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Kovalev Has Finally Gotten Hopkins’ ATTENTION

Bernard Fernandez

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Sergey Kovalev was newly arrived in these United States, hoping to make his mark in the country in which his boxing heroes lived and worked. Then the 27-year-old Russian spotted one of those heroes, up close and personal.

Well, sort of.

“One day, when I had just come to America, 4½ years ago in L.A., Hopkins was to me, like big legend. Famous guy,” the WBO light heavyweight champion was saying Tuesday morning at a press gathering in Philadelphia, the first stop in a multi-city media tour to hype the Nov. 8 unification matchup between Kovalev (25-0-1, 23 KOs) and Hopkins (55-6-2, 32 KOs), the WBA/IBF 175-pound titlist. “I had just come from Russia and I never seen before any famous boxers, like (Oscar) De La Hoya or Hopkins or Mike Tyson.

“I was surprised when I saw Hopkins at show, (Sergio) Mora against Shane Mosley. I called Hopkins, like, three times. `Bernard! Bernard! Bernard!,’ to take a picture with him. But he didn’t turn to me. I did not get his attention. So I was, like, `OK. See you one day.’”

If this sounds like the familiar tale of one fighter’s bruised feelings nursed over time into a revenge mode until some payback can be achieved inside the ring, think again. Oh, sure, it’s a reasonable scenario, and certainly one that would have some validity had Hopkins been the aggrieved party, inadvertently or otherwise. A component of B-Hop’s enduring success is his ability to employ any perceived slight as reason to work up a frothy rage against virtually every opponent. But Kovalev is a big teddy bear at all times except fight night, quick with a smile and a distinctively Eastern European blend of self-deprecating humor and modesty. He comes across in interviews like Mr. Rogers with an Ivan Drago accent.

So, does Kovalev – an opening-line 4-to-11 favorite over Hopkins, who turns 50 on Jan. 15, just 66 days after he swaps punches with the “Krusher from Russia” in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall – believe he can become the first man ever to knock out boxing’s ageless wonder, or to at least beat him bloody?

“I think nothing,” Kovalev said. “Just go to the ring and do my work, my job. As usual.” Except, of course, that this is not really a matchup that can be described as anything usual. It can’t be. As much as he might try to make Nov. 8 sound like just another day at the pugilistic office, Kovalev surely understands that boxing history – one way or the other – is going to be made.

“Is the most important, the most interesting fight, in my career,” he allowed. “When I was a child and I watch some fights on TV, Hopkins was who I saw. I never thought that I could get to fight with Hopkins. But dreams come true in America. Day by day, step by step, I come to this goal. Am very happy to get this fight.”

When Kovalev was a child, how could he have imagined he might someday fight Hopkins? “The Alien,” as the Philadelphian now likes to call himself, was considered an old man, by boxing standards, when he dominated and then stopped the favored Felix Trinidad in the 12th round of their Sept. 29, 2001, middleweight unification showdown in Madison Square Garden. He was then 36 years old, in some ways just about to enter his prime instead of receding from it.

“They started calling me old when I was 35, remember?” Hopkins said during another of the stream-of-consciousness media sessions in which he holds court by teasing and toying with reporters as if they were so many Morrade Hakkars. “You add five more years to that and now I’m 40. `Well, he got to be slowing up now.’ Add five more years to that and I’m 45, and still going strong. Now I’m almost 50 and still here.

“I’m very, very up on history. I take it seriously. I’m no gatekeeper for no one. People say (to his prospective opponents), `You beat Bernard Hopkins, you’ll be the first to do this or that.’ OK, I understand.

“Look, anybody at the right time and at the right place can get knocked out or severely beaten. It’s (Kovalev’s) job to do what others tried to do and couldn’t. It’s my job to do what I do. I know Kovalev can punch. His record shows he can punch. His (knockout) percentage, I think, is over 90 percent. Have I been in this situation before? Well, yeah. Absolutely. I got 26 years in this business.”

Hopkins – who already holds the record for being the oldest fighter to win a widely established world championship, cites his victories over Joe Lipsey, Trinidad and Kelly Pavlik as proof that he is at his best, and most motivated, when the man in the other corner is undefeated. He said there are few things he enjoys more than erasing the `0’ from someone’s line in the loss column.

“I love fighting guys with undefeated records,” Hopkins continued. “I love it when that fighter no longer can be called a virgin. He’s been had. I have a history of taking those` 0’s’ away.”

So, what does think of Hopkins’ bold talk?

“He is `Alien,’” Kovalev said, cracking another smile. “He is not 49 like regular man.”

Nor is Kovalev apt to fall into the sort of verbal traps that Hopkins has so frequently set so many regular men, good fighters all. He caused Trinidad to fight mad, to his detriment, by twice throwing down the Puerto Rican flag during the prefight buildup to their much-anticipated showdown. Perhaps no fighter since Muhammad Ali has proven so adept at using the well-timed putdown to get under an opponent’s skin, to make him crazy enough to get away from whatever fight plan his trainer might have mapped out. But those sort of mind games work only if the other guy is susceptible to falling for them.

Asked if Kovalev will make the same mistake other straight-ahead, big-punching younger fighters have tried against him, which is to rush forward and try to whack the old guy into the ringside seats, Hopkins said he is prepared to utilize all the tricks at his disposal – and that no one- or limited-trick pony has a repertoire varied enough to match his ring smarts and versatility.

“Last I heard, he can box,” Hopkins said. “He’s shown he can do some things I don’t hear people talking about. People say Bernard do great when guys come to him. But there’s guys I fought who ran and tried to box, and I outboxed them. When you’re dealing with an all-around fighter, a complete fighter, you go to go back to something called `old school.’ To me, `old-school’ is not just about being old. It’s not about age.

“It’s meaningless to me to fight someone that I don’t believe is a threat. I even pondered going up to heavyweight to fight (then WBA champion) David Haye. I talked about fighting James Toney at cruiserweight. They had The Ring magazine cover all ready to go. Couldn’t get the deal done.

“I want to fight the best. (Marvin) Hagler fought the best. Ray Leonard fought the best. (Muhammad) Ali fought the best. And I fight the best. That’s important to me. `The Alien’ likes to walk on a tightrope 50 or 100 feet in the air with no safety net. So let’s go.”

This time, that tightrope is even higher and there’s a strong breeze blowing. At some point, an ancient Hopkins has to start showing signs of decline. And Kovalev, who hits like a mule can kick, at 31 looks like he just might be a big enough hitter to finally put Hopkins down and out, especially if he can keep his emotions in check.

Hopkins’ trainer, Brother Naazim Richardson, said he’s heard tales of his fighter’s imminent demise for so long, he’s not surprised that the picture being painted is again that of Hopkins entering a danger zone from which there can be no escape.

“I respect Kovalev,” Richardson said. “He’s a monster. But he’s more of a monster to other young guys, not this old dude. What’s he going to think when round after round goes by and he can’t get to Bernard? What’s his corner going to be saying? Punch harder? He’ll be thinking, `Man, I’m punching as hard as I can. What’ll I do now?’”

Main Events president Kathy Duva, who promotes Kovalev, thinks her guy will find whatever answer he needs when and if that question arises. In any case, she said the sport of boxing benefits from this fight being made at a time when so many other attractive matchups never get past the discussion stage because of the sport’s numerous internecine conflicts.

“All good things must come to an end, and obviously Main Events believes it’s time for a new era, for the torch to be passed, so to speak,” Duva said. “Bernard clearly disagrees. That’s what makes a great fight, when you have two very different points of view and (people can) walk into the fight saying, `Gee, I really don’t know who’s going to win.’

“That’s what we need – two great fighters putting their titles and their legacies on the line. These guys have already enhanced their legacies by agreeing to this fight.”

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Fast Results from Las Vegas: Shakur Wins a Snoozer; Pedraza Stops Rodriguez

Arne K. Lang

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Shakur Stevenson, the 23-year-old Newark native and 2016 Olympic silver medalist, had the distinction of headlining the first of Top Rank’s two dozen MGM “Bubble” shows, an event that marked the return of boxing to Las Vegas after a 101-day absence. Tonight, he headlined the first true post-pandemic boxing show in Nevada, the first show that allowed full capacity.

Stevenson was matched against Jeremiah Nakathila at the Virgin Hotels (an awkward plural). A 31-year-old policeman, Nakathila hailed from the same town in Namibia that produced Julius Indongo, fodder for Terence Crawford in 2017.

Indongo lasted into the third round vs Crawford; Nakathila went the distance vs Shakur and lost every round on all three scorecards.

In common with virtually all of Stevenson’s former opponents, Nakathila found Shakur almost impossible to hit. But Stevenson respected Nakathila’s big right hand and kept the fight at a distance, pot-shotting the Namibian rather than throwing combinations. He knocked Nakathila down in the final seconds of the fourth round with a right hook that landed high on the head, but Nakathila wasn’t badly hurt.

Stevenson (16-0, 8 KOs) pitched a shutout but yet lost luster in a monotonous fight. This was the U.S. debut for Nakathila (21-2) who had won 10 straight, all inside the distance, since traveling to Ekaterinburg, Russia, and losing a majority decision in a 12-round fight with a local man.

Shakur is expected to fight WBO 130-pound champion Jamel Herring next but also has his eye on Oscar Valdez. A match against Herring wouldn’t get the juices flowing, but Valdez may bring out the best in him.

Co-Feature

Junior welterweight Julian Rodriguez stepped up in class and suffered his first pro defeat at the hands of Puerto Rican veteran Jose “Sniper” Pedraza. Rodriguez’s corner stopped the fight after nine rounds owing to severe swelling over both of Rodriguez’s eyes.

Pedraza switched from southpaw to orthodox effectively while repeatedly peppering his opponent with an effective jab. New Jersey’s Rodriguez entered the contest 21-0. Pedraza, a 2008 Olympian and former 130-pound world title-holder, improved to 29-3 with his 14th knockout.

Other Bouts

In a mild upset, Dallas junior lightweight Manuel Rey Rojas (21-5, 6 KOs) won a unanimous 8-round decision over Toledo’s Tyler McCreary (16-2-1). McCreary, who had a strong amateur background, was making his first appearance since being widely outpointed by Carl Frampton in November of 2019. The judges had it 79-73 and 80-72 twice.

Welterweight John Bauza, in his first outing since joining David McWater’s stable, had a laugher vs. Houston’s Christon Edwards who left his corner without his mouthpiece and likely would have been easy meat without this oversight. Bauza knocked him down three times before the bout was halted at the 0:40 mark of round two. From North Bergen, New Jersey via Puerto Rico, Bauza (15-0, 6 KOs) was purportedly 178-8 as an amateur. Edwards (12-3) entered the contest riding a 6-fight winning streak.

Welterweight Xander Zayas, an 18-year-old rising star from Sunrise, Florida, via San Juan, improved to 9-0 (7) with a third-round stoppage of Larry Fryers (11-4). As a pro, Zayas has answered the bell for only 21 rounds. It was the third straight loss for Fryers, originally from Clones, Ireland, who was making his first start with new trainer Wayne McCullough.

In his final fight before the Tokyo Summer Olympics, middleweight Troy Isley (2-0, 2 KOs) scored a fourth-round stoppage of Philadelphia’s LaQuan Evans (4-2). Evans was losing but didn’t appear hurt when referee Russell Mora waived it off with 34 seconds to go in the fourth and final round.

Photo credit: Miket Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Marco Antonio Barrera and More at the First SoCal Club Show in More Than a Year

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RINGSIDE REPORT by special correspondent Tarrah Zael — MarvNation Promotions hosted “Return of the Legends” on Friday, June 11, at the Pico Rivera Sports Arena in Whittier, CA. Along with a pro card, there was an exhibition featuring the legendary Mexican warrior Marco Antonio Barrera.

It was the first club show in more than a year in Southern California. Local celebrities eager to watch live boxing were everywhere.

In what seems to be a trend of former boxers entering the ring after their retirement, the “Baby-faced Assassin” Marco Antonio Barrera (67-7, 44 KOs) boxed with retired brawler Jesus Soto Karass (29-13-4, 18 KOs) in a six-round bout with two-minute rounds. It was Barrera’s first fight in a decade. He last fought in 2011 when he TKOed Jose Arias in the second round. This win came not too long after a bloody defeat from the heavy puncher Amir Khan, leaving Barrera fans worried that he may have lost his fire.

Soto Karass’s last fight saw him win a majority decision over undefeated Neeco Macias in a 10-round super welterweight contest in 2018. The win would be his first in five years and last of his professional career. But he was competitive in virtually all of his defeats.

Barrera and Soto Karass battled with big 16-ounce gloves in an exhibition with no judges. The 47-year-old, former three-division world champion Barrera landed multiple hooks upon the former title challenger 38-year-old Soto Karass. The living legend had fun and the two hugged at the finish of what looked like a sparring session.

The exhibition was the main event. When it was over, boxing legends Antonio Margarito and Erik Morales entered the ring for pictures and conversation. Marco Antonio Barrera and Morales had a well-known trilogy and hope to continue their rivalry next month with an exhibition in Dallas.

Pro Bouts

In the co-main event, upcoming Pico Rivera boxing star Angel “El Moreno” Rodriguez (9-0, 6 KO) returned to the ring after a long pause from the 2020 pandemic in a six-round lightweight bout against southpaw Bergman Aguilar (15-8-1, 5 KOs).

In the early rounds, Rodriguez unloaded a flurry of body shots upon Aguilar, a Costa Rica native, causing him to take a knee. There wasn’t much coming back from Aguilar and when Rodriguez connected with a power shot in the second round, Aguilar took a knee again and stayed down for a count of “7.”

In the third round, Rodriguez invited his opponent to come into his range and Aguilar took the bait. Once there, Rodriguez unloaded hard power shots upon the body of Aguilar and down to his knee he went once again. Referee Ray Corona counted to seven and allowed the Costa Rican to continue as he did not look badly hurt. But when it happened yet again, Corona did not fall for his antics and called the fight off. It ended at the 1:40 mark of round three, a KO win for Rodriguez who retained his undefeated record.

Undercard

Two heavy hitting super welterweights fought to a bloody majority draw in the fight before the co-main event. Diego Padilla (1-2-1) of South-Central Los Angeles and Oleg Zumenko (3-1-1) representing the country of Ukraine laid into each other all four rounds.

In the first round, Padilla going forward delivered wide punches and uppercuts while Zumenko chose to study his opponent. But after being dropped by an uppercut, studying by the Ukraine fighter was over. A hard right cross by Zumenko slowed down the Los Angeles fighter and we saw an almost even amount of power shots from both brawlers that continued until the end of the fight. Padilla switched his stance multiple times to offset his opponent but that did not stop the Ukrainian from moving into his line of fire. Judge Ron Stevens scored the bout 40-36, but Max DeLuca and Damian Walton both had it 38-38.

Long Beach native Tyrell “Dirty Left” Washington (3-0, 3 KO) knocked down Nebraska’s Ginno Montoya (0-4) with a three-punch combination in the opening round of a scheduled four-round welterweight bout and referee Raul Caiz Jr. halted it at only 1:19 of the first.

Houston featherweight Adrian Leyva (2-2) won a four-round decision over Pablo “Bam Bam” Meglar (4-1-1, 3 KO) of South-Central Los Angeles. Although Meglar landed some good combinations and showed a lot of heart, the Texan was the sharper, more technical fighter. One judge scored the bout 39-37 and the others had it 40-36 for Leyva.

Other Fights

 Michael Land (1-2-1) of Houston, Texas and South-Central Los Angeles’ Oliver Galicia (3-0-1, 3 KO) fought to a draw in a four-round super featherweight fight. All three judges had it 37-37.

The opening fight of the show, a scheduled 4-round lightweight clash between Mexico native Braulio Avila (3-9, 1 KO) and Honduras resident Cris Reyes (10-0, 9 KO), ended after two rounds. Reyes stayed calm, cool and calculated against the wild-swinging Avila and sent him to the canvas for an 8-count in the second round with a left hook to the chin. Avila didn’t come out for the third.

Celebrity Watch

Besides Erik Morales and Antonio Margarito, others in attendance included Tattoo, Big Boy, LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, Tom Loeffler, Roberto Diaz, and DJ Ray.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Fury-Wilder III Particulars, Kirkland Laing and More

Arne K. Lang

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The third fight between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder will be staged at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on July 24. The pre-fight hoopla kicks off on Tuesday at a press conference in Los Angeles.

The date was no secret. Co-promoter Bob Arum had circled it even before an arbitrator ruled that a unification fight between Fury and Anthony Joshua could not jump the queue. It was Team Fury’s Plan B. But speculation about the venue had centered around two other properties in Las Vegas: Allegiant Stadium and the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

It will be the eighth boxing card in the five-year history of the T-Mobile. The benchmark, attendance-wise, was set on Sept. 16, 2017, when Canelo Alvarez opposed Gennady Golovkin in the first of their two encounters. The event attracted an announced crowd of 22,358 (17,318 paid).

Top Rank promoter Bob Arum notes that the T-Mobile is superior to the MGM Grand in that the operators of rival casinos are more willing to purchase tickets for their best customers. The T-Mobile sits on MGM property behind New York-New York and is half-owned by the MGM (the other half is owned by the Anschutz Entertainment Group which owns arenas around the world including LA’s Staples Center and the O2 Arena in London) but yet is considered neutral territory in that it isn’t attached to a casino. Casino operators have always been skittish about sending their best customers to an event at a rival property for fear they will be wooed away.

There are no plans to hold press conferences in other cities before the final press conference in Las Vegas. London is out because of Covid restrictions and Arum believes that a conference in New York would be superfluous as that would be redundant.

Arum orchestrated the most dappled (and most frenetic) press tour in boxing. Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns, traveling in separate Gulfstream jets, covered 21 cities in 12 days to hype their April 15, 1985 clash at Caesars Palace.

“There was no internet in those days,” says Arum. He did not need to elaborate. Press conferences nowadays are live-streamed and people around the world can tune in. Reporters for traditional newspapers, whose ranks have been thinned, are no longer an indispensable conduit for selling a fight.

Kirkland Laing

The late Harry Mullan, who served 19 years as the editor of British Boxing News, had a grand opinion of Kirkland Laing. “He is the most technically gifted boxer I’ve ever seen, a genius in an odd sort of way,” wrote Mullan of Laing who defeated Roberto Duran and was a three-time British welterweight champion, but would be best remembered for squandering his talent. Born in Jamaica and raised in Nottingham, Laing died on Wednesday, June 9, at age 66.

Laing, who often wore dreadlocks, was quite a character. Lore has it that he once adamantly denied using weed to an interviewer while forgetting that he had a joint tucked behind his ear. He purportedly fought most of his fights while stoned.

Laing brought a 23-3-1 record into his date with Duran on Sept. 4, 1982 at Detroit’s Cobo Hall. The first two losses were incurred in domestic title fights with Colin Jones who stopped him in the ninth round on both occasions.

Laing won a split decision but there was no controversy. The consensus among ringside scribes was that Laing won seven of the 10 rounds. He was too quick for the Panamanian tough guy. The Ring magazine named it the Upset of the Year.

This was Duran’s third loss in his last five fights. Reporters, by and large, wrote him off as finished. Needless to say, that appraisal was premature as Pipino Cuevas, Davey Moore, and Iran Barkley would attest.

A year would elapse before Kirkland Laing entered the ring again. For a long stretch during this lacuna, his whereabouts were unknown. His manager Mickey Duff could not find him.

Laing returned on Sept. 10, 1983 in Atlantic City. In the opposite corner was Fred Hutchings, a fighter from Stockton, California with a 22-1 record. Hutchings blasted him out in the 10th round. The last punch landed with such force, said the correspondent for a New Jersey paper, that Laing “fell over backward, his head crashing to the canvas with a loud thud.” Referee Frank Cappuccino started his count but waived the fight off when he reached “6.”

Laing went on to recapture the British welterweight title, but he never fought in the U.S. again. He left the sport with a record of 43-12-1. He scored 24 knockouts and was stopped eight times.

Within months after his final fight in 1994, Laing and his partner Paula Chen who was carrying his child, were reportedly living on the dole. In December of 2001, he was arrested during a massive sweep of East London crack dens. In 2013, he almost died after he fell or was pushed from a fourth-floor balcony. He was then living in a flat in a council estate (i.e., government subsidized housing) in the London borough of Hackney. At the time of his death, he was said to be residing in a nursing home in Yorkshire.

Kirkland Laing was always eccentric, but some of his aberrant behavior may have been a residue of his bout with Fred Hutchings. He was taken to the hospital with a concussion and remained there for four days. His cause of death has not been disclosed.

Sky

Ever the opportunist, Bob Arum was quick to reach out to the honchos at Sky Sport which was left in the lurch when Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn jumped ship, giving DAZN an exclusive. Great Britain’s premier sports channel, Sky needed a new content provider.

Josh Taylor, the fighting pride of Scotland, recently took Sky to task for failing to pick up his recent fight with Jose Ramirez. That was an egregious oversight on the part of Sky – the network missed out on a whizbang fight that produced a result that will live long in British boxing lore – and Arum allows that Sky executives may have been somewhat embarrassed, making them more receptive to his proposal.

The Sky/Top Rank partnership begins immediately with Saturday’s card in Las Vegas headlined by the match between Shakur Stevenson and Namibia’s obscure Jeremiah Nakathila.

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