November 9, 2014

Sergey Kovalev welcomes Bernard "The Alien" Hopkins back to planet Earth

The Alien got schooled in Russian but in the end he was all class
By David McLeod — There would be a rude welcoming party for Bernard Hopkins on this historic night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Sergey Kovalev made his intentions clear even before the bout, that he was going to bring the aging champion known as "The Alien" back down to Earth. "I'm going to beat Hopkins. I want to help him stop his career, because he doesn't want to stop by himself." But Hopkins had heard it all before from bigger punchers. "I fear no one, and when you don't fear no one, they fear you. They feel it," he would claim. As the main event neared at the Boardwalk Hall Arena, you could feel a nervous energy consume the estimated crowd of 8,545. They knew they were about to experience an historic moment, regardless of the outcome. Either they would bear witness to the passing of the guard, or "the youngest old man in the world," as Hopkins put it, was going to pull off one of the biggest upsets since Muhammad Ali rumbled with George Foreman exactly forty years prior.

The fighter from Philly was the decided fan-favorite, and eerily similar to the Rocky IV movie, you could hear boos as the Russian National Anthem was played over the air. Chants of  "U.S.A." rocked the arena just moments before the HBO telecast went live.

With :49 left in the first, Hopkins was taking a count
B-Hop takes one for the team, ends boxing's Cold War

Kovalev quickly took the crowd out of the fight itself, when a hard right hand caught Hopkins high on the head and deposited him on the canvas early in the opening round. "The Krusher" would continue to walk him down, and a hard shove to the canvas by Hopkins should've drawn a warning, as Kovalev quickly scrambled back to his feet. Hopkins 55-7-2 (32KO's) found limited success in the fifth using angles and getting Kovalev's punch-rate down, but as Hopkins would state later in the post-fight press conference, "I felt like a middleweight, maybe a super middleweight against a cruiserweight." Both men had their moments in the seventh, but Kovalev 26-0-1 (23KO's) was the man in charge. After nine rounds, it was obvious "The Alien" was trailing badly, and in the tenth round, Sergey's trainer, John David Jackson could be heard repeatedly yelling in the corner, "Let that right hand go!"

Hopkins tried to win the championship rounds, but the best punch of the eleventh round belonged to Kovalev, and he landed a right hand similar to the one that dropped Hopkins earlier. By the final round, Hopkins was desperately needing an improbable  knockout to win, and he went for it. The result was a high action round, with Hopkins landing a hard punch that may have landed on the neck, and Kovalev stumbled as if he was hurt. Kovalev responded by pounding Bernard along the ropes, and a lesser man would have been knocked out by some of the blows landed by the "Krusher" in the final moments. The scoring was a mere formality, as the scores of 120-107 (twice) and 120-106 made Kovalev the WBO as well as the IBF and WBA light heavyweight champion. Going the distance for the first time against a living legend like Hopkins should do tremendous things for the new title holder's confidence.

After the final bell, Bernard gave Kovalev his deserved praise. "He fought a good, technical fight, and he stuck to his game plan. He's going to be around for a long time," he said. "The fans want to see one title, one belt," he continued. When asked if this was time for retirement, Hopkins coyly responded, "I have a lot of time to talk about it." He also gave praise to John David Jackson's skills as a trainer. "He's a Hall of Fame trainer, and a good teacher. That played out today, and you have to give him credit." 

At the post fight press conference, I asked Kovalev about what's next. "Before you arrived, Kathy Duva told me this fight was for the glory, the next fight is for the money." Are you willing to fight Adonis Stevenson, and does it have to be here, I asked. "Anytime. Anyplace, I will fight him anywhere," he said without hesitation. "This fight needs to be done," he said, looking at Kathy.

"I'm working on it," the classy Main Events promoter said with a smile.  

Ali is a new World Star Welterweight

Ali surprised everyone by destroying Abregu
In the co-main event, Sadam "World Kid" Ali faced his toughest challenge to date, Luis Carlos Abregu. The fight started out slowly, as both welterweight used the first round as a feeling out round. There wasn't much action, and the crowd started the boos, but two solid right hands by Ali won the round easily. The paced picked up in the second however, and a right hand by Ali was met by a left hook by Abregu. Ali would later admit in the post-fight press conference he felt his power. "Abregu can crack," he said. After a close third round, Ali went back to work in the fourth with right hands, and beautiful right cross hit Abregu right on the button, and he dropped to the canvas. Sadam picked up right where he left off in the seventh to the chants of "Ali" although Abregu did manage to land a hard right before the bell. He also did well in the eighth, although he always appeared susceptible to the left hook.

Still, Ali seemed to be in control as he would slide away from shots along the ropes. His speed and footwork made the difference. Abregu started the ninth very aggressive, but a vicious left hook, right hand combination stunned Abregu, and this time he dropped in a delayed reaction. Sensing he had his man hurt, Ali landed a hook, followed by a right cross that had Abregu in deep trouble.

Referee Harvey Dock had seen enough. The time of the stoppage was 1:54 of round nine.

Ali, now 21-0 (13 KO's) had plenty to be happy about after taking on the heavy punching Abregu, now 36-2 (29 KO's). "The knockout wasn't something I was looking for, but it came, and I took it," said the winner. His promoter, Oscar De La Hoya of Golden Boy Promotions also had high praise. "Here you have a guy like Abregu who was a puncher, who went the distance with Timothy Bradley, and this kid takes a huge step up, but he believes in himself, and passed the test with flying colors."

Ringside Report

Credentialed Coverage by David McLeod — exclusively for KO Digest

Live Action Photos Courtesy of Ed Diller — used with permission