This fight will truly be a contrast in styles and histories. To wit:
Kovalev began boxing in Russia around the time he would have been a fifth grader, and fought on the amateur level for over a decade, amassing over 200 fights (thanks, Wikipedia). Hopkins began boxing in prison and turned pro basically the day he was released (I think he had an aversion to the headgear that the AM’s wear). Kovalev is 18 years younger. Hopkins has fought more than twice as many professional fights and if I were to guess, at least 4 or 5 times the number of professional rounds.
Of styles, the round disparity is largely due to the differing approaches they take in the ring. For Kovalev, he fights as if he has a plane to catch (or as if there is a gallon of milk in his fridge that is about to expire). There is an urgency to him, and his fights look a lot like the one-sided bedlam I used to witness on certain boozy nights at Unit M. A large percentage of his fights end in the first, second, or third rounds – none have gone past 8 (of a possible 10 or 12, depending on the Boxing entity and other minutia). Folks who are drawn to watch this fight will mostly do so because of the potential to see the Krusher get another ridiculous knockout .
Kovalev is one of boxing’s hopes to lure fans to/back to the sport. He delivers action and knockouts in spades. From the opening bell, Kovalev is always stepping forward, toward his opponent. There is no sidestepping and not much head movement to avoid punches. He walks his opponents down, measures them, throwing the occasional jab to keep the other guy from throwing too much and then assaults them with power shots when he gets close enough. And his punches have some serious stank on them – often the result is something like this:
(fast forward to :35 mark – this one’s a little brutal, but don’t worry, that guy ended up being okay, as far as I know)
From the first clip, you might get a whiff of something aside from his high activity and knockout prowess – Sergey is a bit of a character. As he throws massive punches, sometimes he’ll do an Ali/Sugar Ray okey doke impression (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__v6_dbY-XI - :26 mark) or a tasteful little crotch thrust as demonstrated in the first clip above. He’s made an effort to speak English (typically a prerequisite for US fans to be interested in a fighter), answers interviewers’ questions with a smile on his face, and speaks his mind. All boxers talk trash, but there is something kind of funny and harmless about the way he called Adonis Stevenson “a piece of shit” during a post-fight interview and then sheepishly grinning in response to the crowd’s laughter.
Hopkins, on the other hand, has never been a true bruiser, nor has he ever really sought to endear himself to anyone, but the purists love him. He is the ultimate, as a WWE announcer might say, “Ring technician.” Hopkins brings a cerebral aspect that you would not expect from a sport that features two shirtless guys hitting each other in the face for an extended period. He studies his opponents and the referees. He might be one of the only fighters that knows the tendencies of not only his opponent, but of each ref calling his matches – how often they deduct points and for what infractions, how much holding they will allow, how much hitting in a clinch, etc. Hopkins is the only guy I have seen actually ask questions of the referee during the pre-fight visit when they go over the instructions (BTW, “We went over the instructions in the dressing room” should be a euphemism for something). And he uses that information to formulate his game plan for each fight.
And after almost 500 rounds, he’s probably seen basically every type of punch and angle imaginable. His defense is otherworldly – some guys protect with their gloves, some rely on their movement – Hopkins is about 75% the latter. He twists and ducks and makes fighters look pretty stupid at times with whiffs on punches. Fighters have actually fallen down from swinging and missing on him (compare to Kovalev, who basically walks into punches and can be/has been knocked down on basic lack of defense and/or poor balance). It is pretty deflating to the generally-huge egos of Hopkins’ opposition. His gameplan, generally, is to wear guys down mentally, rather than physically, then take advantage in the mid to late rounds to win by an unsexy decision. He has gone the distance in as many fights as Kovalev has been in as a professional.
I would suspect that the majority of the rooting audience will be behind Kovalev because hitting guys a lot and making them fall down is more crowd-pleasing than Hopkins’ mental gymnastics and general cageyness. I really like Kovalev, but the boxing nerd in me prefers Hopkins’ style, and it would be pretty incredible to see a 49 year old guy be victorious against this level of opposition. But I really have no idea how this one will turn out. Kovalev is younger, bigger, stronger. He’s knocked out 23 of the 25 guys he has fought. But then there’s this:
Sergey Kovalev has beaten guys with names like Blake Caparello, Cornelius White, Lionell Thompson, Grover Young and Harvey Kilfian. Just trust me that that list is not exactly a murderer’s row; in fact it sounds more like a wine tasting guest list, or possibly a bunch of dudes that have their own bowling team.
So there might be something for everyone remotely interested in boxing this weekend. The experience, speed and technical skill are all on Hopkins’ side. Sergey has strength, charisma and [relative] youth. I don’t see Hopkins getting through 12 rounds with this particular opposition, nor do I see him getting a knockout. If anybody can do it, it would be Bernard, though. I think Sergey will have to go deep into the fight and there will be a question of whether he can still put the spicy mustard on his punches in the late rounds. But Hopkins almost has to come down to earth at some point, and I think this is the opponent who makes it happen.