By Tyson Bruce
Boxing returns to Showtime this weekend with a triple-header from the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York. The card features three-primetime fighters in Bernard Hopkins, Paulie Malignaggi, and Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin, who are in vastly different stages of their professional careers. The one thing that unites all three men is that they face a vocal chorus of doubters that have called into question the long-term viability of their futures in the sport.
The most interesting storyline of the card is the return of Bernard “The Alien” Hopkins. At nearly fifty years of age Bernard Hopkins is not only the most incredible story in boxing but also perhaps in all of sports. Boxing is a young man’s game and just a generation ago it was considered an amazing feat just to win a title in your mid thirties. To put it simply, what Bernard Hopkins continues to achieve at his age is astonishing.
The optimist would say that Bernard Hopkins has been able to remain at or near the top of the game for over three decades is the result of his borderline fanatical mental and physical discipline. The skeptics, including the colorful Teddy Atlas, would say that it’s a delicate balance between discipline and a scrupulous selection of well-known but technically flawed opponents. Hopkins was highly successful against the tactless Pascal but much less so against a skilled operator like Chad Dawson.
Regardless, Hopkins has announced an ambitious plan to reclaim the Light Heavyweight crown. That means eventually fighting the vastly talented and murderous punching Adonis Stevenson. That’s a considerable step up from the Pascal’s and Murat’s of the world. In fact, another full-scale run at the lineal championship, against a fighter of Stevenson’s talent, would be truly unprecedented-even by Hopkins’ own lofty standards. In that fight he will have to be more than a highly functioning forty-nine year old “alien,” he will have to bring back the executioner of old.
The journey to that path begins this weekend against top ranked contender and paper belt holder Beibut Shumenov. Shumenov is not unlike Hopkins’s last opponent Karo Murat, in that he’s a technically crude fighter that relies on his substantial size and physical strength to win fights. Technically challenged guys like Shumenov are made to order for Hopkins and he could very well out box a guy like that into his sixties.
So, why bother then? The idea is likely to provide a marketing platform for the proposed showdown with Adonis Stevenson, who will make his Showtime debut the following month. Shumenov’s high ranking and WBA belt will also provide negotiating leverage for Hopkins, who at his age will want as high a pay out as possible. Also, regardless of how many times Hopkins continues to defy the odds father time will rear its inevitable hand at some point. This makes every fight he takes, this weekends included, a calculated but intriguing gamble with fate.
The most intriguing fight of the evening is between Paulie Malignaggi and the newly crowned alphabet titlist Shawn Porter. The bout is a high stakes affaire. The winner is likely to be rewarded with a massive fall bout against one of Golden Boy’s many top welterweight contenders-the grandest prize being a bout with Floyd Mayweather. It’s regarded as a true pick-em’ fight with some experts favoring the experience and skills of Malignaggi and others the youth, speed, and momentum of Porter.
Few fighters in recent memory have had a career renaissance quite like the one Paulie Malignaggi has enjoyed the last couple years. After getting beaten pillar to post by Amir Khan in 2010 most figured that it was the beginning of the end for the “Magic Man.” To say that Malignaggi has never been the biggest puncher would be a dramatic understatement. So couple that with a perceived decline in speed and mobility, the result of ageing, and it’s a recipe for a fighter about to go on the slide.
Yet fast-forward to 2014 and Malignaggi’s public profile and critical respect has never been higher. How did this happen? A lot of Malignaggi’s new found acclaim must be given credit to another fighter they also once called the “Magic Man”: Antonio Tarver. If it weren’t for Tarver’s failed drug test in June 2012, Malignaggi would have never got the opportunity to be a Showtime color analyst-something that has invariably boosted his marketability as a fighter. Two years ago no one in the twitter sphere would have dreamed that Malignaggi would be a viable opponent for the games top stars, let alone Floyd Mayweather. Yet now, perhaps inexplicably, Malignaggi has a growing legion of fans that are practically clamoring for it.
The question we must now ask ourselves is whether Malignaggi may be the most overrated fighter in boxing? Since the loss to Khan, a career low, he has gone 6-1-0-(2 ko’s) and is ranked in the top ten at 147 on nearly every credible ratings list. That’s pretty remarkable when you consider that his best wins in that stretch came against a hopelessly faded Zab Judah and the talented but gutless Viacheslav Senchenko. Malignaggi also lost a unanimous decision against the naturally smaller Adrien Broner and received what was hailed as a gift decision against journeyman Pablo Caesar Cano. Are those really the credentials of a top ten ranked fighter in boxing’s most competitive weight class? Is it possible that Malignaggi’s prowess behind the mic has vastly overrated his remaining ability in the ring?
Shawn Porter, 24-0-1-(14), will answer a lot of those lingering questions Saturday night. Porter is relatively new on the mainstream boxing scene, but he was a celebrated American amateur, going 276-14 in the unpaid ranks, and boasting wins against the likes of Demetrius Andrade, Danny Jacobs, and Edwin Rodriguez. Porter has an athletic style, utilizing his impressive hand speed and physical strength to either smother his opponents or out box them from a distance. He certainly has the strength and speed to cause Malignaggi a lot of problems. The question about Porter is his consistency. Will the dominant fighter that trounced Devon Alexander show up or the fighter that struggled to eke out a draw against Julio Diaz? He will need to be in top form to beat the skilled Malignaggi.
By far the cards least compelling bout is Peter “Kid Chocolate” vs. European trail horse Lukáš Konečný. The poor matchup belies the fact that Quillin is among the most interesting personalities in the sport. The son of a Cuban refugee, Quillin grew up in abject poverty on the notoriously rough streets of Grand Rapids, Michigan. With almost no amateur career (just fifteen bouts) Quillin has managed to become one of the worlds leading middleweights. However, doubts remain over whether Quillin has the pedigree and skills to match his natural talent and punching power.
Quillin is a genuine power puncher that can swing a fights momentum at any time. An example of this was his title-winning bout against the undefeated Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam. The actual flow of the fight was largely controlled by the more skilled N’Jikam but Quillin was able to secure a comfortable points decision because he knocked the Frenchman down an incredible five times. Guys with suspect chins like Fernando Guerrero have no chance against a puncher with the strength and size of Quillin. However, a tough and reasonably skilled guy like Gabriel Rosado was able to expose Quillin’s lack of tact by using movement and counterpunching. In order to have a chance against a guy like Gennady Golovkin or Sergio Martinez, Quillin will have to become a more complete boxer-puncher.
Against Konečný, Quillin will be facing an extremely experienced opponent but one that has failed whenever he has stepped up against a world-class opponent. Konečný came up short against the likes of Serhiy Dzinziruk and Zaurbek Baysangurov but has never been stopped. If Quillin hopes to make any kind of statement in the fight he will need to become the first fighter to halt the Czech. Konečný, 50-4-0-(23), will try to use his boxing skills and ring savvy to frustrate the younger and naturally more talented Quillin. “Kid Chocolate” failed to match Gennady Golovkin’s performance against Rosado but has a chance to best the world ranked Baysangurov who struggled to outpoint Konecny.
Although all three of Saturday nights headline fighters face very different challenge in the ring, they share a common mission. That mission is overcoming the doubters. Hopkins has been using his critics as source of motivation since the stone age, while a fighter like Quillin is relatively new to the hostile world of the boxing public. Malignaggi must prove that he is still as good a fighter as he is a celebrity. Each man will have a chance to prove that they have what it takes to throw leather at the highest level by scoring a resounding victory on fight night. Results don’t lie.