trainer on a fulltime basis, this also could be the beginning of the end.  

As for Bernard Hopkins, he continues to defy odds, defeat father time, and amaze Boxing fans and experts alike as he continues to be at the top of his game at nearly fifty years old. As Hopkins continues to rewrite the book of Boxing history, the Boxing world eagerly awaits the next chapter.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

The Boxing Truth® is a registered trademark of Beau Denison All Rights Reserved. 

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Will Hopkins Continue To Make Boxing History?

There is no doubt that Bernard Hopkins has had a legendary career. Hopkins cemented his status as a future Hall of Famer by setting the all-time record for successful Middleweight championship defenses, successfully defending his title an incredible twenty times in a title reign that spanned ten years from 1995-2005. 

In addition to his many accomplishments Hopkins was not only able to retain the IBF Middleweight championship he won versus Segundo Mercado in 1995, but unified all four major division titles. The journey to “Undisputed Champion” spanned nine years with Hopkins completing the unification process with his knockout win over Oscar De La Hoya in 2004.  

Hopkins became the first man to unify all four major championships and thus far no other fighter has been able to accomplish this feat. Hopkins has written his name and legacy in stone as one of the greatest fighters in Boxing history. 

Hopkins would continue to write Boxing history when after losing his Middleweight world championship via controversial decision to Jermain Taylor in 2005 and failing to regain the title in the rematch. Hopkins moved up to the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division in 2006 and dominated former Light-Heavyweight world champion Antonio Tarver to win a twelve round unanimous decision.

Although Hopkins was on the losing end of disputed decisions twice against Jermain Taylor and even though he would go on to lose a close decision to Joe Calzaghe at Light-Heavyweight, all three of those fights could have gone either way. Despite those setbacks Hopkins would continue to defy the odds.  Hopkins would win his first of two Light-Heavyweight world titles by defeating Jean Pascal in their second encounter in May 2011 for the WBC world championship. 

Hopkins, with that win broke George Foreman’s record as the oldest fighter in history to win a world championship at age forty-six would lose the WBC title in his second fight with Chad Dawson in April 2012. Much like his losses to Taylor and Calzaghe, Hopkins’ loss to Dawson was also a close fight that could have gone either way.  

As has been the norm for Hopkins he was able to bounce back, defeating previously undefeated IBF world champion Tavoris Cloud in March of last year. In doing so, Hopkins broke his own record by once again becoming the oldest fighter to become world champion in the history of the sport.  

In his last fight in October of last year Hopkins scored a dominant twelve round unanimous decision over number one contender Karo Murat.  Although much of the attention of the Light-Heavyweight division in recent times has focused on the rise of Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev, both of whom won versions of the World Light-Heavyweight championship in the last year, there is no argument that Bernard Hopkins is the marquee draw of the division. A fighter that all in the division seek an opportunity to fight.  

The question that will continue to follow Hopkins now at age forty-nine is how much longer will he continue with his career?  In terms of the immediate future Hopkins will set his sights on WBA world champion Beibut Shumenov as they meet in a unification bout for both the IBF and WBA world titles Saturday night in Washington, D.C. 

A valid argument going into this fight is Beibut Shumenov has not gotten the attention as the other champions in the division, despite being the longest reigning champion of the four.  Shumenov, a native of Kazakhstan won the WBA championship in only his tenth pro fight by defeating Gabriel Campillo in January 2010. Despite the victory and the short amount of time it took Shumenov to win a world title, his reign as champion has been obscure successfully defending his title five times in his four years as champion thus far.  Shumenov does however, have notable wins not only against Campillo, but also against former longtime WBA Middleweight world champion William Joppy and Enrique Ornelas both of whom were defeated by Hopkins over the course of their careers. 

Despite those victories, Shumenov has not been able to get a marquee level fight until this unification bout with Hopkins was made.  Although logic would seem to say that the odds will be significantly in Hopkins’ favor, the thirty-year old Shumenov does have youth on his side by going against a fighter nearly two decades his senior. 

There is no question however, that when it comes the experience factor Hopkins is simply on a higher level than anyone Shumenov has faced thus far in his career.  Hopkins is a master of the craft. As is the case with all Bernard Hopkins opponents it will be interesting to see how Shumenov reacts to the master craftsman Hopkins and particularly if he can find a way to get past Hopkins’ solid defense and land more than occasionally.  

Shumenov does have some punching power and has registered a career knockout percentage of sixty percent in fifteen professional fights.  An argument that some might say that was effective for Taylor, Calzaghe, and Dawson in their fights against Hopkins and a reason they were given the nod in those close fights was their ability to get off first and outwork Hopkins in close rounds.  This could be part of Shumenov’s strategy to get off first and keep Hopkins on the defensive.  

Hopkins however, has always been very elusive, with the ability to slip punches in close and counter punch with precision.  There is no doubt in my mind that early on in this fight Hopkins will likely be looking to see what Shumenov has to offer and will be looking to set traps and exploit openings.  Whether Shumenov can get off first and manage to avoid being countered remains to be seen.  

Some might say that the best way for Shumenov to approach this fight is to establish a fast pace with the intention of making Hopkins uncomfortable from the outset.  Fighters such as Jermain Taylor and Jean Pascal were able to have success early in fights with Hopkins by getting off first and making Hopkins fight at a faster pace than is typically his norm. It will be interesting to see whether or not Shumenov can establish a quick pace and maintain it for twelve rounds.

In addition to what could be an interesting fight between two world champions it is important to keep in mind what this fight will mean in terms of the bigger picture.  Earlier this month in my column examining the changing landscape of the Light-Heavyweight division, I touched on the element of the current landscape of not just the Light-Heavyweight division, but of the sport as a whole with two of the sport’s major players HBO and Showtime who have been rivals for many years being in competition and the positives and negatives that some might say the rivalry has for fighters.

This observer has long been of the opinion that the more that there is increased competition among television networks to bring the best fights to their audience, the better it will be for the sport.  Although some might say that the negative aspects of rival networks and promoters in competition with each other could and has prevented some fights from being made, there are also positives that emerge from such circumstances.

In regard to the Light-Heavyweight division one man who will likely benefit from this rivalry is Bernard Hopkins.  He is after all the marquee attraction of the division.  With WBC champion Adonis Stevenson preparing to soon defend his title against top contender Andrzej Fonfara on May 24th on Showtime in the United States and with Hopkins-Shumenov also being televised by Showtime this weekend this theoretically could present a scenario of further unification of the World Light-Heavyweight championship.  

It could be logical to see the winners of both fights face-off later this year in another unification clash. One must also not forget the WBO world champion Sergey Kovalev, who also is very much in the mix.  Although Kovalev has fought his recent fights on HBO, it is also logical to assume that Kovalev would want to be involved in this unification tournament of sorts.

If Hopkins is successful on Saturday night against Beibut Shumenov, this scenario could present something truly historic for him.  Hopkins is already the only man ever to fully unify a world championship with all four major sanctioning organizations in a weight class.  At forty-nine years old, could a scenario present itself for Hopkins to attempt to duplicate that feat in a second weight class?

Bernard Hopkins has already cemented his legacy and no doubt is a first ballot Hall of Famer.  For a fighter who has made a habit of rewriting Boxing history and doing things his way if the scenario of potentially fully unifying another weight class at this stage of his career is presented to him, it would be the icing on the cake. If Hopkins is looking for a scenario, which to end his career, it is hard to envision a better storybook ending.  

Beibut Shumenov however, is probably not too concerned with the likes of Stevenson, Fonfara, and Kovalev. For Shumenov this is his first chance on Boxing’s marquee stage against a legitimate legend of the sport.  This fight against Hopkins is likely Shumenov’s primary focus. Should he be successful on Saturday night it would catapult him into the discussion for potential unification fights down the road and his name recognition value would instantly go up.  A fighter looking to prove that he belongs on the marquee stage of the sport should be viewed as extremely dangerous and not someone to take lightly.

What will happen when Hopkins and Shumenov square off? We will find out Saturday night.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

The Boxing Truth® is a registered trademark of Beau Denison All Rights Reserved.

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