Commentary

Hopkins vs. Pavlik: Five 'Unstoppable' questions

Will Bernard Hopkins turn Saturday's fight with Kelly Pavlik into a snoozefest? Can Pavlik get credit for an ugly win? How will the fight itself do at the box office? Eric Raskin asks the questions and delivers the answers.

Originally Published: October 14, 2008
By Eric Raskin | ESPN.com

Kelly PavlikAP Photo/David GardKelly Pavlik, right, makes for exciting contests, but can he force Bernard Hopkins into a dogfight?
Born in 1982, Kelly Pavlik missed out on inclusion in Generation X by one year.

He also just missed out on Generation "Ex" in the middleweight division -- the decade from 1995 to 2005 that was ruled by Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins.

But on Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, The Ghost gets his opportunity to bridge that generational gap.

When the fight was first signed in late July, I wrote a column offering five reasons to look forward to Hopkins-Pavlik. Now that the fight is almost here, I've gone from wanting to wondering. Here are five questions on my mind on the eve of "Unstoppable":

1. Can Pavlik make Hopkins exciting?

If the Youngstown, Ohio, phenom can answer that question in the affirmative, he'll be the first fighter to do so since Felix Trinidad in 2001 -- and even Trinidad's fight with Hopkins wasn't a classic from an action perspective.

Unstoppable
TV lineup
The schedule for the Top Rank-Golden Boy Promotions card Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET) from Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.:

• Light heavyweights: Kelly Pavlik (34-0, 30 KOs) vs. Bernard Hopkins (48-5-1, 32 KOs), 12 rounds

• Featherweights: Steven Luevano (35-1-1, 15 KOs) vs. Billy Dib (21-0, 11 KOs), 12 rounds, for Luevano's title

• Middleweights: Marco Antonio Rubio (42-4-1, 37 KOs) vs. Enrique Ornelas (28-4, 18 KOs), 12 rounds, title eliminator

• Middleweights: Daniel Jacobs (10-0, 9 KOs) vs. Tyrone Watson (7-1, 3 KOs), 6 rounds

The challenge Pavlik faces in trying to win is a realistic one. The challenge he faces in trying to entertain the fans isn't.

At age 43, Hopkins isn't really a boxer anymore; he's a thinking man's mauler.

He doesn't throw many punches (39 per round in his most recent fight) and rarely opens himself up to punches. No matter what approach Pavlik takes, he will find it nearly impossible to produce a re-watchable fight.

Pavlik, however, isn't giving up on his chances of delivering something spectacular.

"He's got great defense, but eventually … his defense will lapse a couple of times," he said of Hopkins. "Then it's definitely not out of the question -- an early-round stoppage or a quick knockout."

The sub-question here is which man will succeed in making the other fight his fight more. Can Hopkins make it as ugly as he needs to and frustrate Pavlik into making fight-altering mistakes? Can Pavlik pump out a steady stream of punches and put rounds in the bank without opening himself up to counters?

The more punching and less holding we see in the fight, the more likely Pavlik is to emerge with his hand raised. But either way, don't expect Jim Lampley to lose his voice calling the Fight of the Year.

2. Where would it rank among the all-time over-40 boxing accomplishments if Hopkins won?

[+] EnlargeGeorge Foreman and Michael Moorer
Holly Stein/Getty ImagesGeorge Foreman's title-winning effort against Michael Moorer, left, is considered one of the greatest accomplishments for a 40-year-old boxer.
There are only five fighters in history who have scored what could arguably be termed "great" wins after the age of 40: George Foreman (who won the heavyweight title from Michael Moorer), Archie Moore (who recovered from four knockdowns to defend the light heavyweight throne against Yvon Durelle), Larry Holmes (who upset a prime Ray Mercer), Bob Fitzsimmons (who captured the light heavy title from George Gardner) and Hopkins (who took the 175-pound championship from Antonio Tarver).

So B-Hop is already on the short list. But he was "only" 41 when he upset Tarver. Two years and four months later, defeating an opponent in Pavlik who's in his physical prime would be a more magnificent accomplishment, as long as Hopkins wins controversy-free like he did against Tarver.

But the best he can hope for is No. 3 on the overall list. You simply can't top what Big George and his one-time trainer, Moore, did in their respective fifth decades.

3. Will Pavlik get full credit for an ugly win?

Considering that Joe Calzaghe didn't, the answer is probably "no."

[+] EnlargeJoe Calzaghe and Bernard Hopkins
John Gichigi/Getty ImagesJoe Calzaghe, left, might've found a way to beat Bernard Hopkins, but he didn't look pretty doing it.
In April, Calzaghe defeated Hopkins -- something many fine fighters have tried to do and failed -- but because the fight was close enough that it could have gone the other way and because Hopkins made it his typical unsightly affair, Calzaghe received little more than a golf clap -- at least from American fans.

The difference between Pavlik and Calzaghe, however, is that there's a budding love affair between the American boxing public and Pavlik. Some folks are just waiting to gush over the Rust Belt hero no matter what he does.

Pavlik's promoter, Bob Arum, believes that when you're up against a shutdown artist like Hopkins, a win is a win.

"I'm an old baseball man," Arum said, "and … a home run is very, very dramatic and a knockout is equivalent to a home run. But I'll take singles and doubles as long as my team has more runs than the other guy at the end of the game."

Against Hopkins, singles and doubles are just about all you can ask for. Pavlik doesn't need the home run, but he could at least use a larger margin of victory than Calzaghe earned if he's looking for rave reviews.

4. Is this the worst timing ever for putting a potentially dull fight on pay-per-view?

We've heard a lot of clichés lately about Wall Street and Main Street, and there's no reason to think that the current economic tailspin won't be felt on Bash Boulevard. Whatever the color of your collar, people value their money differently now than they did a month ago. And when trying to conserve cash, it isn't hard to convince yourself to hang onto that $50 you were thinking about spending on Hopkins-Pavlik.

Arum said last week that the fight was selling well at the gate, with more than 10,000 tickets sold; undoubtedly, Atlantic City is the right place for this matchup.

But the pay-per-view revenue is still likely to take a hit.

"We think Kelly is going to surpass anything he's done before on pay-per-view," Arum said.

That's not exactly Babe Ruth's pointing to centerfield. So far, Pavlik has headlined only one pay-per-view, the rematch against Jermain Taylor, and the numbers for that weren't stellar.

Hopkins-Pavlik was never going to make anybody forget about De La Hoya-Mayweather from a financial perspective. In a healthy economy, this looked like about a 300,000- to 350,000-buy fight.

But this isn't a healthy economy, so it would be surprising if this fight breaks the 300,000 mark.

5. What are the chances this will be Hopkins' last fight?

Hopkins told us last week, "My motivation is back pay."

For much of his career, he wasn't paid all that well, so making as much as he can while he still can apparently drives him.

The question coming out of the Pavlik fight, then, will be how much money can Hopkins still command?

If he gets brutally KO'd, not enough.

If he loses a close, controversial decision -- or at least close enough to make it controversial in his mind -- money won't even matter. Hopkins simply won't be willing to go out with "the system" getting the better of him.

And if he finds a way to win, don't get any delusions about Hopkins' going out on a high note. If he couldn't do it after beating Tarver, he won't be able to do it now -- especially if it really is all about the money.

If Hopkins beats Pavlik, there will be more than enough of that to see to it that this 43-year-old freak of nature is still fighting at 44.

Eric Raskin is a contributing editor for, and former managing editor of, The Ring magazine.