Friday, February 03, 2023  |


Bernard Hopkins: After I beat Kovalev, they’ll say he was never dangerous


Photo by Jeff Fusco-Hoganphotos / Golden Boy Promotions

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania – Out of the gloom of Joe Hand’s Gym, someone playfully called out “Hey old man!” to Bernard Hopkins before anyone arrived to his media day workout on Tuesday.

Hopkins darted the visitor with an I’m-going-to-kill-you glare before quickly breaking down into a smile, laughing.

“The Alien” or “Executioner” or whatever you want to call the future first-ballot Hall of Famer and all-time great has been through this all before. The probing klieg lights of local TV stations soon came to hone in on each move during the media training session in advance of his Nov. 8 light heavyweight title unification bout with Sergey Kovalev.

Many media members holding notepads or jutting tape recorders into Hopkins’ face were in diapers 26 years ago when he had his first pro fight.

Then, Hopkins was battling for any sort of recognition. Now, he’s a bonafide boxing brand whose iconoclastic ways have swayed fight fans in his favor.

The one glaring difference in Hopkins these days is that his message comes tinged with subtle sagacity. When he refers to Kovalev, the undefeated WBO titleholder, he sometimes calls the Russian puncher by his first name, almost tenderly. Don’t get him wrong. Hopkins is still a little crusty around the edges. He’s still carries that underlying defiance, but he’s in a far different role than he’s been in before.

Hopkins (55-6-2, 32 knockouts, 2 no-contests) will be the sentimental favorite when he takes on Kovalev in their HBO-televised showdown at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall.

When the fight was originally announced in August, Hopkins was a 2-to-1 underdog to “The Krusher,” even before Kovalev (25-0-1, 23 KOs) demolished overmatched Blake Caparello.

Kovalev is 13-0-1, with 13 knockouts in his past 14 fights, though, he’s never gone beyond eight rounds (he won an eight-round split-decision over Darnell Boone in October 2010).

His one name opponent is Nathan Cleverly, who Kovalev destroyed in four rounds to win the WBO belt.

In stark contrast, Hopkins has gone beyond eight rounds 35 times in his magnificent 65-fight career. His resume includes stopping two first-ballot Hall of Famers, Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad.

“There’s nothing different about me,” Hopkins said. “There will be a big difference in what Kovalev sees from me, than against anyone he’s ever faced before. This guy was born in 1983, and I had my first fight in 1988; he was just out of diapers. Look at the age gap between us, there is an 18-year difference, so everything he thinks he knows I’ve already been there and done that.

“Everything he thinks he’s going to find out on Nov. 8, it’s going to be 10-times worse, in terms what he thinks and what he trained for. Even John David Jackson (Kovalev’s trainer) can’t give a completely positive outlook in what the strategy is, because he can’t look at his tape against me in 1997 and see how unsuccessful he was against me. Think about the difficulties Jackson has in motivating his fighter against me – what is he going to do, show him his tape against me?”

Hopkins refrained from saying beating Kovalev would shock the world, because, deep down, he knows a number of people already believe that he, though a decided underdog, can win. Fight pundits have seen The Alien defy logic and the natural order too many times to doubt him.

“I’ve said over and over again, nothing of this is planned and this fight won’t have everybody paying homage to Bernard Hopkins,” Hopkins said. “In fact, it will enflame some people even more. You know human beings are screwed up, man. You know they have problems. I don’t want the praise. The same people who will praise you will cut your throat the next day.

“I can’t help it. It’s the way I think. If you ask me what I want more, respect or praise, I would say I want respect. Beating Kovalev would only prove what I know. I don’t do anything to be praised. Kids do that. I just want to be respected. Kovalev has never fought anyone. The guy is dangerous; he is. But I’ve been down this road before. As soon as I win, they’ll want to take away something after the fight – not before the fight; after the fight.

“Suddenly, after I beat him, Kovalev was never dangerous. No, he hasn’t fought anyone of my caliber, but that still doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous. This guy killed someone [Roman Simakov on Dec. 5, 2010].”

Then Hopkins said something rare – almost as if this would be it. His voice lowered, it sounded a little tired, “Some celebrities are coming to see me fight, this is an event for me, it really is,” he said. “Who knows? It could be the last fight, and the beginning of something else. Who knows? This is an event for me, two months and seven days from my 50th birthday. I have it down to the wire. It’s something I never planned. I could have never planned this.

“You know what though? I’m going to beat this guy and it’s not going to be as difficult as people think it’s going to be. I am training for a battle.”