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.”

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