Sergey Kovalev proves he’s the real deal by dominating Bernard Hopkins
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Following 11 rounds of utter domination, the only thing left for Sergey Kovalev to accomplish early Sunday morning was to become the first opponent in Bernard Hopkins’ 26-year career to knock him out.
If Kovalev had 10 more seconds at his disposal in Round 12 of their light heavyweight title unification fight at Boardwalk Hall, he might’ve accomplished that feat, too.
The Russian knockout artist instead settled for handing Hopkins the most lopsided loss of his Hall-of-Fame career, a 12-round unanimous-decision defeat so thorough the 49-year-old Hopkins acknowledged afterward that it’s “50-50” whether he’ll fight again. Regardless, as Hopkins’ legendary career nears its conclusion, the most impressive victory of Kovalev’s five-year pro career should thrust him toward stardom.
“He did just what I knew what he would do,” said John David Jackson, Kovalev’s trainer. “Tonight he was the teacher.”
Kovalev (26-0-1, 23 knockouts), who hadn’t boxed beyond eight rounds in any of his first 26 professional fights, easily demonstrated that he was prepared to win championship rounds against the most accomplished, experienced opponent he has faced. All three judges – New Jersey’s Lawrence Layton (120-106), New York’s Carlos Ortiz (120-107) and Rhode Island’s Clark Sammartino (120-107) – credited Kovalev with winning each of the 12 rounds.
Kovalev took Hopkins’ IBF and WBA light heavyweight titles and retained his WBO 175-pound championship. He also won the respect and admiration of boxing experts who wondered whether his record was more the byproduct of his opposition than Kovalev’s skills and power.
“I don’t care how old he is,” Oscar De La Hoya, Hopkins’ promotional partner, said. “To beat somebody like Hopkins, Kovalev did a tremendous job. He executed his game plan perfectly, and that’s not easy to do against a legend like Bernard Hopkins.”
Kovalev, 31, dropped Hopkins with a right hand to the side of his head with a little less than a minute to go in the first round. Hopkins reached his feet quickly and made it to the end of the round, but mostly employed a cautious approach for the rest of the fight. Hopkins opened up in Round 12, but his aggression only encouraged Kovalev to unload an array of power punches that hurt him, left him stumbling all around the ring and pushed the Philadelphia native dangerously close to getting knocked out.
“I’ve just got a great chin,” Hopkins said. “I can take a punch.”
Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 KOs, 2 NCs) took 166 of Kovalev’s 585 overall punches, according to unofficial CompuBox statistics. Kovalev landed 38 punches in Round 12 alone, the most connected on Hopkins in any single round of the 41 Hopkins fights CompuBox has worked.
“He’s 49 years old,” Kovalev said. “To go 12 rounds with me, I was very surprised. ÔÇª Really big respect to him.”
Hopkins now respects Kovalev’s boxing ability, not just his vaunted power.
“He had a really good game plan,” Hopkins said. “When he got hit with some of my shots, he would step back. But he used his reach and distance and that was the key to his victory tonight. He has very good mechanics and patience. Because after I hit him, he would step back. That would cause me to have to reset. He had a good game plan, I’ll give him that. He’s a good technical fighter. He would counter his right hand over my jab. I give him a lot of respect.”
In the co-featured fight Saturday night, welterweight prospect Sadam Ali scored the biggest win of his career, a ninth-round technical knockout of favored Luis Carlos Abregu.
Argentina’s Abregu was widely viewed as the more powerful puncher entering the scheduled 10-rounder, but Ali knocked him down with right hands once apiece in the sixth and ninth rounds. Abgregu reached his feet both times, but Ali pounced on him following the second knockdown, landed three more power punches and prompted referee Harvey Dock to step in to halt the fight at 1:54 of the ninth round.
“He’s a great fighter,” said Abregu, who sparred about 30 rounds against Ali two years ago. “I thought the ref stopped it abruptly and I could’ve continued. His speed got to me. He was very fast and he found a way to get out [of trouble]. He was way faster than I thought he would be.”
Ali’s handlers had moved him very slowly before Saturday night, but the 2008 Olympian from Brooklyn proved that he was more than ready for a huge step up in competition and his HBO debut.
“Now he knows in his head, now he knows in his heart, that he belongs with the best,” said De La Hoya, whose company promotes Ali. “It was a perfect fight for him. It was a dangerous fight, but it was the perfect fight.”
The 26-year-old Ali’s athleticism, hand speed and defense enabled him to out-box the slow-footed Abregu for much of the fight. When Abregu was able to connect, Ali used his legs and head movement to remain out of further danger.
Ali was winning, 78-73, on all three scorecards when the fight was stopped. Abregu, 30, lost for the first time in eight fights since suffering his first defeat, a 12-round unanimous decision to Timothy Bradley in July 2010.
“He’s very strong,” Ali said. “I had to be aware the whole time. I was prepared. This is what I’ve always wanted for myself, but I felt I had to earn it. And tonight I earned it.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record, of Woodland Park, N.J. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.