Immortality on the line when Hopkins, Calzaghe take ring!

By Matthew Aguilar


Immortality on the line when Hopkins, Calzaghe take ring!

To appreciate just how long Bernard Hopkins has been around, consider the co-main event the night he won the vacant IBF middleweight title against Segundo Mercado. Vincent Pettway vs. Simon Brown. You get the idea. Pettway and Brown are names from a long gone era. Yes, April 29, 1994 – almost 14 years ago to the day – was a long, long time ago.

When Hopkins chopped Mercado down in the seventh round of a one-sided massacre that night in Landover , Md. , people were impressed – especially in light of the 12-round draw that resulted from the pair’s first fight in Ecuador .
But no one – no one – could have guessed the heights Hopkins would reach.

The unification of four belts – five if you count “The Ring” 160-pound strap. Victories over the best contenders of his era, including Glen Johnson (KO 11), Antwun Echols (W 12 twice), Felix Trinidad (KO 11) and Oscar De La Hoya (KO 9). And easily the most significant – 20 defenses of the middleweight title.
Twenty defenses. The amazing feat eclipsed Carlos Monzon’s all-time 160-pound record of 14, and, arguably, made Hopkins the most historically significant middleweight ever.

That’s saying something when you consider the division flaunted a who’s who of fistic greatness: Jake LaMotta, Tony Zale, Rocky Graziano, Monzon, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, and the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson.
“The Executioner” almost ensured that his name would forever be etched in the history books. His 20-defense record is one that will likely never be broken.
Now, after a pair of unlikely light heavyweight victories over the accomplished, younger duo of Antonio Tarver and Winky Wright, Hopkins, 48-4-1 (32 knockouts), exists in a stratosphere that even the majority of great boxers can’t approach.
To describe the man as “legendary” isn’t just a promoter’s bit of hyperbole. Hopkins ’ record speaks for itself.
So, the question is simple – if Hopkins defeats fellow Hall-of-Famer Joe Calzaghe Saturday in Las Vegas, will the Philadelphian be regarded as the greatest fighter of his era – if not one of the five or 10 greatest fighters of the last 30 years?
Could he – gasp! – be included among the best pugilists to ever lace up the gloves? A grand list that includes names like Robinson and Louis and Armstrong and Duran?
Based on the particularly stunning credentials that both combatants will carry into the ring this weekend, you would certainly have to think that the answer to the first question is “yes,” the answer to the second question is, “probably;” and the answer to the third, a definite, “maybe.”
Defeating Calzaghe, however, may prove the most daunting challenge of Hopkins ’ 19-year career. Rarely has he been faced with Welshman’s combination of speed, experience, toughness and longevity. In fact, Calzaghe is the only fighter in boxing whose resume matches Hopkins .’
Calzaghe himself made an incredible 21 defenses of his super middleweight titles. And he has reigned for 10 years, six months – three months longer than Hopkins did at middleweight. He has compiled a record of 44-0 (32 knockouts), and he has cleaned out the super middleweight division.
Like “B-Hop,” Calzaghe didn’t immediately make an impression on American boxing fans, however. He looked rather ordinary early in his title reign, often toiling with the likes of Rick Thornberry (W 12). And when he got a big opportunity to fight on the undercard of the Mike Tyson-Julius Francis fight in Manchester , England , in 2000, he looked miserable against the non-threatening David Starie (W 12).
He was dropped and almost stopped by former champ Byron Mitchell in 2003 (before roaring back to score an exciting KO 2). Despite wins over solid former champs like Chris Eubank (W 12), Robin Reid (W 12), and Charles Brewer (W 12), the “Pride of Wales” failed to capture America ’s attention – perhaps because most of his wins came by decision.
It wasn’t until 2006 that American fight fans realized what they had been missing, when Calzaghe overwhelmed the previously undefeated Jeff Lacy in a 168-pound unification showdown. It was supposed to be close – but it wasn’t close at all. Calzaghe dominated Lacy from the opening bell, and almost stopped him late.
It was quite the performance.
Since then, he has been untouchable. He dominated Sakio Bika (W 12) and Peter Manfredo (KO 3) before defeating another previously unbeaten star-in-the-making, Mikkel Kessler (W 12) in a 168-pound shootout last year.
The Kessler victory reaffirmed Calzaghe’s position as one of boxing’s best pound-for-pound fighters, and his status as the greatest super middleweight in boxing history.
It also set up his “ Battle of the Planet” showdown with Hopkins – another member of boxing’s mythical pound-for-pound best.
What to make of this incredible battle between a 43-year-old (Hopkins) and a 36-year-old (Calzaghe) who have re-written the history books? Not only is this one of the more significant American-European continental battles in boxing history, it features two guys who are first ballot Hall-of-Famers.
Popular opinion points to Calzaghe. He is younger, faster and naturally bigger – afterall, he is a natural super middleweight, Hopkins a natural middleweight. He is probably fresher, too, and could well be in the prime of his career.
Hopkins , meanwhile, is past his prime. Not by much, but beating a guy like Calzaghe – at his age – is quite the task.
He’ll also have to do it before a Thomas & Mack Center that will be filled with Calzaghe supporters.
But Hopkins is playing on his home court. He has fought in Las Vegas no less than five times during his championship run. He is used to the glitz, and the sheer electricity and excitement of a Vegas fight. One need look no further than “Prince” Naseem Hamed to see how a foreigner can fall apart mentally on The Strip (though comparing Calzaghe to Hamed is like comparing Tom Brady to Michael Vick).
Most significantly, however, Hopkins possesses that rare ability to stymie his opponents with tact and guile and craftiness. At 43, he may be outmanned. But his smarts will surely make up for whatever he lacks in the equipment department.
Bottom line: If you think this will be an easy win for Calzaghe, think again. Hopkins has never been – and never will be – an easy assignment.
Still, Calzaghe is fairly intelligent himself. And he has the workrate, quickness and ability to finally make Hopkins look his age.
Further, Calzaghe may need the victory more. His status as an all-time great is shakier than that of Hopkins , whose reputation can only be enhanced on April 19. If the Welshman loses, his entire career will be called into question.
In a tactical, dramatic and entertaining fight, Calzaghe by split decision.


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