At 49 years old, Bernard Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 KOs) dared to be great.
While the younger Light Heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson signed away any chance at fighting dangerous puncher Sergey Kovalev (26-1, 23 KOs), Hopkins, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was ready and willing to fight him in an attempt to completely unify the division.
The dare proved to be too much for the self-proclaimed “Alien,” as Kovalev dominated him in each round of a 12-round unification fight at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey–a fight that was jointly promoted by Golden Boy Promotions and Main Events Promotions.
Kovalev, 31, of Chelyabinsk, Russia began the fight auspiciously, as he pressured Hopkins to score a knockdown in the first round with a right hand to the side of Hopkins’ head.
“My goal was not to knock him out. It was just a knockdown. A knockdown is just one point. I needed to keep control for the whole fight,” said Kovalev of the opening round to HBO’s Max Kellerman.
Indeed, Kovalev’s game plan was to pressure Hopkins at a calm pace and to pick his opportunities to land powerful combinations with the smart use of distance and without getting reckless.
Hopkins, after feeling Kovalev’s power, spent most of the fight withdrawing into a defensive curl, baiting Kovalev to get reckless in order to land his signature right hand.
Kovalev, however, never took the bait.
“When I tried to pull him into my fight he took a step back and started to jab,” said Hopkins, describing how Kovalev’s steady but smart pressure forced Hopkins to reset often.
Hopkins defended Kovalev’s shots exceptionally well and took them well when he had to, but in the twelfth round he seemed as if he’d be stopped for the first time in his 20-year career.
After taking a right hand, Kovalev hurt hopkins with vicious combination punches, forcing Hopkins to spend the second half of the final round taking more punishment than in any round in his entire career.
Kovalev won with scores of 120-107, 120-107, and 120-106. He is now the WBO, WBA, and IBF Light Heavyweight champion.
Kovalev was too much for Hopkins and, despite the fact that Stevenson holds the lineal title, should be considered the best fighter in the division.
Kovalev was expected to dominate on sheer strength alone, but demonstrated that he has the ability to box smartly at a calm pace.
Hopkins, on the other hand, suffers the seventh defeat of his career, but only because he dared to be exceptional.
He lost the fight to Kovalev on his feet–a feat no fighter half his age can attest to. For that reason, he is still “The Alien.”