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WIZARD HOPKINS PUZZLED AND POUNDED PROUD PAVLIK

By Kenneth Lundgren | October 21, 2008
WIZARD HOPKINS PUZZLED AND POUNDED PROUD PAVLIK

Well, I picked that fight wrong. Eh, as my friend Scoop told me, "Hey, Muhammad Ali predicted Spinks over Tyson. The great Rocky Marciano called Sonny Liston KO1 Cassius Clay." So, well, shit happens...but I will be the first to admit it. It's been a long time since I've picked a big prize fight wrong, but here I am, owning up to it. For one, Hopkins was masterful. "That wasn't an exhibition," I heard Steve Kim say ringside, "That was a masterpiece."

You must give Hopkins the credit. There is a reason why The Ring still has him in the Top-10 P4P. He looked supremely conditioned and had very fast hands. Not only did he throw fast, but he threw hard. Rocking Kelly Pavlik is not an easy thing, but B-Hop did it repeatedly, seemingly with ease. 

The performance was almost unnatural.

I wrote in my "Bloodbath" article that I was a huge fan of B-Hop and I proclaimed him the greatest middleweight of all time. But I looked at his performances against De la Hoya, Taylor, Wright, and Calzaghe and really tried to envision the Pavlik-Hopkins matchup. Little did we know that the very best B-Hop EVER SEEN would show up come fight night. I think it is a testament to Pavlik's threat that Hopkins came out so sharp.

With Korn blaring and the entire arena trembling with fierce anticipation, it took about 12 seconds for Team Pavlik to storm into the ring. The Pavlik entrance was a bolt of adrenaline straight to the heart.

When Hopkins came down the aisle, I saw the black mask. I thought, Shit, this guy is showing up with the full costume. If he's wearing that, no way does he think he's going to get embarrassed. He climbed onto the ring and stood before the ropes, turning to press row and slitting his throat. Pretty ballsy pre-fight antics.

I was seated near the front of the press section next to Steve Kim, Maxboxing's Mark DeSisto, and Manny De La Hoz of La Actualidad. We had been bullshitting all night and now we were primed for the blockbuster...

The first round started slowly, but Hopkins stayed in the center of the ring more than I anticipated. At the end of the round, there was an even exchange and this was the only round I gave Kelly Pavlik. I thought, Okay, now Kelly's gotta start bringing it to Bernard because at this pace, anything can happen.

Round 2 saw Hopkins land a right cross early, quick and hard. When Kelly gets hit, he opens his mouth into an angry O. Well, after a few more blasts, he no longer did that, the first sign that Kelly realized he may be in over his head.

On the ropes, they traded inside blows; ugly tangling. Then Hopkins came over the top with a short, jarring right to the side of Pavlik's temple. In the middle of the round, from the center of the ring, Hopkins threw one of his few jabs and then connected with a solid right. Pavlik looked overly cautious and in the final minutes, he was rocked again.I have to admit, after only 6 minutes in the ring, Kelly Pavlik looked a little weary (perhaps that elbow injury really had delayed his training).

In the third, Pavlik was rocked with more right hands. I noted that Kelly looked uncharacteristically tired, either because of the weight or the dynamic of fighting B-Hop. On the inside, Kelly fired an uppercut that Hopkins blocked by breezing back into the ropes – his movement looked intrinsic, almost effortless. To me, it appeared B-Hop was reading a lot from Kelly's footwork. Bernard seemed to know where Kelly was going to throw before the punch came. When Hopkins started unloading on Pavlik, leading with his left hook, it was clear that Hopkins was both faster and stronger. He just looked BIGGER in the ring. When Hopkins let his hands go, Kelly could only defend, clamming up into the turtle. Near the end of the round, Kelly backed Bernard to the ropes and landed a swift left uppercut, but it was too little too late.

For the first time in his career, it appeared Kelly Pavlik was getting outfought. By Round 4, unbelievably I got the impression that even though Bernard was superior on the inside, Kelly was having massive difficulty finding his range on the outside. Bernard displayed supreme upper body movement, but he kept moving forward and back, taking away Kelly's range. From the outside, Bernard was able to not only take away Kelly's range, but also his timing, often leading with those left hooks.

In Round 5, B-Hop knew this and was willing to trade with Kelly from the middle of the ring. Now Hopkins was letting some looping rights go and Kelly, defending more with his paws and less with upper body movement, wasn't able to fully deflect the blows. Hopkins looked so quick, getting sharper by the round. Kelly began chasing him and threw a long right that narrowly missed Bernard's head. Kelly started pulling the trigger a bit more by the end of the round, landing a decent left to the body, but he really couldn't land anything clean.

I turned to Mark DeSisto and said, "If this is Bernard's final fight, it appears he's trying to milk every second. This man is wasting nothing."

The best shot in the early part of Round 6 was a hard right to the body from Kelly Pavlik. You had to give him credit: Kelly Pavlik was trying to find a way. I noted here that Kelly should try to trade with Bernard on the inside and try to rough him up. Interesting to see how fast Hopkins comes in when he sees Kelly moving inside, smothering the Youngstown fighter. Then he'll feint, land a quick right, then back inside, and Kelly can only react, almost respecting B-Hop's counters so much he doesn't want to leave himself open. After Kelly was hurt by a Hopkins right cross, he finally landed a right of his own, but Bernard was able to absorb the punch and take the power away. He turned his neck away, the punch smoothly ending without fierce impact. I noted that Hopkins hadn't been hurt thus far.

In Round 7, Hopkins was leaving his right guard a little lower. And then he started throwing it. Pavlik clammed up and Hopkins unloaded on him. In this round, I noted Hopkins looked fresher and still had the fast feet. He bounced off the ropes then landed two huge punches. Almost at will. He rolled up the bollo punch, snarling almost, and Hopkins' speed was murderous. His energy level was fearsome. I admire Kelly Pavlik because he is not a freakishly talented fighter, but because he keeps coming with his huge engine. But on this night, Kelly was moving in mud. Was it the weight or the Hopkins conundrum? Watching Hopkins open up like this reaffirmed what I had said earlier, and I typed these words: GREATEST MIDDLEWEIGHT OF ALL TIME. HOPKINS TOO SMART FOR HAGLER, HAGLER COULD NEVER FIGURE OUT THIS B-HOP CONUNDRUM.

In Round 8, a left hook buckled Kelly Pavlik. Hopkins was wearing him down, and not slowly. After the fight, Hopkins admitted he was looking for the KO. He was throwing hard rights and left hooks. The jab was something Hopkins rarely used. I noted that the crowd was silent now and Pavlik looked very, very tired. In my opinion, it's not Kelly's power that makes him a threat, it's his tenacity. Pavlik's biggest weapon had deserted him and Hopkins continued to land cleanly. Pavlik would plod in and Hopkins snapped over the top with wicked ferocity, capping off left hooks with short fluidity.

In this round, Kelly was penalized a point for punching behind the head. Against Hopkins? WHAT? And Benjie Estevez Jr. never seemed to give a warning. Boom, he separated them and then issued the penalty. At the end of the round, Hopkins sauntered back to his corner. He was thoroughly enjoying this. There was no going to any wrong fucking corner on this night. He looked so very fresh. I noted that Kelly was timid to unload – he was getting rocked repeatedly. Pre-fight, we had all wondered if Kelly would get caught headhunting, but Hopkins was the one wielding the axe tonight.

I had said Hopkins was not an idiot before the fight. In between rounds, a writer from behind tapped me on the shoulder and said, "You're right. No idiot, this Hopkins."

Round 9, Hopkins doubling up his left hook on the inside. Kelly landed a nice left to the body as Hopkins was retreating. Then, Hopkins landed one of the fight's hardest punches, a brutal looping right. Pavlik's face was getting puffy. Kelly was trying, but Hopkins was just superior. The ref delayed action, taking a point from Hopkins for holding, and during the pause, the fight thus far reminded me of Calzaghe-Lacy, unfortunately.  When the fight resumed, I could see that the right did a job, Kelly's left eye now bleeding. He returned to his corner with blood running down his cheek.

Kelly came out in Round 10, landing a hard right to Hopkins' body. Hopkins returned with a shortened hook, more of a blunt left. I noted: "Kelly's got no snap, no speed." Tracking Hopkins to the corner, he finally landed a hard right, but Bernard clinched his way out of trouble. When the ref pushed the fighters apart, Kelly almost fell over. Kelly roared back, ripping into Hopkins, but Bernard again rolled his head back, absorbing the punches with masterful ease.

Kelly's eye was bleeding by the start of Round 11. Kelly looked stale, really tired, and he wasn't fighting his way out of the clinches. Late into the round, Hopkins started rushing, swinging wildly, and Pavlik stumbled back. Hopkins was unpredictable: flash lefts to the body, then that right cross. He didn't land cleanly but was battering Kelly's will.

When they came out for the 12th, Hopkins spit at the center of the mat, no red in his saliva. The B-Hop section of the crowed was chanting "B-HOP!" Action started with Hopkins unloading a nasty combo from the middle of the ring. Like the Trinidad fight, he wanted it. Pavlik clammed up, hurt. I just couldn't believe that 33 fighting minutes into this fight, Hopkins could display such superior power and speed. And off B-Hop went, unleashing seven, eight, nine stutter left hooks – bangbangbangbangbang. Showboat smiles, almost a snarl.

Kelly backed him to the corner, then landed that straight right. Hopkins put his guard down, turned his head and smirked, as if to say, "THIS is what you're going to hurt me with?" He treated Kelly Pavlik like he was a club fighter, then came back with a left hook, staggering the middleweight champion. Bernard Hopkins just wouldn't stop punching. At the bell, the fighters had words, B-Hop angry, his gestures saying, "You want more of me, motherfucker?" I wrote as the fighters were separated, "One of best performances I have ever seen."

I collected my thoughts. Kelly's wind just didn't seem there. The guy is human. Every fighter has an off night. With his step slower, Kelly also appeared semi-afraid to let the punches go. He was getting hit often. A key tactic Bernard employed was circling to his right, away from Kelly's right, forcing Kelly at times to throw across his chest to his left. The tactic worked. Bernard took Kelly's power away, which was impressive, but even more impressive was how he broke down Kelly's stamina. Larry Merchant told me after the fight, "That's what happens when you get hit!"

As the ring filled with the fight handlers and team members, Hopkins made his way to the press side of the ring and stared down at us for over thirty seconds, unflinching, his arms at his side. He said everything he needed to. 99% of us had gone against him.

Final score: 119-106, 118-108, 117-109.

In closing, this cements Hopkins' legacy. One question mark I always had was how BAD Tarver looked against him. Tarver had been looking to make a fight with Tyson, weighed 220 pounds, and had just made Rocky Balboa with Stallone. I had thought all along that Tarver just wasn't Tarver in the Hopkins fight, but maybe I was overlooking Hopkins' skill set. I think I did.

Great fighters bring out greatness in their opposition. Kelly Pavlik is the best middleweight in the world and Bernard Hopkins prepared to be his best, and 20 years to almost the day after his first pro bout, the Executioner put on the most impressive performance of his career to show us the greatness that is Bernard Hopkins.

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