Into the Great Wide Open

By David Matthew on April 26, 2014
Into the Great Wide Open
When he broke George Foreman’s longstanding record, Hopkins was just getting started.

Hopkins has even inspired Wladimir Klitschko, who has said Bernard’s achievements have inspired him to fight on another 10 years…

•    When Bernard Hopkins unified the WBA and IBF light heavyweight belts last weekend by dominating Beibut Shumeov, he reminded us of something many of us seem to forget: His ageless reign isn’t a fluke. When he broke George Foreman’s record for becoming the oldest man to win a title, he was just getting started with title runs while in his 40s. What Hopkins is doing may never be duplicated again, and we are seeing a prodigious boxing dynamo, nearly 50 years of age. But that numerical figure is subservient to Bernard’s psychology – a mind master both in his disciplined preparation and inherent belief. Hopkins approaches his craft with the approach that limits are illusory constructs; benchmarks set by pessimistic speculators skeptical of a human’s ability to break parameters. While Hopkins is indeed a marvel to watch, his fights aren’t always the most visually intriguing, or high-motor. The punch output is low, and the action is thinly scripted with the master pugilist winning the complex chess match, but instead of rooks moving across the chessboard with velocity, or knights/queens coming out of the pocket, it’s often just full of pawns steadily, sturdily coming forward. He checkmates you before the Queen and King even get dressed to step on the chessboard. The calculated foot movement, constant angling, getting the opponent out of rhythm, remarkable punch accuracy, efficiency, ability to slip virtually every punch –- the Hopkins mind is the master; body the servant. So when fans now say that a potential matchup with WBC light heavyweight titlist Adonis Stevenson will “end B-hop’s career” – just remember how many have said the same thing when Hopkins faced Cloud, Dawson, Pascal, Pavlik, Tarver, Taylor, De La Hoya, and Trinidad. Nobody is retiring Bernard Hopkins but Bernard Hopkins. His inspiration has signified an evolution in the sport where champions are performing at higher levels at later stages in their career. Hopkins has even inspired heavyweight kingpin Wladimir Klitschko, who has said Bernard’s achievements have inspired him to fight on another 10 years.

•    Speaking of Klitschko, he defends his crown against Alex Leapai on ESPN this afternoon (5:00 PM/ET) in a one-sided mismatch that shouldn’t last more than a dozen minutes. The enthusiasm for Leapai as an opponent is so tepid, that the major story coming out of this week’s pre-fight activities was the “weigh-in crasher” and former two-time heavyweight champion, Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs. Briggs first confronted Klitschko in a South Florida gym where Wladimir was training in preparation for Leapai. He then vowed to follow Klitschko around the world. After fighting twice in just eight days in the U.S. to launch his comeback, Briggs flew out to Germany and disrupted Monday’s presser, throwing his shirt at Klitschko, and then yelling at him during yesterday’s weigh-in, noting that he was “looking fat on the sides!” Fans who haven’t seen Briggs in years might not recognize him at first.  He has shaved his head, and has gotten himself in the best shape of his life, product of an inspiring story that saw Briggs resurrect himself from being overweight, depressed, and numb from decades in a fight game that discards its champions as fast it crowns a new one. Something happened in Shannon’s life to jolt a vibrancy of light within him. With a clean, whole diet and a warrior approach to his training and mentality, Briggs is in his own words, “back from the dead.” Dubbed the “People’s Champ” by those who know him, he is as friendly and respectful to fans and the public as any champion you’ll see. Briggs may indeed be eccentric with his Brownsville Brooklyn bravado, but he’s serious about his comeback. Many will write off Briggs as a potential opponent for Wladimir – but is it really the case that Leapai, Pianeta, Wach, Thompson, and Mormeck are worthier opponents than the former champion? When Briggs last fought, it was 2008 in Germany against Wladimir’s brother Vitali, where Briggs injured his bicep in the early moments, absorbed an inordinate amount of heavy shots from Vitali throughout a one-sided fight, but stood up to the Ukrainian giant with a show of bravery that was unbearable to witness, earning Vitali’s ultimate respect. That bravery and warrior spirit matched with a renewed, healthy mind and body makes Briggs interesting in a barren heavyweight division. Deontay Wilder is in no rush to fight Wladimir, and other than the winner of Stiverne-Arreola or Fury-Chisora, few fights would feature the intrigue of a fight with Briggs. After witnessing the timeless performance of Hopkins, I’m more prone to believe in epic lore where the unexpected is indeed destined to occur in the Theater of the Unexpected.

•    Manny Pacquiao’s (second) decisive points victory over Timothy Bradley was a scintillating fight that was markedly better – and quite different – than the first bout. Pacquiao has evolved into a more measured, intelligent, and technical fighter than what we’ve seen in years past when he would flurry with reckless abandon. After the Marquez KO, Manny has adjusted. He feints more intelligently, punches at safer angles, reads his opponent’s movements more accurately, and defends more responsibly. Bradley was expecting an unhinged typhoon of activity from Pacquiao and fought as if he was loading up for one big shot all night. Manny never gave him the chance to load up, and instead frustrated Bradley with well placed counters and well-varied leads that rattled Bradley, hurt him, and had him abandoning his strengths as tactician. Before the fight, many believed Bradley was truly elite, that Pacquiao was finished, and that Bradley was on his way to being in the top-tier of pound-for-pound fighters and a logical opponent for Floyd Mayweather. Instead, Manny Pacquiao is, yet again, the biggest and most intriguing opponent available for Mayweather. While Pacquiao may not be as exciting and breathtakingly dynamic as he used to be when he threw caution to the wind, he may just be a better fighter, and has once again regained entry into boxing’s elite class.

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  1. Tex Hassler 05:11pm, 04/26/2014

    Klitschko may be champion when he is 50. After all he does not have hardly any competition. He has no Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers, Cleveland Williams, Sonny Liston, Larry Holmes, Jerry Quarry, Ron Lyle, George Foreman, Evander Holyfield, prime Riddick Bowe or any one with experience, talent, or great skills to face. This is not his fault it is just the way things are in that division now.

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