Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hopkins-Calzaghe Pre-fight Talk

This post is the cumulative email thread that some of us exchanged earlier today. It's a little bit untidy because the emails were sent in ways that often overlapped. I've tried to sort them out as best possible.

The initial email, sent by me, took exception to a boxing writer (not part of this group) who drew a comparison between Mikkel Kessler and Bernard Hopkins. The point that the writer was trying to make was that if Kessler could have success against Calzaghe by using his right, then Hopkins would have even more success. What follows stems from that email.

Frank Lotierzo:

(Referring to Kessler's right) It's harder, faster and he throws more. No way Hopkins lets his hands go as freely as Kessler did versus Calzaghe.

Charles Farrell:

Kessler was undefeated and full of confidence for the first three or four rounds. He grew discouraged pretty quickly. I agree, there's no comparison between Kessler and Hopkins. Of course, in defense of Hopkins, when Kessler used up the things he knew how to do, the fight was over for him. When what Hopkins tries early doesn't work, he'll try something else. It won't work either.

One thing did occur to me, though: Hopkins, playing against expectations, might come out of the gate very fast and try to nail Calzaghe with an uncharacteristically big shot in the hope of fooling Joe into believing that he punches harder than he really does.

The biggest misconception I'm picking up (at least from the US writers) is that if Calzaghe finds a bump in the road, he may become disconcerted. That's nonsense; this guy is rock tough. He's tougher than Hopkins, which is saying a lot.

I'd like to know everyone else's opinion, but I'm picking Calzaghe in a walk (116-112 or better.)

Carlo Rotella:

I guess I expect that the best Hopkins can reasonably expect to do is win 51% of the fight, which won't be enough to win it on the cards, and the worst he can do is to lose by a few points. So I guess I expect Calzaghe to win by a fairly close but not particularly controversial decision. Hopkins increasingly fights like the Italian national soccer team traditionally plays: forted up on defense, looking to stage the occasional run the other way when the other team overextends trying to score against the forted-up defense. That leads to a lot of close games, whatever the result.

That said, this is a case in which I'll be very happy to be very wrong, and to see Hopkins catch him and hurt him and surprise everybody. There's almost no fighter these days I think more of, and I love to see him succeed. I think that would be a major addition to his all-time credentials, by the way, going up to beat the best and toughest guy available. But I think to bet on that would be emotion, not sense. I think sense says that Calzaghe finds ways to keep it coming, and Hopkins doesn't do anything stupid, and that adds up to a close-ish decision for Calzaghe.

Frank Lotierzo:

I marvel at Hopkins accomplishments, and as much as he'd be unbearable if he won, I'd like to see him pull it off. I also see the fight pretty much the way Carlo does. And win or lose, he's among my top five middleweight greats, based on head-to-head and accomplishment / credentials.

Charles Farrell:

I just have this nagging suspicion that Hopkins (new physique notwithstanding, since Mackie Shillstone is the kiss of death to professional prizefighters) is much nearer the end of the road than people think.

Carlo Rotella:

That may be true--I don't know that I can tell--but I guess my sense of it is that with Hopkins the end of that road will be reached more gradually than most. He's so good at negating and stifling the other guy, which is not as subject to degradations of speed and strength as other skills might be, that I think the end of the road for him is more likely to take the form of a bunch of decision losses than it is to take the form of getting knocked on his ass over and over. I hope so, anyway.

Charles Farrell:

I think so too. But he may have already reached that point. The Taylor losses might represent them. Let's face it, the Winky Wright fight was little more than a quick land grab by two old guys. Wright, talented though he is, has no business at 171 pounds. The one genuine blip on the descent radar is the Tarver fight. Is it just one very tough guy making one not so tough guy give up?

Hopkins has been very good in his late period choice of opponents, but Calzaghe seems all wrong. In order to beat guys nowadays, Bernard has to hustle them a little bit. I can't imagine Calzaghe falling for a scam.

Eddie Goldman:

As much as a Hollywood-style comeback win by Hopkins might sound tempting to predict, I just don't see it. Calzaghe is not only punching continuously, which everyone sees, but also incredibly accurately, both with leads and counters. His defense and conditioning are also superb. The only questions are the usual, i.e., any unrevealed injuries, and politics in the scoring.

Hopkins has been trying to be the ultimate con man, convincing everyone that 43 is just another number. I wish it were true, but it fucking ain't.

Carlo Rotella:

That's another reason I root for Hopkins. He's the same age as me, and while there really is no comparison between how he's spent his life and how I've spent mine, I like to see that there are people my age able to go 12 rounds with the best.

Mike Ezra:

I think Hopkins will fight extremely roughly and use every dirty trick he can. I would not be surprised to see a DQ in this fight, or a
controversial finish involving a cut or a foul. Otherwise, Calzaghe wins
easy by UD or even a Hopkins retirement.

The thread continued with a lengthy argument between Frank and me, debating whether or not Bernard Hopkins deserves to be considered one of the top five middleweights of all time (Frank thinks he should. I think he shouldn’t.) But that’s a different discussion for a different post. Besides, tonight’s fight may have some bearing on our opinions in the matter.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hitting the Campaign Trail

Archie Moore, discouraged in his attempts at securing a heavyweight title bout with then champion Rocky Marciano, brought his case to the public through a series of Old West “wanted” posters (where Moore was depicted as a gunslinger) which he combined with what sounded very much like a political campaign speech.

The approach worked; Moore got his title shot. He lost, but was presumably satisfied that he’d had his chance.

Last Saturday night, in an entertaining and challenging light heavyweight title bout, perennial title contender Glen Johnson lost a lopsided decision to champion Chad Dawson. Watching the Showtime broadcast on television without scoring as I went, my impression was that Johnson had possibly done enough to win. A draw would have been fair. Even a razor-thin decision for the champ would have been justifiable.

But the margin of victory that Dawson was given wasn’t right. The fans knew it, the Showtime broadcast team knew it, and, most importantly, Glen Johnson knew it.

Glen Johnson wants you to know it too.

He immediately took advantage of the Internet and presented his case in as winning and articulate manner as I can recall hearing. Here is technology in creative action. Take a look.

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Will Speed + Activity + Toughness = Calzaghe win

This Saturday night one of the most successful boxing careers in history may finally end. During the 20 years that Bernard Hopkins has been a professional fighter, he's been a world champ for 12 of it's last 13. On top of his excellence as a fighter inside the ring, Hopkins understands the business of boxing better than any fighter in boxing history. Think about Hopkins's credentials. He has a steel chin, remarkable endurance, can adjust to any style, and is as tough and durable as a fighter can be. And maybe what's most impressive is, at age 43, he's earning his biggest paydays, despite having a style that's difficult for casual boxing observers to appreciate, and lacks a Pepsodent smile or an Olympic Gold Medal to attract the big money behind the boxing establishment.

During Hopkins career, there's only one thing he never quite mastered in the ring, opponents with speed. He seemed to be fighting up hill versus Roy Jones in 1993, and to a lesser degree against Jermain Taylor in 2005. On the morning of April 20th 2008, the name Joe Calzaghe could very possibly be added to that short list.

And here's why:

In the 44-0 Calzahe, Hopkins is facing a fighter who doesn't know what it feels like to lose as a pro, and has also been a title holder/champ for the last 11 years. On top of that, Calzaghe is seven years younger, overcame a tough childhood and back ground like Hopkins, is every bit as tough, and maybe most importantly, Joe's faster and busier than Bernard at this stage of his career. Calzaghe's speed just may be the obstacle that the 43 year old Hopkins can't overcome. This is one fight where Hopkins attempting to make it a street fight might back fire. The Hopkins-Calzaghe fight will be decided by how well Hopkins can neutralize Calzaghe's speed and work rate. In his last two fights, Hopkins intimidated Antonio Tarver and then undressed him. In his next fight against Winky Wright, he made it a street fight early and Wright was taken out of his game, worrying more about what Hopkins was gonna do, instead of what he had to do. Against Calzaghe, Hopkins not only has to overcome the two-headed monster of Calzaghe's speed and work rate, he has to try and break him mentally. If his only task where taking away Joe's activity and speed, I wouldn't be surprised, but breaking him mentally will be his toughest task.

Since Hopkins first fought for a world title, I picked Roy Jones to decision him in 1993, and he did. I also thought Antonio Tarver would decision him in 2006, and it was Hopkins who won by decision. I did pick Jermain Taylor to beat him in 2005, but that was a pick for the establishment to beat him, moreso than Taylor. In two fights, neither Bernard or Jermain can claim a conclusive victory over the other. So I'm officially 1-1 picking against Hopkins.

I've always said Hopkins will not go out on top as champion. For that to become a reality, he has to lose to Calzaghe on April 19th. If Hopkins wins, there'll be no rematch. However, if Calzaghe wins, there may be one, meaning Bernard goes out losing his last two. And that's the scenario that I think most likely unfolds. That said, I'm not comfortable picking against Hopkins, and I surely wouldn't bet against him, even in this spot.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Last Night's Fights

In opting to watch Miguel Angel Cotto on HBO, I missed Antonio Tarver’s win over Clinton Woods. Periodically I’d glance over to see how Tarver was doing. He looked in shape and focused—plenty for beating a limited guy like Woods.

In the earlier Showtime light heavyweight title bout, Glen Johnson looked like the second coming of Henry Hank. He probably deserved the nod over Chad Dawson. It was certainly a very close (good) fight. Dawson adapted to the expert advice of Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. It was a great learning experience for him, but it's true that he didn't execute as well as expected.

Antonio Margarito looked awfully good. He’s a dangerous guy. He needs very little space in which to work. He’s throws great uppercuts and wonderful body shots. He also can shift position very well, using almost no foot movement to do it. He’s not a huge puncher, but his bones themselves—his hands and wrists and forearms—seem very heavy. But he was in with a genuine dog in Cintron. Kermit obviously fights under the misapprehension that boxing is a team sport--you and the referee against the other guy. Let's hope we never have to see him in a major fight again. I can't believe anyone gave him a shot to beat Tony.

Miguel Angel Cotto was playing around with a beginner last night; it's impossible to make much out of his fight except to conclude, once again, that the guy's a very good puncher. I'll happily anticipate Cotto-Margarito.

Alfonso Gomez had no business being given the opportunity to fight Cotto. HBO rewarded him again for not being very good (since he got a gift with the Gatti fight--a bout HBO certainly never intended for him to win.)