Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bernard Hopkins: Eight is Enough (Part 2 of 3)

By Jeff Pryor

Photo © Ray Kasprowicz

As Bernard Hopkins said while debuting as the newest addition to ESPN's Friday Night Fights broadcast team this past week, there are not many, but few options available to the aging warrior. The relative few who may provide a final foil are...

Chad Dawson (pictured):
No longer the future of the Light Heavy Weight division, with his win over Antonio Tarver he has stamped himself as the present. He's been calling on "The Executioner" for a fight, as Calzaghe has turned him down.

Reason to Execute:
Taking down Dawson, like his victory over Pavlik, removes any lingering debate over whether his Middleweight run benefited from the lack of good young competition to press him. Dawson may turn out to be the next generations marquee talent, and notching his name this late in a career would further Hopkins' claim as the era's greatest fighter, one willing to take on the biggest and best challengers regardless of their youth or dangerousness, at a time when he has no need to prove anything.

Reason to Waive it Off:
What does Chad bring to the table? He beat Tarver? Hopkins dominated Tarver 3 years ago. He struggled against, but beat Glen Johnson? Hopkins destroyed Johnson when Glen was undefeated. He's got a meaningless belt? Yep, meaningless. He has name recognition? No he doesn't. He brings money to the table? Uh uh. If Bernard wins, he's the Light Heavy champ of the world? No he isn't. He allows Bhop to prove he can tangle with the youngsters? Already did it spectacularly with Pavlik. He gets to pass the baton on to Dawson? He tried it with Taylor, didn't work out. He tried it with Pavlik, and may have derailed a budding superstar.

Joe Calzaghe:
The last remaining great contemporary of Hopkins'. Calzaghe has remained undefeated despite his scare in early 2008 against "The Executioner".

Reason to Execute:
Though Hopkins has never made an excuse for his down-the-stretch-fade during their bout, in the immediate aftermath, it was thought that the sheer output from Calzaghe tuckered the ageless wonder out. While that may have had a bearing on what occurred, sometime after the match Hopkins' trainer Freddie Roach revealed that Bernard had been suffering from a thyroid condition for the Calzaghe bout, a condition whose chief symptom is extreme fatigue. Conditioning trainer extraordinaire Mackie Shilstone had tried to control it with diet. According to the doctors Roach consulted, that's a pretty tough task.

While Hopkins was fresh (meaning the first 6 rounds) in their fight, he controlled the pace and Calzaghe like no one ever has before, knocking the Welshman down and cutting his noted output with movement and timing. Even slowing visibly, Hopkins narrowly lost the split decision while Calzage was left to resort to awkward flailing in order to get the volume up high enough to squeak out a poster boy for quantity-over-quality wins. Still many ringside and within the media had the bout scored in Hopkins' favor. The return bout would be huge across the pond, a trip which Hopkins has stated he would be glad to make, in order to get the opportunity to avenge an unjustified loss in his eyes..

Reason to Waive it Off:
For Hopkins there is little reason to avoid the rematch, and in fact he has called loudly for it. Calzaghe's punch power is very slim and while he threw more punches in the fight, the quality was quite inferior as illustrated by HBO's necessity of showing a glancing right hand as chief highlight of the punishment Joe managed to dish out, in all their related promo's since that fight. Seeing as compubox reported that he had landed more punches than any opponent ever had against Bhop, one would have imagined they naturally might have had a rich variety of devastating blows to choose from as highlights; apparently this was not the case.

Glen Johnson:
"The Road Warrior" deserves any big fight he can get, but a close loss to Dawson makes it a hard sell. Perhaps a possible bout (and win) against Adrian Diaconu for the WBC belt would sweeten the pot.

Reason to Execute:
Their is a history between Hopkins and Johnson; their first bout dating back over eleven years found Glen Johnson in deep waters for the first time in an undefeated campaign. A rematch after all these years would serve as nice circuity in both mens careers. As a senior's tour match-up, they don't get much better than this.

Reason to waive it Off:
Glencoffe lost to Dawson in '08; a disputed loss, (with which Hopkins could surely empathize), however lacking real drawing power, Johnson would be a decided step down in value for Hopkins, who has been facing pound for pound, marquee fighters for the last half a decade and not blue collar bangers like Johnson. Additionally, he almost certainly couldn't better the dominating performance he put in during their first go around. It becomes clear the reward simply doesn't come anywhere near the risk.

Roy Jones Jr.:
A relatively decent showing against Trinidad was all but obliterated by his performance against Calzaghe. It had to be a disappointment for Hopkins to watch Roy take a beating, when even a competitive showing would have preserved the chances of a rematch.

Reason to Execute:
Surely even now some part of Hopkins' wants the rematch he's pined for since their first bout nearly 16 years ago. Even the shell of his former self that Roy Jones is, provides a decent payday, especially considering the relatively negligible risk attached.

Reason to Waive it Off:
The disparity between competitiveness in each man's bouts with Calzaghe tells you all you need to know about who the better man is these days. Hopkins knows it, and he's said as much. A bout against Jones at this stage would likely sully his reputation more than a win against him would do to add to it.

Tomasz Adamek:
The reigning Cruiser weight champion brawler, hot off his fight of the year victory over Philly fighter Steve Cunningham

Reason to Execute:
Talk of an all Philadelphia showdown against Cunningham was likely halted with the defeat of said fighter, however the man who bested him has said he is ready and willing to take on "The Executioner". In Adamek, The Cruiser weight Ring Champion, Hopkins has a straight forward fighter and a great opportunity to walk away with another legitimate championship in a new division.

Physically, the height and reach of the two men is almost identical. When Hopkins stepped in the ring against Antonio Tarver he weighed in at 182 pounds, and in the words of Jim Lampley, looked "immaculate", another ten or fifteen pounds would likely sit just fine on his frame. As for their ring styles, Adamek keeps his left low and relies on big right hands; it's not hard to envision Hopkins circling to his right, completely neutralizing the Polish Pugilists chief weapon, the right hand (just as he did with Pavlik) while launching his own overhand rights atop the lowered left glove of his foe. Adamek took more flush, head snapping, shots in his last fight than Hopkins has in all of his 56 fights combined. Hopkins would likely hold the speed advantage and the ring generalship he would employ could frustrate Adamek for huge stretches at a time.

How much higher can Hopkins' all-time status fly? Beating the Cruiser weight champ, forty pounds above his best weight, at age forty four... unprecedented in the history of the sport.

Reasons to Waive it Off:
Fighting the Cruiser weight champ, forty pounds above your best weight, at age forty four? That's unprecedented in the sport... for a reason. Adamek is a big puncher and he's got the type of character that won't break or be discouraged by getting popped by clean counters for twelve rounds, he will keep coming until the end. If Hopkins gasses out as he did in the Calzaghe fight, Adamek can close the show. It's also impossible to know how a fighter will carry the weight up.

Though hopkins looked good at 182 pounds for Tarver, at some point fighters moving up reach a limit. It's high risk, high reward and how many fighters can claim to have fought the premiere middleweight puncher one fight, and the premiere cruiser weight puncher the next? But at what point does the risk no longer make sense?

We'll take one final look at Bernard's options tomorrow...


Andy said...

I'd like to see Hopkins face Johnson, as I'm interested to see how differently their fight plays out at this stage of their careers.

Plus, I'd like to see Glen get another decent payday. He earned it with his showing against Dawson.

Michael Nelson said...

As much as I normally don't like division hopping, I'd say go for Adamek. Grabbing the cruiser crown would be a great feather in his cap and I think it's a good match-up for him.