Hopkins vs. Pavlik: Satisfaction without action
Eric Raskin lists five reasons to watch Kelly Pavlik's showdown with Bernard Hopkins.
Originally Published: August 4, 2008By Eric Raskin | ESPN.com
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesForty-three and going strong: Bernard Hopkins is still doing his thing inside the ring.Maybe, just maybe, Shirley Hopkins wasn't looking out for the well-being of her son. Maybe she was looking out for the well-being of the rest of us. Before Bernard Hopkins' mother passed away in 2003, she made her boy promise to retire by the age of 40. Ostensibly, it was because getting punched in the head has not been clinically proven to better one's health. But perhaps Mrs. Hopkins was also motivated to spare the boxing public the pain of watching her son ply his trade. Hopkins has soldiered on without concern for the fans or his mother's wishes, fighting five months after turning 41 in January 2005, again 13 months later and a third time nine months after that. And in becoming one of the most exceptional over-40 fighters ever, he has also perfected a pugilistic version of the neutral-zone trap to become a bore for the ages. Paying to watch Hopkins fight is like paying to watch a pitcher hold a runner on first. A whole lot of paint has dried in the 30 months since Hopkins' promise to his late mother should have gone into effect, and Hopkins watchers have been missing out on the excitement. When you add it all up, it's no wonder that the announcement that Hopkins will fight reigning middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik on Oct. 18 was met with a collective yawn that was largely drowned out by the collective groan. Hopkins versus anyone, even an offense-minded, undefeated champ like Pavlik, promises little in the way of action. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be interested in Hopkins-Pavlik. You just have to look beyond such superficial interests as entertainment value. Scratching a bit below the surface, here are five reasons to look forward to Hopkins-Pavlik:
1. Tricky to pick
Considering Hopkins is still good enough at age 43 to have gone just about even with Joe Calzaghe in April (Calzaghe won via split decision), there is no heavy favorite in this fight.
Pavlik is younger and stronger than anyone Hopkins has faced recently, and Hopkins is more clever than anyone Pavlik will ever face, not to mention he's a light heavyweight at the moment. They both present an assortment of problems for each other, and between now and fight night, there should be healthy debate about whom to favor. The first thing you should ask for in a boxing matchup is that the outcome be hard to predict, and that's the case here. No matter how dull Hopkins-Pavlik might turn out to be, it's a real fight without a predetermined ending, which wouldn't have been the case if Pavlik's people had gone with Marco Antonio Rubio or John Duddy.
AP Photo/Isaac BrekkenConsidering the problems Joe Calzaghe, left, encountered against Hopkins in April, Pavlik's fight with B-Hop is hardly a foregone conclusion.
2. The torch transfer
When Jermain Taylor beat Hopkins for the undisputed middleweight championship on July 16, 2005, what on paper looked like a smooth passing of the torch from a great aging champion to a talented younger fighter was in fact anything but smooth, since Hopkins dominated the closing rounds and Taylor escaped with a highly controversial decision victory. It was not exactly how you'd have scripted it. But if Pavlik beats Hopkins convincingly, we get that passing of the torch from a great middleweight champ to a potentially great middleweight champ without using Taylor as a conduit. Better late than never, and better directly than with a middle man.
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesHopkins, left, reluctantly passed the torch to Jermain Taylor in 2005, only for Taylor to hand it to Pavlik two years later.
3. Light-years of buzz
I appeared (in the audio sense, anyway) on the "Ballroom Boxing" radio show on ESPN 1300 AM in Baltimore on July 26 and co-host Scott Crouse made this compelling observation as we discussed Hopkins-Pavlik on the air: If Pavlik knocks out Hopkins -- something nobody else has done -- it produces more buzz for Pavlik than any other fight possibly could right now. Granted, putting "The Executioner" to sleep is a big "if." But Pavlik is a born puncher, and Hopkins' reflexes aren't quite what they used to be. It's a realistic possibility. And the KO result would advance Pavlik several rungs on the ladder from "boxing star" to "household name." We'd all rather see Pavlik defend his middleweight title against his true top contender, Arthur Abraham. But you have to admit, knocking out old man Hopkins would do more for the champ's Q-rating than knocking out a prime Abraham would.
4. Legends of the fall
Boxing fans love the cross-generation "what if" game: What if Hopkins fought Marvin Hagler? What if Hagler fought Carlos Monzon? What if Monzon fought Sugar Ray Robinson? Well, 10 or 20 years from now, do you want to be asking, "What if Pavlik fought Hopkins?" Or this autumn, do you want to actually watch two possible middleweight legends provide an answer?
5. Pound-for-pound pounding
You can count me among those who consider pound-for-pound rankings the most unimportant rankings in boxing, as they have little practical application and depend more on opinion than do divisional rankings. But they can be useful for hyping a fighter or a fight, and when two top-six pound-for-pounders share the ring, it's hard not to get caught up in that hype. ESPN.com currently ranks Hopkins fifth and Pavlik sixth, and the winner could easily climb into the top three. Fights between fellow pound-for-pounders don't happen every day (even though this will be the third such fight for Hopkins in a 15-month span, incredibly enough), and it'll be exciting to know when the bell rings that two truly elite practitioners are going at it. Of course, with Hopkins vs. Pavlik, that may well turn out to be the last exciting moment they provide. Everything after the opening bell could be a bore, and if you don't want to watch the fight because of Hopkins' style, I can't blame you. But whatever you do, don't label the fight as pointless. There's a lot of good that can come out of Hopkins vs. Pavlik. Especially if Pavlik can send Hopkins into retirement and make Shirley Hopkins' wish come true. Eric Raskin is a contributing editor for and former managing editor of The Ring magazine.
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