Whether it had something to do with those ridiculous knee-high socks, or if it was simply because Kovalev imposed himself and forced the older man to move much faster than he wanted to, I don’t know. But from the opening bell, Hopkins’ movement looked awkward and his balance didn’t seem quite right to me.
Regardless, it was stated here that in order for Kovalev to be successful, it was absolutely imperative he not fall into the trap of trying to out-think Hopkins. But that’s precisely what Kovalev did in the opening round when, having corralled Hopkins to the ropes, the Russian feinted to the body, drawing out a counter jab from Bernard, before taking a half-step back and countering with a right hand over the top. The blow sent the older man to the canvas and consequently, the task of defeating “The Alien” became much easier.
Once you establish the legitimacy of your Sunday best, in this case Kovalev’s right hand, and you can time and hurt your opponent with it, the nature of the contest changes completely. It’s like Joe Louis once said: “Everyone has a plan until they get hit.”
Instead of Hopkins controlling the bout with his jab and feints, it was now Kovalev doing so, using his right hand and its feinting counterparts, such as rear shoulder fakes and preparatory flicker jabs thrown from the waist. Anything which resembled or indicated that a right hand was on its way forced Hopkins to both keep his lead hand at home and to react to Kovalev instead of the other way around. This is what is meant by seizing the initiative.
Kovalev made Hopkins work, both physically and mentally, for every second of every round. With calculated footwork to apply steady pressure and cut off the ring, along with provocative feints to disrupt the Philly veteran’s rhythm and body jabs to slow him down, “Krusher” controlled the older man for virtually the entire contest. Simply put, Kovalev was the puppet master in this match. He fought his fight, a rarity in a Bernard Hopkins bout, and that is essentially what ring generalship is all about.
Technically, it must be said that Kovalev is much better than I had previously estimated. Of course, it’s tough to gauge how technically proficient a fighter is when they’re knocking inferior opposition stiff inside of five rounds.
Kovalev’s attack was varied, his movement was balanced and purposeful, and his distance management was superb: not once did the Russian compromise his punching room by getting too close to Hopkins. And equally impressive was the way in which Kovalev extinguished the veteran’s attempts at gaining the inside position by promptly stepping out of range anytime Hopkins feinted or led off with his right hand.
Likewise, once Kovalev bridged the gap himself, he didn’t waste time and effort loading up and looking for the perfect shot. Instead, he remained patient and used feints and time delay to throw off Hopkins’ timing, before systematically inserting his punches through “The Alien’s” defensive motions.
Another factor to be considered was the physical disparity between the two combatants. From my point of view, it seemed Kovalev held a significant advantage in both hand and foot speed, athleticism and reflexes, and physical strength and, needless to say, punching power. Add to these attributes his now apparent tactical and strategic dexterity, and it’s abundantly clear that we have a formidable battler on our hands who would probably start as a betting favorite over most fighters between middleweight and light heavyweight. Judging by the way Hopkins from the first round on used his evasion skills simply to avoid punishment, rather than trying to initiate some counter-offense, Kovalev is, pound-for-pound, one of the hardest punchers in the sport.
And that’s why a defeat at the hands of Sergey Kovalev does not damage Hopkins’ legacy one bit. Were he to have dominated Kovalev, many would have said the Russian was overrated from the beginning and that stylistically, he was the kind of prototypical puncher Hopkins has always thrived against. But now? Well, now we know for sure.
We know Kovalev is for real, a boxer-puncher to be reckoned with. And that Bernard “The Alien” Hopkins’ defense and punch resistance are, in fact, otherworldly. It will certainly be interesting to see how many fighters are capable of lasting the championship distance with Kovalev from here on in as, remarkably, Hopkins did last night.
— Lee Wylie