The Strategist: Bernard Hopkins
Hopkins is perhaps the most astute strategist in the entire sport. It is my belief that no other fighter—or even trainer for that matter—comes close to matching Hopkins’ prodigious ring I.Q. or uncanny penchant for signalling out his opponents’ most dangerous weapon and then not only taking it away from them, but making it work to their disadvantage. Alien vs. Krusher
Sergey Kovalev is well known for his chilling punching power. But as anyone with a modicum of boxing insight understands, punching power is contingent on two things: leverage and timing. Thus, Hopkins will be doing all he can to take both away from the Russian. He will likely work to get off first and then smother Kovalev’s punches on the inside before breaking away and firing what Nazim Richardson coins his “short Joe Louis” – a short right hand on the inside that sets up a tight left hook or lead uppercut. And Hopkins will no doubt be utilizing the proven kryptonite for precise timing: feints of hand, foot and head.
I think we can also expect to see Hopkins moving laterally in order to keep Kovalev mobile and to prevent him from setting up his attack. The older fighter’s deft footwork also plays a vital role whenever he’s walking his opponents into shots, such as sneaky right hand leads before falling into the clinch, and defensively responsible shotgun jabs where, while stepping in, Hopkins keeps his chin tucked behind his lead shoulder, and his head off-center. Both moves work well as preemptive measures against counter-punches, especially when one’s reflexes aren’t quite as sharp as they once were.
The Puncher: Sergey Kovalev
It is absolutely imperative that Kovalev doesn’t fall into the trap of trying to out-think Hopkins. Nor can he allow himself to sit back and wait for Hopkins in the center of the ring. Rather, Kovalev must lead the dance and make Hopkins work for every second of every round. The Russian’s best chance at victory definitely lies in seizing the initiative.
Kovalev must also apply pressure–but without being reckless–and mustn’t smother himself once he’s bridged the gap. This means small, balanced steps to get himself into the appropriate range before moving his hands. Hopkins is a tremendous counter-puncher, so should Kovalev find himself over-committing and thus off-balance, rest assured “The Executioner” (sorry, force of habit) will be there to make him pay. Furthermore, Kovalev cannot afford to waste time and precious energy loading up and looking for the perfect punch. If the Russian goes in there searching for a knockout, he likely won’t get one. Combinations and a high work rate will be key for him.
Conclusion and Prediction
Whether he’s slipping or rolling punches to set up counters, or ducking underneath and weaving out to his right after throwing a right hand, Hopkins is one of the most elusive, and difficult-to-time fighters in the game. In addition, few are better at controlling the rhythm and tempo of a bout. And quite simply, none are as savvy as Hopkins when it comes to the application of some of the darker arts of pugilism.
Getting inside his opponent’s head and forcing him to fight his fight is the cornerstone of Hopkins’ success, and I don’t see this contest being any different.
Kovalev is a very good fighter, perhaps an exceptional one, but the fact remains he has yet to share a ring with anyone who is even remotely close to being on Hopkins’ level when it comes to technique, tactical awareness, and strategic thinking. Conversely, I don’t see anything in Kovalev’s repertoire, at least as of right now, that suggests to me Hopkins will be out of his depth come Saturday; he quite literally has seen it all before.
Needless to say, Kovalev’s inexperience against top level opposition could be a key factor here. And what’s more, Kovalev has never gone beyond the eighth round as a professional prizefighter. The longer this fight goes, the more I see it going Hopkins’ way.
Short of an early, unexpected knockout or some bizarre controversy, I see Hopkins using his superior ringcraft to bewilder and bamboozle a frustrated Kovalev on way to chalking up another win for the old-school and producing yet another performance for the ages.
Hopkins by unanimous decision.