By Tyson Bruce
This Saturday 48 year old, IBF light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins will make a mandatory title defense against German based fringe contender Karo Murat, some seventeen years after he made his first defense of what would be the longest reign in middleweight championship history.
In many ways his mandatory defense against Murat defies convention, as in recent years Hopkins has waited patiently for golden opportunities that ignited his motivation. Such as the fight with Jean Pascal, whose technically flawed style was tailor made for Hopkins and provided an opportunity to reclaim the lineal light heavyweight championship. His other fights over the last five years have come against the likes of Kelly Pavlik, Chad Dawson, and Tavoris Cloud—all of whom are marquee names within the sport.
So, why fight Murat?
The answer is pretty simple: it’s the title belt. The boxing public largely regards the IBF title, and all alphabet titles, as meaningless. However, boxers and promoters continue to put great stock in them. . Thus, having a belt creates demand, and Hopkins, who has a ruthless touch for ruining promising careers, needs the extra leverage to keep convincing these young guys to fight him. Karo Murat is a mandatory challenger, so if Hopkins wanted to keep the title he had to make this fight happen. Conventional wisdom seems to say that Hopkins could keep beating guys like Murat, who is a respectable contender but nothing special, until he’s about sixty. Still, when you are 48 years old every opponent is a flight risk.
My feeling is that Hopkins will prevail but it won’t be pretty. Even at the best of times Hopkins can be a frustrating guy to watch fight. His style can be very negative, filled with rule bending tactics, excessive clinching, and complaints to the referee. This tends to be exacerbated when he’s fighting a mandatory or taking a stay busy fight, like his eye torturing conquests over Morrade Hakkar and Enrique Ornelas. That being said, no one can debate his effectiveness because at an age when some men’s biggest physical achievement is overcoming erectile dysfunction, Hopkins continues to take young fighters to school.
Hopkins is clearly hanging around the game for what he refers to as his “Super Bowl” fight, meaning, of course, a massive blowout payday against one of the sports biggest stars. In the build up to his fight with Murat, Hopkins has bizarrely rebranded his executioner alias by referring to himself as an “alien”—a fighter of this Earth, but sent from another time. He has even dawned an alien mask, just in case anyone doubted his claim. Amusing, but a little creepy? You bet it was, but that’s Hopkins. He has also stirred the pot by recently calling out Floyd Mayweather Jr. for a fight at middleweight (a division he hasn’t fought in since 2005) and, among others, middleweight star Gennady Golovkin.
Clearly, Hopkins is angling for something big before he hangs up the gloves, and his fight against Murat is functioning as something of a press conference for bigger and better things.
In the co-feature, rising contender and/or champion (depending on how you view the alphabet soup) Peter Quillin takes on crowd favorite and Philly tough guy bleeder Gabriel Rosado. Ironically, Quillin, who is 30 years old, became a middleweight titleholder at the exact same age as Bernard Hopkins. Despite being an exciting fighter with knockout power and an undefeated record, Quillin’s career is at a rock and hard place because boxing’s “cold war” between Golden Boy and Top Rank has prevented him from being able to fight the best guys in his weight class. A dream match against Middleweight champion Sergio Martinez or top contender Gennady Golovkin are not possible because they both fight on HBO, a network that boycotts Golden Boy fighters.
None-the-less, the matchup against Rosado is a fascinating and interesting test for Quillin. Rosado is the kind of guy that will expose a fighter who doesn’t have what it takes to hang with the top end of the division. He bleeds a lot and doesn’t always win the big fights, but Rosado will come to win and won’t lie down without a fight. Also, the fight gives Quillin a chance to directly compare himself against Golovkin, who stopped Rosado, despite a game effort, in a fight that had more blood than a Roger Coreman movie. If Quillin were able to stop Rosado by knocking him off his feet, something Golovkin wasn’t able to do, it would be a big statement.
The first bout of the evening will pit America’s next great heavyweight hope Deontay Wilder against journeyman Nicolai Firtha. Much has been made about the quality of Wilder’s opponents and the fight with Firtha, who has lost three of his last five bouts and has the dubious distinction of being knocked out by Tye Fields, will only stand to embolden his critics.
Obviously, this is just a showcase, stay busy type fight for Wilder, but one has to question what possible benefit there is for him to face such a meaningless opponent. I believe Wilder’s raw physical potential gives him a leg up over just about every heavyweight in the division, but at some point you have to wonder what he and his team is hiding from us. Is there some glaring and inalterable flaw that is being kept from the public, like a weak chin or stamina problems? Or is it simply that they are moving him slowly to make up for a brief amateur career and biding time until the Klitschko brother’s retire?
Everybody has an opinion, but don’t expect Firtha to provide any of the answers. That said I sincerely hope that the later is true because Lord knows the heavyweight division could use a big man with a mean streak at the top.
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