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.”

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