By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Boxing Editor
Cape Coral, FL (SportsNetwork.com) – I’m not actually sure how to describe it.
Maybe I’m selfish. Maybe I don’t like old people. Or maybe I’m biased against aliens.
But regardless of how it’s minced, parsed and dissected, one thing remains crystal clear.
I don’t want Bernard Hopkins to retire.
Oh sure, I’m well aware of what happened to him on Saturday night in Atlantic City.
How he walked into a room in which he’d pulled off some of the greatest and unlikeliest rabbits out of his hat by turning unbeatable guys named Pavlik and Tarver into harmless stage props; only this time he found himself on the deck in the first three minutes and fencing to survive for the final 33.
All those folks who never could quite wrap their minds around the idea that a guy could still be world-class at anything – let alone prizefighting – at age 49 are out in full force this week, smugly insisting that ol’ Bernard stayed around for one act too long and that Father Time had finally had his way with him.
Thing is, I hear them. And I understand them.
But I simply don’t agree.
Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m not at all suggesting that the middle-aged Philadelphian won the fight. I’m not suggesting that he won a round of the fight. In fact, I’m hardly suggesting that he won more than a fleeting exchange or two for the duration of the fight.
Plain and simple, he got his ass whipped.
But it didn’t happen because he was old.
It happened because Sergey Kovalev is good.
Lest anyone forget, the Russian “Krusher” had been doing similar numbers on a cross-section of light heavyweights for a couple of years before he ran across anyone named Hopkins.
He dumped ex-champ Gabriel Campillo three times in a third-round TKO. He dropped unbeaten Nathan Cleverly twice on the way to swiping the WBO belt the Welshman had held for two years. He rendered Ismayl Sillakh horizontal moments into round two, after what had seemed like a competitive first session. And he leveled Blake Caparello in similar fashion, while barely breaking a sweat along the way.
Campillo was 34. Cleverly was 26. Sillakh was 28. Caparello was 27.
All were veteran 175-pounders. None had the stuff of a guy who’ll be 50 in January.
So while his quest to unify the division’s belts is surely finished, the notion that that guy can still hold his own against the elites doesn’t necessarily need to be.
Toward that end, perhaps the most telling passage from the post-fight press conference came when Hopkins suggested that he “felt like a middleweight” while swapping shots with a talented light heavyweight whom many expect will be moving up to engage cruiserweights sooner than later.
Given that Kovalev unofficially swelled to 188 pounds following the weigh-in, it’s no wonder.
But if you took the skill set Hopkins still possesses and placed it alongside a fighter whose most recent rehydration was, say, 15 pounds lighter – someone named Golovkin, perhaps – you might find reason to view the imminent quinquagenarian as something less dubious than the 2-to-1 shot he was labeled heading into Saturday night.
Presuming he could still reach 168 or even 160, the phone calls would likely come quickly.
And while a swollen, subdued Hopkins was in no mood to discuss the future after the violent dance with Kovalev, it was a no-brainer to Oscar De La Hoya that the defeat would not be a career-ender.
“One thing I know for sure,” the Golden Boy boss said, “he’s not going to retire.”
At least this one time, I really hope he’s right.
THIS WEEK’S TITLE-FIGHT SCHEDULE
WBC super flyweight title – Washington, D.C. Carlos Cuadras (champion/No. 3 IWBR) vs. Marvin Mabait (No. 15 contender/unranked IWBR)
Cuadras (30-0-1, 24 KO): Second title defense, first fight in the United States
Mabait (19-2-2, 13 KO): First title fight, third fight outside the Philippines (1-1, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Challenger has been stopped in two of his last five fights, and the win/loss record of the other three foes was all of 61-21-7. You can officially color me unimpressed. Cuadras in 6
IBF/IBO/WBA/WBO heavyweight titles – Hamburg, Germany
Wladimir Klitschko (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Kubrat Pulev (No. 1 IBF contender/No. 3 IWBR)
Klitschko (62-3, 52 KO): Seventeenth IBF/IBO defense, 49th fight in Germany (47-1, 41 KO)
Pulev (20-0, 11 KO): First title fight, 18th fight in Germany (17-0, 9 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Klitschko has lost before and he may ultimately lose again, but I probably won’t believe it’s possible – and certainly not here – unless I see it with my own two eyes. Klitschko by decision
Vacant IBO welterweight title – Kempton Park, South Africa
Roman Belaev (No. 36 contender/No. 42 IWBR) vs. Ali Funeka (unranked/unranked IWBR)
Belaev (14-0, 10 KO): First title fight, first fight in South Africa
Funeka (35-4-3, 29 KO): Fourth title fight (0-2-1), 40th fight in South Africa (35-2-2, 29 KO)
Fitzbitz says: In the battle of “who has the young Russian fought” (answer: no one) versus “what does the old South African have left” (answer: little), I’ll side this time with youth. Belaev by decision
WBO junior flyweight title – Cebu City, Philippines
Donnie Nietes (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Carlos Velarde (No. 5 contender/unranked IWBR)
Nietes (33-1-4, 19 KO): Fifth title defense, unbeaten since 2004 (22-0-3, 11 KO)
Velarde (26-3-1, 14 KO): Second title fight (0-1), third fight outside Mexico (0-2, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Nietes is an incumbent who seems to be in his prime, facing a less-accomplished foe who doesn’t travel particularly well and hasn’t passed previous tests on the high level. Nietes by decision
Last week’s picks: 0-2 (LOSE: Novoa, Hopkins)
2014 picks record: 77-26 (74.7 percent)
Overall picks record: 624-220 (73.9 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body’s full- fledged title-holder — no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who has written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @fitzbitz.