It has been a week since Hopkins nearly pulled off the upset by defeating the younger Jean Pascal in Pascal’s home region and one has to wonder how Hopkins can school a younger fighter who was even quicker just like Pascal.
Over the first three rounds, Pascal quicker hands allowed him to escape danger while knocking Hopkins down twice and it appeared that Hopkins looked like an old fighter but after the fourth round, it was Hopkins who did the schooling. Moving forward and cutting the ring off, the ultimate professional showed Pascal how to fight and how to win. He punished Pascal with nasty left hooks and then as the fight progressed, Hopkins’ right hand found a home on Pascal’s head.
While Hopkins came away with only a draw and failed to win the title, he showed that he is still a force at the age of 45 in the light heavyweight division. In a fight that he could have won and should have, he forced a younger fighter to fight his fight and established a pace that allowed him not just survived but dominate the later rounds. Maybe a question is how does a 45 year old fighter keeps skill levels high and still remained competitive? The answer is simple, Hopkins has already kept himself in excellent shape even between fights and the second reason is that Hopkins is a student of the fight game.
In a career that began with a loss in the last year of the Reagan years, when he lost his initial bout, he has fought through the administration of five Presidents. This long career existed because he did not just box but learn the nuance of the sweet science. For Hopkins, he was not an Olympic hero like a Roy Jones, Jr. or Oscar De La Hoya, so he had to go through the hard row with low pay days and long hours in the gym learning the basic of his trade.
He advanced the hard way and he was never a loved personality either by the public or by the boxing establishment. He was always playing second banana to other fighters, when it came to payday or respect. In 1993, he lost a unanimous decision to Roy Jones, Jr. when Jones was approaching his peak as a Middleweight and for the next decade and half, this defeat always bothered Hopkins. What bothered him worse was that he never got a chance to redeem himself until this past year.
He won his first Middleweight title in 1995 when he defeated Segundo Mercado in a rematch with a seventh round TKO. In his previous bout with Mercado, he was down twice before managing to garner a draw. Hopkins showed himself a fighter who learned from previous bouts and his victory was the first many defenses of his Middleweight title.
For the next decade, he would end up as the premier Middleweight as he won twenty championship bouts but going into the next century, he was still a fighter without respect even with his win streak intact. Part of the problem was that Hopkins fought in an era of Middleweights considered weak by many boxing historians and pundits.
This changed in 2001 when Don King produced a Middleweight title tournament featuring Keith Holmes, William Joppa and Felix Trinidad. Trinidad was the favorite and the star attraction of the whole tournament and the rest including Hopkins were mere props. When Trinidad knocked Joppa out in two rounds, the stage was set for Trinidad –Hopkins bout after Hopkins took a decision over Holmes.
In a fight staged at Madison Square Garden, Hopkins came into the bout as the underdog against the more charismatic Trinidad. This fight established Hopkins as elite boxer as he schooled the younger Trinidad and Trinidad corner threw in the towel in the last round. From this point, Hopkins finally started to get his due but not many big fights but this changed when Oscar De La Hoya gave him a shot.
In a promotional genius, Hopkins and De La Hoya staged a mini-tournament as De La Hoya barely got passed Felix Sturm where as Hopkins easily defeated Robert Allen. The De La Hoya fight established for the first time Hopkins as a major PPV fighter as he stopped De La Hoya with a nasty left hook to the liver. Over the first few rounds, De La Hoya used his quickness to lead on points but Hopkins used his ring experience and power to turn the tide of the fight. This fight proved to be a turning point in Hopkins career not just in the ring but outside as he joined Golden Boy promotion. Not only did Hopkins make a ton of money for De La Hoya fight but he joined De La Hoya in his promotional company. So Hopkins managed to get a share of the profit outside the ring.
Hopkins finally lost his Middleweight title to Jermain Taylor in a bout that Taylor dominated the early part of the bouts before Hopkins came on to dominate the later rounds. Hopkins mistake was that he did not start pressuring the younger Taylor earlier and he lost a rematch in another close bout.
At a age when many fighters reach the end of their career, Hopkins still had many big bouts left as he came back to defeat Antonio Tarver for the light heavyweight title and then dominated the undefeated Kelly Pavlik. Even a decision lost to Joe Calzaghe did little to hurt his reputation since he sent the undefeated Calzaghe down in the first round before losing the decision plus before he defeated Pascal, he finally got his revenge against Roy Jones, Jr. in a easy decision.
In boxing, like any other sports, speed and quickness is the first to go. Great fighters who depended upon their speed and athletic ability often find it difficult to adjust whereas Hopkins did not just depend upon athletic skills or speed but boxing techniques and knowledge about his opponents’ weakness. So as he got older, he still could survive against younger fighters. Fighters like Roy Jones, Jr. depended speed and when the speed disappear then Jones became vulnerable. Late in his career, Jones lost to Tarver twice, Calzaghe and Glen Johnson, a fighter that Hopkins stopped previously.
Hopkins is not just a fighter but a promoter, making his mark not just in the ring but outside as well. Many fighters rarely get to determine their own fate but Hopkins is a rarity since he is at the point in his career that he can determine his own fate by determining who he wants to fight. Plus he can garner the promoter fees as well so while Hopkins began his career as the supporting act for other fighters, he is ending his career as a leading actor in the ring.
By Tom Donelson
Manny Pacquaio is one of those rare fighters who transcend the sport he participate in. He is a folk hero in his native Philippines, which got him elected to the Philippines Congress but his greatest fame is what he has accomplished in the ring.
Pacquaio began his career as a junior flyweight, fighting at 107 pounds but he made his fame when he moved into the featherweight division and began his challenge against the trio of great Mexicans, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez. On November 15, 2003, Pacquaio came out stopped Barrera in the eleventh round. He knocked Marquez down three times but Marquez came back to produce a draw in their championship bout and he lost a unanimous decision to Erik Morales. In those bouts, Pacquaio showed power with his left hand but he proved vulnerable to right hand counters from Mexican fighters. At that stage in his career, Pacquaio depended upon his speed and left hand to win fights but he was not a complete fighter.
He hired Freddie Roach as his trainer and Roach changed Pacquaio style and turned Pacquaio into a complete fighter by adding a right hand jab to the southpaw Pacquaio arsenal plus Pacquaio learned to use the whole ring by moving and countering bigger fighters.
The ability of Pacquaio to change styles proved to be his biggest accomplishment since it allowed to neutralized bigger fighters with his speed and power, which he maintained as he moved up in rank.
He defeated Morales twice by TKO, plus decision victories over Barrea and Marquez but he then decided to make history by moving up to lightweight division and knocking out champion David Diaz plus a surprise victory over Oscar De La Hoya, fighting a welterweight. While many viewed the De La Hoya victory as a victory over an aged fighter (despite that many pundits favored De La Hoya going into the fight), Pacquaio stopped the top junior welterweight Ricky Hatton in two rounds.
After demolishing Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito over the past year, Pacquaio has established himself as best boxer over the past decade. For many boxing pundits and fans, the judgment on whether he is the best over the past decade is dependent on if he beats Mayweather.
There may be another way to consider the question on who is the best pound for pound and look at who Pacquaio beat. Almost every division, Pacquaio fought in, he beat the best. Look at Pacquaio record over the past decade and you see that he defeated some of the best fighters of his generation. He beat Marquez once and drew with him as well, defeated both Morales and Barrera twice, Ricky Hatton in two rounds, Miguel Cotto, a solid champion, lightweight champ David Diaz, former champions Oscar De La Hoya, Antonio Margarito and Joshua Clottey among others.
Each victory enhanced his reputation and his popularity, already strong in Asia became a world wide phenomena as he took his tour to the states when he beat some of the best Mexican fighters.
Today, Pacquaio success as a PPV star rests on two factors. The first factor is that he did not just fight the best fighters but defeated the best of his generation from flyweight to welterweight and the second factor is that he is an action fighter which means great fights with great fighters.
Pacquaio provides a lesson for fighters who want to be great. The first lesson is never rest on your laurel and keeps improving on your game. Pacquaio changed his style as he moved up in weight by adding a solid jab and learn to use the whole ring. The second lesson is if you want to be great, then you have to beat other great fighters. Ali greatness came because he fought the best of his era and beat them. Pacquaio has done the same thing and this helped built his popularity as well. The final lesson is to provide action fights. Pacquaio throws punches, and is not afraid to take risk. Combine all three lessons and you have a great fighter for the all ages.