Hopkins/Calzaghe: Can Hopkins neutralize Calzaghe’s high punch volume?

bernard hopkinsBy Geoffrey Ciani: Prior to his bout with Carlos Quintana, many observers (including me) had a very high opinion of Paul Williams. After all, what’s not to like about a freakishly tall welterweight with a piston-like jab and an obscenely high work rate? Following his impressive victory against Antonio Margarito, many felt that Williams might be the next best thing in the division. As it turns out, after his lackluster performance against Quintana, he seems much less impressive than me and many others had previously thought.

One thing that was so remarkable about Williams’s win over Margarito was the sheer volume of punches thrown. In that contest, Williams threw more than 1,200 punches (including over 600 jabs) for an average of over 100 per round—an astounding number by any measurable standard. The fact that he was able to throw so many punches against a feared puncher like Margarito was an absolute marvel, but despite being known for his ferocious power, it probably should have been noted that Margarito was a fairly easy target who is not especially known for defensive wizardry.

Against Quintana, Williams’s high punch volume was neutralized by good defensive movement and accurate counter-punching. In fact, Quintana was so successful on the defensive that Williams threw less than half as many punches (under 600) as he had against Margarito. This goes to show that there are various ways to slow down a fighter with a notoriously high work rate. As I watched Quintana’s brilliant defensive display unfold, I could not help being reminded of another fighter with an extremely high punch volume—Joe Calzaghe.

In the upcoming mega-bout between Calzaghe and Bernard Hopkins, most observers inexplicably seem to be favoring Calzaghe. Indeed, the majority of fans and writers believe Calzaghe will prevail, and even the odds-makers share this view, having made Joe the betting favorite. The most common reason cited by those who believe Calzaghe will reign supreme is punch volume. Countless observers have bellowed a similar sentiment: “‘Old Man Popkins’ will not be able to contend with Calzaghe’s exceptional work rate!” Apparently, I am amongst the minority who believes Hopkins will be triumphant.

Perhaps some observers will change their opinion in light of what happened to Paul Williams. This is not to say that Williams is deserving of a comparison with a proven commodity like Calzaghe. However, there is surely something to be said about the fact that good defense and accurate counter-punching have a way of negating high volume punching. After all, it is easy to look good against someone who is not especially concerned with avoiding punches, as Williams proved against Margarito.

Calzaghe has long been celebrated for his tremendous stamina and his ability to throw punches and bunches throughout the entire duration of a twelve round contest. In his most recent high profile match-ups, Calzaghe landed 351 of 952 punches against Jeff Lacy and 285 of 1,010 against Mikkel Kessler (according to compubox numbers). These are extremely impressive numbers in terms of output, but do they really spell certain doom for Hopkins, as so many members of the boxing community seem to believe? I am not convinced.

Hopkins is a crafty veteran with an uncanny ability for disrupting an opponent’s rhythm and taking him out of his game. A master of versatility, Hopkins can do this in numerous ways, often adapting different strategies to accomplish this goal. Against Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya, he utilized his ability to box from the outside behind the jab, whereas, against Keith Holmes and Winky Wright, he focused on smothering tactics and in-fighting. He can box or brawl, he can fight passively or aggressively, and he can lead or counter. Additionally, he has a tremendous knack for bending the rules in his favor without getting caught—a tactic which has successfully taken many a weary opponent by surprise, oftentimes enabling Hopkins to wear his opponent down mentally before breaking him down physically.

Few would deny the fact that Hopkins is the most technically gifted fighter Calzaghe has ever faced. In addition to his tactical prowess, he is additionally the most versatile fighter Joe was ever matched with. I, for one, am flabbergasted by this commonly held belief that Calzaghe is going to enter the ring and simply beat Hopkins by outworking him!

Calzaghe’s unorthodox style is often described as ‘awkward’ by both victims and analysts alike. As a result, he often finds himself off-balance which leaves him wide open for counters. To date, he has not faced someone capable of exploiting these weaknesses, but then again, he has never faced someone as capable as Hopkins—a fact which seems to be going unnoticed by all too many.

I believe that Hopkins defensive nature combined with impeccable counter-punching capabilities will certainly keep Joe on his toes. Calzaghe will need to be much more careful than he was against one-dimensional fighters like Lacy, and he will need to be much more tactical in his planning than he was against someone without a back-up plan like Kessler. Hopkins is a multi-dimensional fighter whose adaptability inside the ring makes him difficult to ‘figure out’. No doubt the seasoned vet will have a few tricks up his sleeve.

Paul Williams looked sensational against a defensive misfit like Margarito, but when pitted against an opponent who could move and counter, he looked mediocre. Likewise, Calzaghe also looked sensational when pitted against offensive-minded fighters like Kessler and Lacy. How will he look when he squares off against the much more defensively talented Hopkins? I cannot say for sure, but I feel we will see a greatly reduced punch output on the part of Calzaghe. I am not saying that this analogy is by any means perfect, but I certainly believe it helps highlight my point—there are ways of slowing down fighters with high work rates.

In fact, Calzaghe himself probably realizes that it will take more than work rate alone to get the best of Bernard Hopkins. Calzaghe is a very intelligent fighter who is much too smart to rely on such a poor strategy. He also probably has a better idea of what he is up against than do the majority of fans, pundits and odds-makers. Expect him to fight a much more tactical bout than we are accustomed to seeing, and expect him to pick and choose his punches much more carefully. Otherwise, we may see a one-sided exhibition from ‘Old Man Popkins’.

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To read more by Ciani please visit The Mushroom Mag:

Article posted on 13.02.2008

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