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Why Hopkins-Pavlik Is The Right Fight

Bernard Hopkins Kelly PavlikBy Matt McGrain: Matchmaking as it was understood in the 40’s and 50’s is something of a forgotten art. Fighters were often brought along much more quickly in those days, matched against tough contenders and prospects with similar records as a matter of course. Steadily increasing quality of competition led to a strict learning curve for prospects and sharp test for established stars or those attempting to rebuild careers. The difference was very simple; the 0. “Undefeated” is the word at this time, the fewer defeats a fighter has on his record, the “more elite” that fighter is said to be. A loss can turn a contender with TV support to a gatekeeper all but overnight, and later in a fighter’s career a loss can de-rail title aspirations entirely – just look at what has happened to the prospects of Junior Witter in recent weeks.

Don’t blame promoters and don’t blame fighters – this is just a sign of the times. Fighters fight less, so of course losses come to mean more. With fighters having become more protected in such a climate, undefeated boxers have become more common later in their careers and undefeated boxers are easier to market. That is just the way things are. But it wasn’t always this way . Losing used to be expected. With one title to fight for in fewer divisions prospects were running into stiffer competition much sooner.

Looking back at histories lessons, we see that Archie Moore, arguably one of the best fighters ever to have drawn breath, had no less than 8 losses nine years into his career when he met the man that was to hand him his 9th loss, Charley Burley, one of the very best in the history of the sport, and according to Moore (who met Maxim, Marciano, Ezzard Charles and others) “the best I ever fought”. Burley hammered Moore about the ring dropping him three times on the way do a decision win. Archie’s description of the fight is instructive. “Charley gave me a boxing lesson”. This is literally the case. Fighting and losing to Burley made Moore a better fighter. He learned form Charley, an absolute master at his absolute peak.

A prospect these days is not coming to a title fight with 8 losses. Not in normal circumstances. So the modern fighter must be matched in learning fights where he can win. A difficult task for promoters and managers which often sees them come unstuck – because to teach a prospect a fighter, generally, must be in his class.

Bernard Hopkins is a ring genius. There is nobody in the sport, currently with better footwork. There is no other fighter who can take away an opponents jab purely with footwork and angles. There is no other fighter who is as elusive without employing swiftness of foot, upper body or reaction-time. Hopkins is unique, not just at the weight, but full stop. Could it be argued, then, that putting Pavlik in against Hopkins is fool-hardy, and that Hopkins is a huge favourite? No. The reason? Hopkins is hopelessly overmatched physically. Hopkins will be 44 when the two meet. He cannot sustain any kind of serious work rate. Of course, pushing him is very very hard – Calzaghe found a wonderful, wonderful way to do so, using world class footwork of his own to keep himself right in, or just outside of, the pocket, forcing Hopkins onto the move when he wanted to rest, making him take more steps than he wanted to. Pavlik does not have that kind of footwork. What he does have is aggression and all the heart in the world. Pavlik will continue to come forwards regardless. Hopkins will spend an awful lot of time off the line, making angles of Palvik’s road in and scoring – but whenever he fails to do so absolutely exactly, he will be hurt by Pavlik. I think Pavlik’s power is overrated in some quarters, but I do think of him as a real heart-breaker, a Hagler, coming forwards throwing lots of hard punches whilst proving impossible to discourage. It is true that he does not have Marvellous Marvin’s chin – few fighters are so blessed – but it is also true that he recovers quickly and that Hopkins is cautious about pressing after hurting his man (see round one of the Calzaghe fight) so I think we can rule out a knockout here.

Secondly, Hopkins’ does not have a young man’s stamina. We have know that since the better man lost the series with Taylor – Taylor deserved those victories because Hopkins just couldn’t push his man hard enough to win them in spite of the superior quality of his work. Since, the problem has worsened, by a serious margin, to the point where Hopkins “gamesmanship” has evolved to cheating – he was hit low against Calzaghe, but probably not in the testicles, Bernard’s tactics told us everything we needed to know about his gas tank. So, around round five, probably ahead on the cards, Bernard’s performance is going to nose dive and he is going to find himself in the ring with a punching opponent who is fresher and desperate for points. What happens next will determine who wins the fight.

In the meantime, Palvik, who I see as a heavy favourite, is taking a master class in boxing from a man who overmatches him in terms of the games finer points. He should be able to dominate his opponent whilst simultaneously gaining first hand experience of the kind of generalship and finesse that a fighter just can’t learn form a sparring partner. Pavlik’s people have found the ultimate winnable learning fight – he is a favourite, but win, lose or draw, Kelly is going to emerge from this one a much improved fighter. IF he goes on to become a great champion this will be what Charley Burley was to Archie Moore “Hopkins gave me a boxing lesson” – the crucial difference is, Pavlik should win.

Pavlik has shown some adaptability already, of course – it wasn’t like he was a raw amateur when he took on Miranda. But it is also true that in Miranda and Taylor he fought limited men, men whom he could dominate with his style, though his jabbing points victory in Taylor II was pleasing. But I also feel that Taylor III – talked about after the second fight – would have been treading water for Kelly because Jermaine just does not have anything else to show the Middleweight champion of the world. In my opinion this fight is the best fight that could be made for Kelly, not in terms of kudos or glory, but because it is the fight from which he stands to learn the most.

In addition, he has a chance to do what no-one else has done, stop the executioner. I don’t say knock out, because I don’t believe that this will happen, but there is more than one way to skin a cat. Will Hopkins body be able to process the messages of pain that Pavlik will be sending it? And if, as I’ve envisioned here, Hopkins starts to drop off around round 5, what sort of shape will he be in come round 10? Who was the last man Hopkins faced who punched as hard? Regardless, he has never been so vulnerable to these punches because he has never been so slow.

If Pavlik stops Bernard, of course people will say “Hopkins was old”, but it will also render the Calzaghe fight red hot – because Joe managed only the closest of decisions (I had it by a single point). And regardless of what people say, Kelly will know what all real boxing people know – Hopkins is always a scalp. If he’s still fighting at fifty he will be a scalp. He is that type of fighter. Horrible to fight and difficult to beat.

Finally, for Kelly, should he beat Hopkins and then the winner of Jones/Calzaghe, he will have beaten two all time top 100 pound for pound greats(Calzaghe slipped onto my list post Hopkins) back to back. Sure they are old men, and sure, they aren’t in prime, but it’s an introduction to that kind of company and that should be welcome, for any fighter. And for the old man? Another chance to beat one of the best in the world, another chance to be at the centre of the boxing universe, another chance to cement an impressive legacy. A win sees him move up another tier in history’s eye, and a loss doesn’t really hurt him.

But he isn’t coming to lose. That, I can promise you. When this one is over, we will know more about Pavlik, Pavlik will know more about himself and Pavlik will know more about boxing.

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