Mark E. Ortega

Commentary: Hopkins can enhance legacy with Povetkin fight

This past Saturday, Bernard Hopkins topped himself again by becoming the oldest recognized world champion at age 48 after handing undefeated light heavyweight beltholder Tavoris Cloud a clear decision defeat in Brooklyn in front of more than 12,000 fans at the Barclays Center.

The victory is another accolade to add to a laundry list of them, leaving few worthwhile challenges to remain for the former longtime middleweight champion, who also holds the record for defenses in that weight class with 20.

On Wednesday, Hopkins Tweeted the following messages to his @THEREALBHOP Twitter followers:

“There r champions that hv been callin me out after my historic victory Sat. I’m aware that I hv a mandatory obligation under the IBF rules.

“My mandatory challenger Karo Murat. Out of respect 2 the IBF it’s my intention 2 honor my commitment 2 the mandatory challenger @ this stage of the game just as I’ve done throughout my 25 yr career namely thro 20 str8 defense of the 160.

“However the fans, have made it very clear that at this stage of my career they want Executioner in big fights.

“12,300 fans in Brooklyn over 1 mil watched on @HBOboxinghave sent that message very loud n clear across boxing world.

“I look forward 2 getting back in the ring and continuing with my legacy.”

American fans wouldn’t think much of Hopkins fighting and defeating Murat, who’s biggest claim to fame is a close super middleweight decision over former light heavyweight beltholder Gabriel Campillo.

Even unifying 175-pound titles against WBO beltholder Nathan Cleverly, who stopped Murat in 2010, wouldn’t do much to enhance The Executioner’s legacy.

After defeating the likes of Antonio Tarver, Winky Wright, Kelly Pavlik and Cloud in his 40s, beating guys like Murat and Cleverly don’t hold much weight. However, there is one stone left unturned that Hopkins once discussed during his first mini-hiatus from the sport back in 2006.

At that point in time, he had reached the pinnacle of his career, jumping two weight divisions to dominate Tarver, THE RING’s light heavyweight champion at the time, to a lopsided decision victory. Hopkins soon after announced his retirement, though we know how long that lasted.

It was during this short stretch, in August of 2006, that Oleg Maskaev shocked the world in knocking out Hasim Rahman in the final minutes of their WBC heavyweight title fight, bringing another heavyweight title to the former Soviet Union.

“The state of the heavyweight division in America is dead,” lamented Hopkins to Tim Smith of the New York Daily News back in 2006. “Bernard Hopkins is the only boxer who can bring the title back.”

Maybe that statement still has a bit of truth to it.

Negotiations were broached for Hopkins to challenge Maskaev for the title in an HBO pay-per-view televised bout for June of 2007. Alas, the fight would not come to fruition. Since Maskaev knocked out Rahman, no American has even come close to winning a portion of the heavyweight title, despite numerous attempts at challenging for the title being made.

“I was watching that fight and it when it was over, it hit me,” Hopkins told Smith. “Rahman was supposed to be the last line of defense for the American heavyweights. He couldn’t do it. But I was inspired to come back and do it. It’s not something that is unheard of. Michael Spinks did it. Roy Jones did it. I can do it.”

Hopkins brought up fighting a heavyweight once more, when he called out then WBA titleholder David Haye after outpointing rival Roy Jones Jr. in 2010.

Now nearing 50 years old, one would assume it farfetched for Hopkins to do the unthinkable and go after a heavyweight title. But really, it seems to be the best way for him to try and enhance that legacy even more. 

Currently in possession of a heavyweight belt is Russia’s Alexander Povetkin, who won what the WBA calls its “regular” heavyweight title against Ruslan Chagaev in August of 2011. Wladimir Klitschko is the true WBA champ.

Povetkin has won three consecutive fights since then, with the closest call coming against a smaller man, cruiserweight beltholder Marco Huck, last February.

Though Maskaev was a weak champion even by today’s standards, he could punch and generally he came into fights in decent shape.

Povetkin is a much smaller heavyweight, never weighing more than 230 pounds, and he lacks the big punch that was Maskaev’s equalizer against Rahman.

To top things off, one of Povetkin’s biggest issues is his general lack of conditioning, which almost cost him his title against Huck as he huffed and puffed his way to the finish line. Hopkins has been able to fight at a high level at his advanced age due to the fact that even in between fights, he never allows himself to get out of shape.

Hopkins made it clear after the victory over Cloud on Saturday that he plans on fighting on, but he also suggested that whatever fight he chooses must be one where there is something big on the line.

“’If I’m not motivated, and the competition is not there, if it’s a meaningless fight, it’s time to roll, man,” Hopkins said by phone Sunday to Dan Gelston of the Associated Press.

Truth is, he doesn’t have many marketable challenges.

Chad Dawson is recognized as the legitimate 175-pound champion and Hopkins was not the better man when the two settled things last year in a decision victory for Dawson. The other viable name that exists for Hopkins to add to his resume is that of 2004 Olympic gold medalist and 168-pound king Andre Ward. However, Hopkins has said he wouldn’t fight Ward, his “protégé” in his words, for even 15 million dollars.

Ward provided commentary for Hopkins’ historic victory on Saturday night, giving great insight into what Hopkins was able to accomplish. RingTV reached out to Ward to ask his thoughts on if Hopkins challenged Povetkin for a heavyweight title and whether he thought it was a good idea.

“I think it is totally doable,” remarked Ward. “I actually think that is a great payday and a great way for Bernard to go out, and it would be something that would motivate him. I never thought about that matchup, but that would be good. I like it!”

Povetkin and his team have their sights set on a showdown with  Wladimir Klitschko, a fight that has been slow moving in negotiations. When asked for comment regarding interest in a bout with Hopkins, Povetkin promoter Kalle Sauerland didn’t rule out the possibility.

“Hopkins versus Povetkin for the heavyweight championship of the world would be huge,” Sauerland told via e-mail on Tuesday.

“USA versus Russia is always special. It would be like out of a Rocky film. However, Klitschko is currently our only focus for Povetkin, but in boxing, one never knows what can happen.”

Attempts to reach Hopkins himself on this matter have been unsuccessful, but Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer provided with his comments regarding the idea on Tuesday afternoon.

“Well, you know, I haven’t really discussed it with Bernard, we haven’t really talked about it,” said Schaefer via phone.

“We got a letter from the IBF that Bernard is going to have a mandatory with Murat. Murat and his promoter Sauerland were kind enough to step aside for Bernard to get this opportunity against Cloud. We have to see now in the next few weeks and what he wants to do and go from there.” discussed with Schaefer the idea of Hopkins fighting Povetkin and whether or not he sees that as something Bernard would be interested in pursuing, given its historical significance and his previous interest in moving up to fight for a heavyweight title.

“I think this is definitely going to be a name we discuss,” remarked Schaefer.

“Bernard obviously at this point has done so much. He wants his next fight to be something that continues to be historically significant, because that is what continues to keep him going, but as well it has to be financially interesting. He believes he should be compensated properly if he takes on something like that. I could certainly see fighting for a heavyweight title could be a challenge Bernard gets up for.”

If there’s anything Hopkins is going to get up for, one would imagine it being not only becoming one of the few middleweights to win a heavyweight title, but becoming the oldest heavyweight champion of all-time in the process. Somehow, it doesn’t seem that farfetched.


Photos / Elsa / Golden Boy-Getty Images, Thomas Kienzle-AFP

Mark Ortega is the boxing columnist for the Martinez News-Gazette and is a member of the Boxing Writers Assoc. of America and the RING Ratings Advisory Panel. He can be reached via e-mail at markeortega@gmail.comas well as followed on Twitter @MarkEOrtega.

Around the web