Old Man and the Shark

By Matt McGrain on July 19, 2014
Old Man and the Shark
“The goal is to beat Kovalev,” Hopkins said this week. “I want to make more history.”

Hemingway knew what I couldn’t about age and Hemingway knew what I couldn’t about time. Hopkins is at war with time…

When I was a boy, I read The Old Man and The Sea by Hemingway and when I was finished with it I tossed it. That it kept me awake that night and the next meant nothing to me then because I wasn’t interested in literature but injustice. The injustice was all. That the Old Man went to sea, fought the sea, mastered it, only to have his prize ripped away at what seemed an unbearable cost was unacceptable to me.

What Hemingway knew and what I could not possibly have then known was that nobody can master the sea. It is unmasterable. If you are upon it for long enough, you drown, no matter who you are. It is eternal, we are transient. It is inscrutable, we have weaknesses. It is indestructible, you have bones.

Bones that break. Bones that can be broken by punches.

Sergey Kovalev is a bone-breaker. A hard-charger. He is technically astute but absolutely insistent. He is the type of fighter who turns cliffs to sand with the relentless pounding of waves upon shore. He breaks the natives as he goes, physically first, then, if they persist in resisting, mentally, forcing quittage, darkness and internal injury upon professional hard men in the prime of life.

But Kovalev is the division’s force of nature, not it’s King. That is an honor retained by Adonis Stevenson, who Kovalev recently wrote off as “a coward” and “a piece of shit.” Stevenson had picked up his hat, left the HBO lobby and crossed the street for Showtime, perhaps Kovalev’s sharing his address the problem for the Canadian rather than the address itself. The prize is a rota devoid of fighters capable of beating him; the price is that he must listen to Kovalev and fans alike denigrate him. To suppose, from afar, that this price is worth paying to stay on the safe side of any ring-rope containing a killer-tide like Kovalev seems unreasonable only because he is a champion.

Bernard Hopkins, too, has been a legitimate champion.

“The goal is to beat Kovalev,” Hopkins has told press this week. “I want to make more history.”

Hopkins is fifty years old in January, but his plan is to take on the thirty-one-year-old Kovalev out in November, before he reaches his half-century. By this time Kovalev will be 25-0-1 with twenty-three knockouts having dispatched the unbeaten Blake Caparello to the same spot he sent his eight last opponents, a far shore. Because he has a fight scheduled, both Kovalev and his team (which includes, bizarrely, 1990s Hopkins victim John David Jackson) have quite rightly refused to discuss a showdown with Hopkins, but Kovalev’s ears must have pricked. As Hemingway put it, “let him think I am more man than I am and I will be so” and although Kovalev may be too elemental for Hopkins to be able to victimize him psychologically, he hasn’t received a direct challenge from a perceived equal since he became the division’s leviathan. I can imagine a blank stare.

Hemingway knew what I couldn’t about age and Hemingway knew what I couldn’t about time. Hopkins is at war with time. Hemingway writes that “a man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Hopkins, in the view of some, is now actively seeking his.

But he is also seeking the history of which he speaks and more than that he seeks to refute the injustice perpetrated against the Old Man, and old men, who inevitably lose out to time and tide, whose tricks and resolution even, finally, desert them. Hopkins seeks a fight more dangerous even than the one he desires with Kovalev, a fight in which rooting against him would feel impossible but rooting for him would feel hopeless – were it not for the fact, the root of Hemingway’s tree, the final incontrovertible description of what it means to be human.

It’s silly not to hope. It’s a sin, he thought.

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  1. GlennR 03:56pm, 07/20/2014

    Hopkins is always going to get the Moore comparisons which im sure hes more than happy with regardless of who you see as the better fighter.

    But lets look at the cold hard facts;
    - 50 this coming January
    - Still top 3-4 LHW in the world without a doubt
    - Wants to challenge Kovalev
    - Has more chance than any of the other current LHW’s beating him
    - FWIW, Kovalev is very good

    Conclusion?

    I tip my hat to Bernard

  2. nicolas 12:25pm, 07/20/2014

    While what Hopkins has done is remarkable, I do feel that what Moore did was far more remarkable, given the time that it happened. Boxers today are fighting at much older ages than they did during Moores time. Even what Sugar Ray Robinson did as Middleweight champ was quite a feat, fighting for his last world title when he was 41. Look at even the heavyweight division, when Jersey Joe Walcott won the heavyweight title, he did it at age 37, the oldest until Foreman got that luck two punches after taking a beating, against Michael Moorer. Walcott would supposably lose the title at around age 38 yrs and 8 months. Wladimir Klistchko on the other hand, if successful against Pulev, will probably surpass that, and may still be world champ at 39, yet no one calls him old, as they did with people like Moore and Walcott. Of course, many felt that both Moore and Walcott might have been older than there given ages, the same as they sometimes say about Sonny Liston.

  3. Eric 08:52am, 07/20/2014

    ch.,  You make a good point and I totally agree. I never took into account how many fights Moore had or the type of competition he faced. No way would Hopkins be hanging around this long had he had the amount of fights Moore had, or had Hopkins had to have faced the type of fighters that Moore had to face.

  4. ch. 03:33pm, 07/19/2014

    Eric, I think the difference that separates Archie Moore from Bernard Hopkins is that during his 28 year career Archie had 219 fights, and I believe the third toughest campaign in history (after Rosenbloom and Greb). Bernard in 26 years has had only (?) 65 bouts. I also think most of his competition was not the same steady calibre that Archie faced. No doubt about it though, Bernard has proved to be a unique and brilliant fighter for the ages.

  5. Pete The Sneak 08:40am, 07/19/2014

    There are many things I’d rather be doing than ever watching a Hopkins fight…Root canal, watching paint dry, or even look up and review some episodes of the short lived Chevy Chase talk show…But with that being said, you do have to give the man his props. His discipline and dedication to staying in shape all these years, as well as his incredible boxing acumen allows him to continue to be a player in the game at the ripe old age of nearly 50…“Fifty.” That’s pretty doggone hard to top…I would sit here and tell you that Kovalev will destroy B-Hop, but he’s made me look foolish before, so I will hold of on any beat down statements till I can see how this progresses. Now, about that Root canal…Peace.

  6. Eric 06:56am, 07/19/2014

    Whether you like him or hate him, what Hopkins has accomplished is truly amazing. Even Ancient Archie was long gone by the time he reached fifty. Saw a video recently where Hopkins acknowledges that Toney and Roy Jones were more talented fighters than himself, but they lacked his discipline for the long haul. Hopkins does treat his body like a temple, the guy probably hasn’t had a soda or a cheeseburger in twenty years.

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