Kovalev defeats Bernard Hopkins

ByDan Rafael ESPN logo
Sunday, November 9, 2014

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Sergey Kovalev put on a dominant performance, unified three light heavyweight world titles and showed that the "Alien" Bernard Hopkins is human after all.

Kovalev dropped Hopkins in the first round, pounded him throughout the one-sided fight and won a shutout decision in a masterful performance before 8,545 on Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall.

Hopkins had made magic at Boardwalk Hall in the past, authoring two of his greatest upsets -- his tour de force against Kelly Pavlik in 2008 and his first light heavyweight championship victory against Antonio Tarver in 2006. But there was no magic on this night.

Instead, there was a 31-year-old powerful Kovalev, in his prime, giving a beating to a 49-year-old man who turns 50 on Jan. 15. In the end, not a single round was even very close as the judges had it for Kovalev 120-107, 120-107 and 120-106. ESPN.com also had it 120-107 for Kovalev, who took two 175-pound belts from Hopkins to add to his own.

"I'm very happy," Kovalev said. "This victory was for my son Aleksandr."

Kovalev's wife, Natalia, gave birth to their first child on Oct. 20 in Los Angeles while Kovalev was away for his training camp. He has not seen the boy since he was born, and it was a motivating factor for him against Hopkins.

While Kovalev (26-0-1, 23 KOs), who went past eight rounds for the first time in his career, scored by far his biggest victory, Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 KOs) never had been so thoroughly dominated in his 26-year, obvious Hall of Fame career.Yes, Hopkins had lost before, often controversially, but this was the first time he took a physical pounding in a definitive defeat.

"I give him a lot of respect," said Hopkins, who sought out the fight with Kovalev, who few others have wanted to fight -- including lineal champion Adonis Stevenson, who walked away from a deal for the fight to leave HBO for Showtime. "We both would fight anyone and that's how we ended up here tonight. That's what brought us together. That's what the people want to see, one title, one belt, one champion."

Kovalev landed a clean right hand late in the first round to drop Hopkins for the fifth time in his career. Hopkins is known for his ability to take a punch, but Kovalev then rocked him with another right hand just before the end of the round.

Hopkins' offense was nonexistent. He could barely throw anything or land anything, but it didn't seem like it was age or slowing reflexes, but rather protection for what would be coming back at him if he let his hands go.

For the fight, Hopkins landed just 65 of 196 punches (33 percent), according to CompuBox statistics, while Kovalev connected on 166 of 585 blows (28 percent).

"I think he's catapulted himself to the very top of boxing," said Main Event chief executive Kathy Duva, Kovalev's promoter. "He is everything we believed he was. It is his goal to unify all four belts, but that doesn't mean that is what he has to do at the moment. If it happens, it happens.

"I was eerily calm about this fight. The only thing I was nervous about was that I wasn't nervous."

Added Kovalev: "He was a really tough opponent. He is very good at keeping distance. I really respect him for the fight, but he needs to stop his career, I think, because he's already done a lot in the boxing world and he needs to give an opportunity to younger fighters to be champions. I'm next.

"I needed to keep control for the whole fight. I wanted to show to my fans and boxing fans how I can box. I think I did it."

Early in the fight, the best Hopkins could do was push Kovalev to the canvas in the third round. He tried to come alive late in the round, but Kovalev had an answer for everything.

Kovalev, who showed great patience, landed a hard right hand in the fourth round that sent Hopkins reeling into the ropes. It seemed quite obvious that Hopkins had little and was in for a beating.

As good as Kovalev was offensively as he mixed in right hands and body shots, his defense was strong, too, as Hopkins did not land many solid punches.

"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 his distance and that was the key to his victory. He has very good mechanics and patience. It was smart that he stayed patient. He had a really good game plan. I will give him that.

"Every time I tried to engage he would step back and counter over my jab."

Said Golden Boy's Oscar De La Hoya, Hopkins' promoter: "He's good. He's really good. He knows how to use his distance. He knows how to use his power."

Hopkins nearly went down again in the eighth round when Kovalev landed a flush right hand to the head. Hopkins buckled, dipped his knees and came about as close to going down without hitting the canvas as possible.

The crowd chanted here and there for Hopkins, from nearby Philadelphia, but it did little to lift the legend.

Hopkins momentarily wobbled Kovalev, a native of Russia who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with a right hand in the 10th round. It was Hopkins' best punch of the fight, but Kovalev took it well and rallied to nail Hopkins with a few shots as if he were mad that he got caught.

Hopkins, who made a minimum $1 million from the fight, hurt Kovalev, who earned a minimum $500,000, with a body shot in the 12th round, but Kovalev responded with an onslaught that hurt Hopkins again. All Hopkins could do was stick his tongue out as Kovalev teed off on him for the final half-minute of the fight and, perhaps, Hopkins' career.

Kovalev -- ticketed to return as soon as March -- landed 38 punches in the final round, the most landed against Hopkins in a round in any of the 41 Hopkins fights tracked by CompuBox.

"I tried to go for the knockout in the 12th round but he had great defense," Kovalev said. "He's the best boxer in my division and Bernard would beat Adonis Stevenson."

Asked why he mixed it up with Kovalev in the 12th round, Hopkins answered, "Because I'm crazy. No, I'm kidding. That's what the fans want to see, good fights. I was trying to land something. I was engaging him because if I had a chance to land something I knew I could turn things around."

Hopkins never could, but even at his age, he said he was not sure if he would retire.

"It's 50-50," he said. "I don't really want to say anything. Everybody will have a long time to talk about my career when it is over. It's been 50-50 for the last nine years. I've done what I had to do. I'm fine. Really, I'm fine."

If Hopkins does call it a day, the International Hall of Fame beckons. He has had a brilliant career: a division-record 20 middleweight title defenses, three title reigns at light heavyweight and multiple upsets, including against Felix Trinidad, Tarver and Pavlik. He also set multiple age-related records: oldest fighter to win a world title (first at 46, then at 48), to hold a world title, to defend a world title and to unify titles, doing so in April when he dropped Beibut Shumenov in a masterful decision win.

But all good things must come to an end.

As John David Jackson, Kovalev's trainer, who once got knocked out by Hopkins in a 1997 middleweight world title fight and later worked as his assistant trainer, said: "Sergey did just what I thought he would do. Tonight, he was the teacher."

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