Friday, February 03, 2023  |



Bernard Hopkins tests Sergey Kovalev with his brand of mental combat


ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Bernard Hopkins looked to his left at Sergey Kovalev, the unbeaten light heavyweight titleholder who will pit his WBO belt against the IBF and WBA titles held by the boxing legend on Saturday.

“Psychological warfare. You will never win against me. Everyone on this side knows you’re never going to win,” Hopkins said from his position at the podium during Thursday’s final press conference at Caesars Hotel. “I don’t care who’s sitting over there. I don’t mind putting my wits up against anyone’s wits today.”

Hopkins, who turns 50 in January, has made a career of mentally torturing his opponents prior to fights. Just ask Golden Boy President Oscar De La Hoya, victim of a ninth-round stoppage loss to Hopkins in September of 2004.

De La Hoya’s loss represented the 19th of a record 20 middleweight title defenses by Hopkins.

“Hopkins is in a class of his own. We’re never going to see probably another Hopkins in our lifetime inside the ring. That’s how special he is,” said De La Hoya, whose WBO belt was added to the IBF, WBA and WBC belts Hopkins already owned.

“I’m not just saying that because he knocked me out. That’s who Hopkins is. He makes you believe. There’s something about his psychological game plan. It puts you in a trance, it changes your psyche. It does something to you that I couldn’t figure. It caught me by surprise. I don’t know. But that’s what Hopkins is.”

Hopkins took shots at various members of the Kovalev camp, in general, including Main Events CEO Kathy Duva. He called her “Kathy Diva,” albeit, in admiration for her staying power in a male-dominated sport.

Hopkins told Kovalev that he “looked as dry as a raisin.”

“It’s dehydration. So we’re going to push him the first couple of rounds, because he’s only gone more than about four rounds a few times,” said Hopkins of Kovalev, who has gone eight rounds only once in his pro career.

“I want that in his mind that I noticed that. So he’s going to have to deal with that for the next 48 hours.”

Kovalev’s trainer, former titleholder John David Jackson, was stopped by Hopkins in the seventh round in April 1997.

“John David Jackson says he knows everything there is to know about me,” said Hopkins of Jackson, who assisted Hopkins’ trainer, Naazim Richardson, from 2006 through 2010.

“Sergey is the student. I’m not fighting John. But how can a teacher teach with credibility when the teacher has all F’s? How can a teacher teach a student to have all A’s when he has an F? I guarantee John did not show our fight to Sergey.”

Duva said she “learned a lot about” Hopkins leading up to the fight, “some of it came when I read The ESPN Magazine Body Issue.” The publication pictured Hopkins alongside 21 other athletes, including tennis champion Venus Williams, Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps and Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch.

Duva presented Hopkins with a pair of black shorts adorned with his rival’s nickname “Krusher” in read letters.

“In light of Bernard’s recent magazine spread,” said Duva, “we thought this was appropriate to give to you as a gift. These are Sergey Kovalev boxers.”

But Richardson turned her gag into praise for Hopkins.

“There’s not too much about Bernard Hopkins that hasn’t already been said,” said Richardson. “You know you’ve been around a long time when you’ve got Kathy Duva throwing drawers at you.”

Hopkins (55-6-2, 32 KOs) still was “The Executioner” in April 1995, when his seventh-round knockout of Segundo Mercado earned the IBF’s vacant middleweight title. Hopkins went on to defend it a record 20 times before losing to Jermain Taylor by a split decision in July 2005.

At the age of 46, Hopkins set the record as the oldest man to win a major title belt with a unanimous decision over Jean Pascal for THE RING and WBC titles in May 2011 before losing it by a majority decision to Chad Dawson in April of 2012.

Hopkins extended that mark at the age of 48, winning the IBF’s title by unanimous decision over previously unbeaten Tavoris Cloud in March 2013.

“The Alien” nickname surfaced in October 2013, as Hopkins’ wore a bright green martian mask to the weigh-in in advance of his unanimous decision victory over Karo Murat in his last appearance at Boardwalk Hall.

“You know you’ve been around a long time when you’ve out-lasted your nickname,” said Richardson of Hopkins, who dethroned Beibut Shumenov as WBA beltholder by unanimous decision to become the oldest man to unify in April.

“In my opinion, this fight puts the Alien in the Hall of Fame. The Executioner’s already in there. This man is not just the oldest champion in boxing, but the oldest champion in any sport. This is why he’s one of the greatest athletes that has ever lived.”

Kovalev, 31, claimed to be unaffected by Hopkins’ behavior, and prefers to let his fists do the talking.

“I only understand about 10 percent of what Hopkins says. He speaks in American English and slang. It’s probably a good thing,” said Kovalev.

“It doesn’t bother me. After he fights me, he can leave boxing and become a one man show in the theater or comedy. He is a great talker.”

Kovalev is 13-0-1 with 13 knockouts in his past 14 bouts. In his last fight in August, Kovalev rose from a first-round knockdown on the way to a second-round knockout of Blake Caparello, whom he dropped three times in the final round.

Kovalev is making the fourth defense of the belt he won by fourth-round knockout against Nathan Cleverly, whom he floored twice in the final round in August 2013.

“This is a huge fight in my career and in my life against Bernard Hopkins. Bernard Hopkins is a legend. He is a professor in the world of professional boxing,” said Kovalev.

“Nov. 8, on HBO in Atlantic City will be a very great show, it will be a very interesting fight. I hope that this fight will be very fair, and very clean and very honest.”

But is Kovalev mentally ready for Hopkins? De La Hoya asked the question while placing his left forefinger on his left temple.

“Here, there’s nobody like him. There is nobody like him. So, my experience, having the privilege of stepping into the ring with Bernard Hopkins, it’s an experience that you can’t prepare for. You’re going to go and fight him, yes,” said De La Hoya.

“But how are you going to deal with his brain power and with his mind, and with his plan A, plan B, plan C. Those are all of the questions I asked myself after the fight. He knows when to turn it up and when to turn it down. Everything is calculated, and that’s what makes him great.”