Bernard Hopkins plans to shock the world yet again. | Photo: Getty Images
This is not Puerto Rico, and he has not grabbed a flag in front of a furious partisan crowd and stomped on it sending onlookers into a frenzy. Bernard Hopkins is not 36 anymore, either, which was old then in 2001, when “The Alien” was “The Executioner” and he trashed Puerto Rico and ran for his life in the build up for the historic Felix Trinidad showdown.
No, it is not 2001, but it sure feels like that to Hopkins, the reigning IBF and WBA light heavyweight world champion who will be taking on WBO light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev this Saturday on HBO’s Championship Boxing from Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.
Hopkins (55-6-2, 32 KOs) likes the position in which he finds himself. “The Alien” will turn 50 on Jan. 15, and he plans on shocking the world again with an upset of Kovalev (25-0-1, 23 KOs). “The Krusher” is 13-0-1 with 13 knockouts in his past 14 fights. He has never gone beyond eight rounds, winning an eight-round split decision over Darnell Boone in October 2010. Hopkins has never been stopped in his career, but he has been knocked down, most recently in the first and third rounds of his first fight with Jean Pascal -- which resulted in a draw in December 2010. Other than that, he has been as almost elusive to hit as Floyd Mayweather Jr., despite his “advanced age.”
Again, Hopkins is an underdog -- a role he relishes. This time, it is a little different. Whereas in 2001 -- when Hopkins enraged Trinidad and his army of Puerto Rican fans -- Hopkins this time enters as the sentimental choice of the fans for this fight.
“They want to see if the old man can still do it again,” Hopkins said more than a month ago, a sprinkle of salt in his day-old stubble. “I guess you can say it is unusual for me to have everyone on my side for this one. I know I didn’t have the crowd when I fought Trinidad. I know people didn’t want to see me beat up Kelly Pavlik or [Antonio] Tarver. I don’t think I was the crowd favorite in those fights. I suppose if you hang around long enough, people will come around.”
To Naazim Richardson, Hopkins’ trainer, there are a lot of similarities between this fight with Kovalev and the one with Trinidad.
“You’re talking about another killer,” Richardson said, referring to Kovalev. “No one thought Hopkins could beat Trinidad, and I mean nobody other than the people who were in his corner that night. This is the same exact thing. You’re talking about a younger guy, who’s undefeated and can hurt you. Trinidad was able to hurt you -- and he had destroyed everyone in front of him before he stepped in with [Hopkins]. This guy is the same thing; but remember what Hopkins did to Trinidad. That’s all I’m going to say.”
This is one of the biggest fights of 2014. Hopkins has been here before, under the glare of the bright lights. Though Kovalev has been on TV before, the attention for this fight is different.
“Hopkins is an old man, and we plan on treating him like an old man,” said John David Jackson, Kovalev’s trainer -- a man Hopkins stopped in seven rounds in April 1997 in what was Hopkins’ fourth IBF middleweight title defense. “Sergey cannot fall into the ‘I’m fighting a legend’ thing. This guy is 50, and he’s still here. We respect him, but we’re going to punish him. This isn’t 2001 against Trinidad; it’s not 2006 when he beat Tarver and 2008 when he beat Pavlik. That was six years ago. Bernard has to get over it. He’s done.”
Kovalev may be the fighter with more pressure. If he beats Hopkins, the detractors will holler that he was supposed to beat an “old man,” and if he loses, he lost to an “old man.”
“People are going to witness something special,” Hopkins said. “I am different than the human beings that I talk to, and it’s not a joke [when I call myself ‘The Alien’]. To me, this is not just another fight. This is one of the significant fights of the year. There are so many things that I’ve done in my career, and to do this 13, 14 years later [after Trinidad], there is nothing to define it. I really don’t know if [beating Kovalev] would trump the Trinidad victory. I’ll let people think of the multiple things that I’ve achieved.”
No one doubts Hopkins this time around, like they did when he fought Trinidad.
“I don’t need the media anymore as motivation. I want to enjoy it, and you won’t see that in our lifetimes again,” Hopkins said. “In my mind, I’ll be the undisputed light heavyweight champ. Beating Kovalev and beating him in grand fashion, it will open a lot of debate where I stand. I believe this will be a bold statement, better than Pavlik, better than Tito. I’m willing to show people that Atlantic City isn’t dead and Bernard Hopkins definitely isn’t dead.”