By Joseph Santoliquito
ATLANTIC CITY, NJ (CBS) — Every time living legend Bernard Hopkins enters the ring, the question haunts him: Is tonight the night “The Alien” shows his age? Is tonight the night that the wear and tear of 26 years begins to show? Is tonight the night Old Man Hopkins finally looks old?
Saturday night was the night.
Sergey Kovalev’s goal was to hit Hopkins anywhere he could, at any chance he had. It didn’t matter if it was on the arms, or the top of the head, or to the body. “The Krusher” wanted to land and to treat Hopkins like a 49-year-old man.
And that’s what happened Saturday night before 8,545 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
The Russian expatriate picked and poked, but mostly stalked Hopkins in remaining undefeated in winning a very easy 12-round decision to wrest Hopkins’ IBF and WBA light heavyweight titles, and defending the WBO light heavy belt.
Judges Carlos Ortiz Jr. and Clark Sammartino both had it 120-107 for Kovalev, awarding him every round, and judge Larry Layton had it 120-106, as did CBS Philly. Layton scored the lopsided 12th round 10-8 for Kovalev, as did CBS Philly.
The numbers didn’t lie. Kovalev threw 585 punches and landed 166, to Hopkins’ 65 landed of 195 thrown. Kovalev connected on 121 of 341 power punches, to Hopkins’ 40 connects on 111 power punches thrown.
The 31-year-old Kovalev knocked down Hopkins in the first round with a right to the top of Hopkins’ head, sending Hopkins down for the first time in four years, since Hopkins’ first fight with Jean Pascal on Dec. 18, 2010.
In a rarity, Hopkins, the master strategist, was out-maneuvered by Kovalev, whose patience was the key. Each time Kovalev (26-0-1, 23 knockouts) closed, he took his time, content on landing anywhere he could. Hopkins, a cunning artist, can often turn the course of an exchange with trap. Kovalev gave him no such chance.
Despite the chants of “B-Hop, B-Hop, B-Hop,” Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 KOs) lost the first seven rounds. Hopkins, sensing urgency, became more assertive in the eighth, winning his first round.
But then, like a cobra, Kovalev struck again. He wobbled Hopkins in the eighth, landing a right in almost the same area, on the top of Hopkins’ head, that he scored the first-round knockdown with.
Kovalev walked through everything Hopkins threw. Obviously knowing it’s been over 10 years since Hopkins last stopped an opponent, when he downed Oscar De La Hoya on Sept. 18, 2004 in the ninth round, Kovalev had no fear of anything Hopkins had.
In the last round, Kovalev had Hopkins in serious trouble. Hopkins landed a right that caught the attention Kovalev and woke up the monster in him that had been dormant for a few rounds. Kovalev smashed Hopkins and had referee David Fields looking in closely a number of times, tempting to stop it. The 38 punches Kovalev landed on Hopkins in the final round are the most punches ever landed on Hopkins in one round in 41 fights tracked by CompuBox.
“He fought a good fight and he fought a good technical fight,” Hopkins said. “I did more than what expected throughout my career. Everything is 50-50 right [whether he’ll continue fighting].”
Hopkins will fight again. The first-ballot, all-time great—and he is—won’t quit until he gets starched and sanded. That didn’t happen against Kovalev. He was dominated. He was knocked down. And he was hurt a few times. But he just didn’t have the firepower against the younger, stronger Krusher.
“We wanted to treat him like an old man, and I kept telling Sergey that he couldn’t be intimidated by Hopkins,” said John David Jackson, Kovalev’s trainer. “None of this surprises me. He did just what I thought he would do. Tonight, Sergey was the teacher.”