Bernard Hopkins: Sergey Kovalev is about to enter ‘Alien’ territory
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When Bernard Hopkins puts his IBF and WBA light heavyweight titles on the line against WBO counterpart Sergey Kovalev at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Nov. 8, he will be doing just over two months before he turns 50 in January.
But Kovalev’s corner man, John David Jackson, knows all too well not to count out the aging Hopkins, having been an assistant to the Philadelphia native’s trainer, Naazim Richardson, for four years through 2010.
During that time, Hopkins scored two of his defining victories at Boardwalk Hall by unanimous decision over Antonio Tarver in June 2006, and Kelly Pavlik in October 2008.
Nicknamed “The Executioner,” at the time, Hopkins was an underdog trying to rebound from a loss heading into each of those wins, a light heavyweight fight against Tarver, and a 170-pound catchweight bout against Pavlik.
“Sergey can not fall into that trap of, ‘Oh my God, this guy is 50 and he’s still here,'” Jackson said during an episode of HBO’s 24/7 Hopkins-Kovalev. “Screw that. Knock this motherf–ker out and let’s get it over with.”
But Jackson, himself, has failed against Hopkins, who won the vacant IBF middleweight title against Segundo Mercado in April 1995 and went on to defend it a record 20 times before losing to Jermain Taylor by a split decision in July 2005.
Among Hopkins’ triumphs was a seventh-round knockout of Jackson, a former titleholder who was vanquished in April 1997.
Hopkins reminded media members of that fight during a Tuesday conference call, even as he praised Jackson as a trainer. Hopkins also questioned Jackson’s ability to convey a winning strategy to Kovalev, if not, the fighter’s ability to execute it.
“First of all, I have always said that John David Jackson is one of those elite trainers out there who has never really gotten that respect, and on Nov. 8, he wants to get that big boost so that he can get that respect. But, again, maybe John David Jackson will show him the fight that we fought, and realize that he didn’t have the code to beat ‘The Executioner,’ at the time, and now, it’s ‘The Alien,'” said Hopkins, referring to his change in nickname.
“So maybe John realizes how he should have ducked or how he should have fought at that time, but, to me, it’s like, John ain’t fighting. John ain’t in the ring. Look, you have to give the information to the athlete, and the athlete has to be able to take that information and be able to use it to the best of his abilities. So let’s see if he can do that, because John David Jackson definitely can’t fight for him. John David Jackson had his chance. John David Jackson got knocked out…To me, how can the teacher teach the student and the teacher flunked the test, too?”
Hopkins was last in action in April, dethroning Beibut Shumenov as WBA beltholder by unanimous decision to become the eldest man to unify major belts. Hopkins won the IBF title by unanimous decision over previously unbeaten Tavoris Cloud in March 2013, extending his record as the oldest man to win a major title.
Hopkins first set the record at the age of 46 by with a unanimous decision over Jean Pascal for the WBC’s title in May 2011 before losing it by a majority decision to Chad Dawson in May of 2012.
Jackson insists that his past experience has given him the key to solving Hopkins, just as Dawson once did.
“That time with Bernard that I trained him allowed me to watch and see how he trains and what he does. He might tell the general public, ‘Oh, I’m in great shape with what I’ve been doing.’ But no, you’re an old man, and I don’t care how you perceive it or what you say, like, ‘I’m an Alien.’ No, you’re a human being and an old man,” said Jackson, during the HBO episode.
“We have to treat him like an old man. So I’ve been telling Sergey every day, and I truly am, that ‘You have to be the aggressor,’ and, ‘You have to be the one who sets the pace. You can not allow him to set the pace. You can not let Bernard set the pace.’ Because once you let him set the pace, and he lures you in, then, guess what? Four or five rounds have gone by, and he’s doing his thing.”
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Kovalev (25-0-1, 23 KOs) is 13-0-1 with 13 knockouts in his past 14 fights, and was last in the ring for a second-round stoppage of Blake Caparello in August at The Revel Resort in Atlantic City. Kovalev was dropped in the first-round by Caparello, whom he floored twice in the final round.
Although he credits Kovalev for being more than just a power puncher, Hopkins said the Russian will be in “Alien” territory against him on Nov. 8.
“One thing about Bernard Hopkins is that I’m not just a fighter. I never represented myself like that. I’ve always taken a page out of the old and new trainers’ books and have understood the good and what’s not so good about certain individuals,” said Hopkins.
“To me, he’s not one-dimensional. He only had to be one-dimensional because the guys that he fought, he’s always knocked out. Now, he’s stepping up to a different level. He’s stepping to the professor, ‘The Alien,’ the teacher. You’re stepping up into a different neighborhood.”
Hopkins says Robinson and Ali are the greatest of all time
While addressing his legacy, Hopkins said he placed Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali at the top of any list of all-time greats.
“The best fighter ever is Sugars Ray Robinson. To me, the best fighter after that is Muhammad ‘The Greatest’ Ali. Then, the debate starts on and on from there. My job is to go out and set a profound legacy that will be debated among generations as to where Bernard Hopkins fits in history,” said Hopkins.
“Maybe there needs to be a different title, or there will be a different title started because of what I’m doing. Right now, I’m going to stack that deck so high that every reporter, every historian and everybody who studies boxing from the past to now is going to have a difficult time, because I didn’t have a boring career, and I was blessed to have a long one.”