Despite what the odds-makers may say, Bernard Hopkins’ 20th defense of the middleweight title against Howard Eastman will not be easy. Having watched Eastman from the early stages of his career, I’m certain he will give Hopkins a demanding time on Saturday. However, the ‘Battersea Bomber’ is a mysterious enigma and has shown the potential but not the proof to overthrow the champion at 160lbs. Here’s why he will finally show the world his absolute world-class. And later on I’ll reveal why Eastman could be heading back east, having been exposed by the real man of the middleweights.
Why Howard Eastman can beat Bernard Hopkins:
Composure. It’s possibly the most important attribute in boxing. To have the poise needed to relax and keep cool when an opponent is reigning in the leather is vital when fighting at top level. Howard Eastman has this quality, and in abundance. One thing that Eastman will not do is stand and trade heavy punches with Hopkins. Instead, he’ll keep his cool when the opponent is going for broke, while all the time keeping an impermeable
If Hopkins tries too hard to get Eastman out of there, he’ll be playing right into the challenger’s hands. Eastman loves to fight at his own casual pace. He’ll gladly allow you to tee off and him, while he calmly waits for you to draw breath, then 1..2..3..4. A jab..right hand..left hook..right uppercut combination is landed with textbook technique and precise accuracy.
Eastman rarely wastes a punch. Every move he does in the ring is executed with quality. He never makes silly mistakes and is seldom ruffled. That’s why I think he has an excellent chance of upsetting the undisputed champ. One thing for sure is that he will not play into Hopkins’ hands. The American will really have to be on the top of his game on Saturday if he is to keep his title. Unlike Oscar De La Hoya and William Joppy, Eastman will remain composed and will take his time to figure Hopkins out. We won’t see the challenger trying to force Hopkins onto the back foot and he certainly won’t try and mix it on the inside.
Instead, we will see Eastman keep the fight on the outside, snap out his jab, cover up, and then launch a three or four punch combination. As was evidenced in his fight against Joppy, the ‘Battersea Bomber’ is extremely economical with his punches and is hard to catch repeatedly. In that fight in November 2001, Eastman was considered unlucky by many not to have been
awarded the decision.
The Briton just looked so cool in that fight, that maybe the judges thought he was fazed by the American. That wasn’t true, however, because in all of his fights, Howard loves to take a look at what his opponent has to offer, then he snaps out his own combination, before going back into his shell and repeating the process over. Eastman’s relaxed posture and complete composure paid dividends, as by the championship rounds he had plenty of bounce and energy in his legs, while Joppy seemed to be running out of gas from the halfway point of the contest. Eastman’s extra vitality was palpable in the final round when he moved up a gear and floored Joppy with a beautiful
double right hand sequence.
It was so frustrating for Howard that he didn’t get the decision; since it was obvious he had so much left in the tank, while his opponent seemed spent. Consequently, Eastman has had to wait over three years for his next shot at the big-time and having learned from the Joppy experience he’ll know how to pace himself against a world-class opponent. By using his composure and accuracy, he can ruffle the middle-aged Hopkins and possibly pull out a close decision win.
Why he can’t beat Hopkins: Eastman is cool, but is he too laid back for his own good? He allowed William Joppy to outwork him for large stretches of their encounter, an oversight that cost him the decision. If Eastman does not pump that jab and fire in the sharp combinations, he will allow Hopkins to get up close to him
and it is probable that he’ll be manhandled by the Philadelphian.
A worrying fact for Eastman is that at close range he is susceptible to uppercuts. This was painfully obvious in the Joppy fight, especially during stages of the middle rounds when the American repeatedly connected with hard right uppercuts to Howard’s beard. Take into account the minor detail that
Hopkins is one of the most effective and rough infighters around, and this could be a painful night for the challenger- just like it was for Joppy when he took a beating from the champion in 2003.
At times Eastman also has the sinful habit of simply plodding forward in a straight line. Every so often, he stands too close to his opponent for too long, without doing any work at all! Again, this could be suicide against a close-quarters technician like B-Hop.Eastman has been allowed to develop this bad habit due to the fact that he has faced too much soft competition. Excluding Joppy, the only barely recognizable names on his record are Sam Soliman, Robert McCracken, Hassine Cherifi, Sergey Tatevosyan and Steve Foster. The only one of this fighters that could be arguably considered world-class is Cherifi and he was years
past his prime by the time Howard out-boxed him. Even in his prime the Frenchman was not a world-beater! Tatevosyan is a good fighter, but he is largely unknown and didn’t have much high-level experience when he pushed Eastman all the way a year ago.
It’s also worrying to consider the suggestion that Joppy was already washed-up when he out-pointed Eastman. Bear in mind that before facing the Guyana native, the American was brutally destroyed by Felix Trinidad in his previous fight. Even in his bout with Eastman, Joppy’s work seem to be lacking snap from the seventh round on, but still Howard did not turn up sufficient heat on his opponent.
Overall, it’s worrying that Eastman has not fought a higher level of opposition and be aware that he is 34. His lack of top-level experience cost him against Joppy, as he wasn’t sharp enough to impose his class on the American. As a result of facing mediocre opponents, it is unclear whether the challenger will be firing on all cylinders when he confronts Hopkins. Although one thing is for sure, the ‘Bomber’ will use his ring intelligence and composure to make the ‘Executioner’ labor his way to a narrow victory.
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