‘How Dare They Challenge (Bernard Hopkins) with Their Primitive Skills?’


By Ivan G. Goldman

At one point in the fourth round of Bernard Hopkins’ thorough shellacking of Tavoris Cloud, Cloud threw a wild punch, Bernard slipped it easily, and let out a genuine, laugh. The crowd laughed with him.

Sitting at home, I laughed too. It’s not commonplace for merriment to break out during a prizefight. So add that moment to Hopkins’ unique accomplishments.

How wrong could I be about Hopkins? About as wrong as you can be. I thought he was just about done and that we’d see another stinker of a match. Something along the lines of his bouts with Jermain Taylor. Instead we saw a replay of what Bernard did to power-punching, then undefeated Kelly Pavlik. It was, as they say in the gym, a schooling, and exciting to see.

How does he do it at age 48? I’m not sure even he knows. Plenty of older people do what he does — up to a point. They eat healthy, work out like crazy, and stay away from chemicals. But none of the others can make young, world-class athletes look like fumbling amateurs.

And of course boxing is the most unforgiving sport out there. Screw up in boxing and the ball doesn’t roll between your legs. A fist smashes you in the head. And then another fist. Because although lots of people say boxing is like chess, it isn’t. In chess you take turns. In boxing, it’s perfectly legal to take ten or fifteen consecutive turns.

One thing that helped The Executioner was moving up to 175. He maintained his middleweight speed, so his light heavyweight opponents look slow to him. Then there’s the fantastic footwork. When things are going right he’s always putting himself in position to punch while putting his opponent out of position. And against Cloud, a strong pressure fighter, everything went right.

It brought to mind an off-the-cuff remark from the prime Iron Mike Tyson: “How dare they challenge me with their primitive skills?”

Hopkins’ counterpunching was superb. He hits just hard enough so that whenever previously undefeated Cloud thought about punching him he had to think about something coming back that he’d be unable to stop and probably unable to even see. Masterful.

“Once I find that rhythm, things become easy,” Hopkins said.

It’s hard to know just when this B-Hop train will pull into its final fight station, but I hope his last contest, whenever it is, ends in victory for him. He deserves to go out on a high note.

As for the co-feature, Keith Thurman’s steady, 12-round pounding of gritty Jan Zaveck 36, is paradoxical proof that boxing can be too brutal and terribly uplifting at the same time. On the one hand it doesn’t make sense to let a man take such a terrible beating. Sports, are, after all, a form of entertainment, and 36 minutes of such one-sided slaughter is about as entertaining as watching someone skin a baby seal.

Zaveck, unlike Hopkins, is mortal, and setting him up as a “test” for savage-punching Thurman, 20-0 (18 KOs), became too cruel when “One Time” passed the test but couldn’t take out his opponent. Just because Zaveck, 32-3 (18 KOs), was fighting back wasn’t a good enough excuse to keep it going for 36 minutes. The New York commission and Zaveck’s corner’s willingness to extend a brave fighter’s sacrifice didn’t speak well for them.

“The Fight Game” directly after the event was something Jim Lampley and his network should be proud of. Never have I seen such forthright reporting on the HBO-Showtime rivalry from either of the networks. It was done honestly and professionally without pulling any punches or taking advantage of the rival network.

Ivan G. Goldman’s boxing novel The Barfighter was nominated as a 2009 Notable Book by the American Library Association. Information HERE

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