Boxing


Bernard Hopkins: Doing It His Way and the Heavyweight Picture

26.10.08 - By Michael Klimes: Sometimes there are people who defy expectations and two fighters recently kayoed my predictions. Both Bernard Hopkins and Vitali Klitschko discovered dazzling forms as they mastered their younger opponents in wonderful displays of boxing. Before Hopkins beat Pavlik I was perplexed by the turn in his fascinating career. Although he had lost to Joe Calzaghe and had taken on every major name his generation had to offer, he still wanted to prove himself against the most dangerous opponents he could find. Since he could not find a name in his generation to aim at, he looked at the one coming after him and thought confronting the very good Kelly Pavlik would be a bright idea. Pavlik, having a similar dilemma shared Hopkins’s aspiration and so the fight was made. It was also an amusing observation that Hopkins who was once the boxing maverick and hate figure for the game’s establishment (probably described as “they” or “them” with omnipotent connotations) has become a very well paid up member of it..

After he defeated Oscar de la Hoya, where was Hopkins to go? He had achieved the biggest payday of his career. Naturally he signed a contract with Golden Boy Promotions and you might as well extend that to HBO and gained new momentum. He suddenly developed an afterlife. He was not just a fighter but a fighter with a corporate identity. Hopkins’s vanity fitted the role perfectly as he was and is an accomplished talker.

The Philadelphian, as far as I know, does not have a master’s degree in psychology but everything he says and does is the consequence of a razor sharp intellect that knows how to get what it wants. Hopkins is always calm and calculating, playing out the different scenarios in his head and how any number of factors might prevent him from meeting his set goals. Hopkins’s persona is also intriguing. He does not seem to fit easily into distinguishable categories. Firstly, there is what might be called “the Kelly Pavlik or Rocky Marciano mentality” which reaches out to people with hard work, honesty and humbleness. These sorts of boxers might be called “the blue collar types”.

The second type of persona is the charismatic character who loves to show off both in and out of the ring and has all the connections a boxer could want. Fighters like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Floyd Mayweather Junior are the champions of this style. Nevertheless, they branched out into different directions. Mayweather is a “B Side”, the boxer who one desires to lose. By comparison, Ali and Leonard went through different phases where their reputations flew between various planes of perception.

Hopkins is an amalgamation of the first and second types. He retains elements of these blue collar roots as he prepares for his fights as meticulously and professionally as he did in his early days. However, he is not the peripheral figure anymore who finds it hard to get television dates to fight on HBO. He is not flashy in his appearance like Mayweather but he is flashy with his tongue. What is most outstanding about Hopkins’s recent victory is that he has reminded us that one part of him has not changed it never will; it is the most fundamental aspect of the identity he has carved out for himself and that is being labelled the underdog. Nothing motivates Hopkins more than being told he cannot achieve his objectives in boxing and Hopkins has always been determined to do two things: Prove he can do something nobody says he can do and do it his way.

Hopkins’s exceptional performance will go down in the history of our sport as one of the most extraordinary upsets. If Hopkins had lost this rubber match, his reputation as an elite fighter would have entered the dustbin. What he will do next will be another twist in his almost boundless journey.

Vitali Klitschko was in commanding form too as he stopped Samuel Peter over eight rounds. Klitschko’s absence from the ring of four years due to injuries did not affect him at all. Perhaps the unwanted exile actually transpired to be a refreshing break. What a boxer is meant to lose over time was there in abundance and it is noteworthy they are not qualities that the Ukrainian is usually associated with. In the past Klitschko has been viewed as a little mechanical, one dimensional and a plodder but here he was the exact opposite. He demonstrated surprising speed, stamina, timing and footwork and a good sense of range. All of these combined to imbue Klitschko with a nimble effortlessness, even grace that I have not seen before. It cannot be easy for a heavyweight of his size to move and punch so consistently for eight rounds. When his experience, toughness and intelligence are added into the equation of asking how good a heavyweight is the elder Klitschko the answer is impressive. However, two potential problems can hinder our optimism. We can only hope that Klitschko’s body holds up against further injuries and that we do not get into a tricky situation where both Klitschkos are the two dominant forces.

If this happens, then the heavyweight division has two ugly scenarios that can unfold. The first being they do not fight each other, thereby leaving us with no undisputed champion or they fight each other. Forgive me for being a squeamish, but boxing is demanding enough without asking two brothers to fight each other, it just seems unnatural. Nevertheless Vitali Klitschko’s return is welcome.

Two other heavyweights need to be watched and they are David Haye and Chris Arreola. If Haye can transmit what made him such an exhilarating cruiserweight into his new division, it will be to everyone’s benefit apart from his adversaries. The swashbuckling Londoner also seems to inspire Wladimir Klitscko into a haughty temper and that could be a good match up. What makes Haye captivating is that he is a cruiserweight attempting to replicate his old glory in the capital of boxing. This is still quite a unique historical event that Evander Holyfield ushered in but has never been repeated.

The second heavyweight whom I am thinking of is Chris Arreola. He is also different as he is a heavyweight of Mexican heritage and that enables his image to have a niche marketing angle. Arreola seems to emulate his idol Julio Cesar Chavez as he is a resilient pressure fighter that aims to entertain. In the October issue of The Ring there is a revealing interview with Arreola written by William Dettloff. There is one part of the interview that is worth quoting about his love for boxing and although I am not a particularly sentimental fellow, I found it poignant:

“I loved being there. The noise the speed bag makes, the heavy bag, the smell of the gym, the excitement when two guys are sparring and everyone in the gym stops what they’re doing to watch. I loved it.”

In three sentences he has articulated the essence of boxing and the most sacred of places, the ring where magical things can happen. I think David Haye and Vitali Klitschko believe it as well otherwise they would not be where they are now. I just might be starting to believe the heavyweight division is beginning to buy into this philosophy and about time.

Article posted on 26.10.2008



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