Hopkins, Pavlik Still Going Their (Unlikely) Separate Ways

by Eric Raskin

Kelly Pavlik, Bernard Hopkins - Photo Credit: Will Hart

Nearly every conversation on press row during the undercard for a major fight eventually turns to predictions for the main event. On October 18, 2008, in Atlantic City, the night Bernard Hopkins fought Kelly Pavlik, I had that “So, what do you think is gonna happen?” chat with probably a dozen different people. I remember one of my fellow writers picking Hopkins to win. For all of the others, the debate was whether Hopkins, then 43 years old, would make it competitive and last the distance against the 26-year-old middleweight champ or finally become a knockout victim.

Pavlik, after all, was undefeated in 34 fights with 30 knockouts. And Hopkins was coming off a close loss to Joe Calzaghe in which he ran out of gas, stalled for time, and generally resembled his actual age more than he ever had before.

Of course, we all know what happened in the ring. Hopkins outboxed and befuddled Pavlik at every turn. “The Ghost” was battered both mentally and physically. By the late rounds, the dialogue had shifted to whether Pavlik would last the distance or get knocked out.

Pavlik did go the full 12, but he was never quite the same afterward. Hopkins, meanwhile, soon went on to become the oldest man ever to win a world championship.

It was remarkable what happened over the course of the 12 rounds Hopkins and Pavlik shared, it was remarkable the opposite directions they went, and it’s remarkable where they are now, a little more than four years later.

This past weekend, Pavlik announced his retirement at just 30 years of age. (Disclaimer: It’s a boxing retirement. Its permanence is far from assured.) A few days earlier, Hopkins celebrated his 48th birthday at a press conference announcing his March 9 HBO-televised bout with Tavoris Cloud.

Who could have imagined, going into the Hopkins-Pavlik fight at Boardwalk Hall four years ago, that Pavlik would be retired before Hopkins would? And not just that Hopkins would fight on beyond Pavlik, but that he would still be among the best in his division, engaging in meaningful fights, taking on opponents half his age rather than cashing out with depressing seniors’ tour fights against faded fellow legends?

Hopkins’ longevity is virtually unparalleled in the history of the sport.

But that’s not to say it can’t be duplicated in the future.

To remain an elite fighter deep into your 40s requires extreme discipline and a style built around technical excellence and mental acuity more so than physical gifts. Who among today’s fighters might be the next Hopkins? Two guesses:

1. If he keeps fighting just once or twice a year, don’t be shocked to see Floyd Mayweather still on pound-for-pound lists past his 40th birthday.

2. If he maintains his motivation the way Hopkins has, count on Andre Ward to still be frustrating elite opponents deep into the next decade.

Filipino Flashes of Brilliance

By Eric Raskin

Jeffrey Mathebula, Nonito Donaire - Photo Credit: Will Hart

Ring announcer Lupe Contreras noted before the opening bell that the Nonito Donaire-Jeffrey Mathebula fight was dedicated to the memory of LeRoy Neiman, a man who, depending upon whom you ask, was either an iconic talent or the most overrated artist of his time. It was quite appropriate then that the boxing match dedicated to fight fanatic Neiman would feature pound-for-pound lister Donaire, with all of his polarizing qualities on display.

The fans at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California were treated to “Filipino Flashes” of brilliance from the 122-pound titlist, but they also watched the prodigious puncher somehow go the 12-round distance for the third time in row. In the end, Donaire won a clear-cut unanimous decision over Mathebula to unify a couple of alphabet belts, but it wasn’t the statement fight we’ve been waiting for since he shockingly flattened Fernando Montiel in two rounds 17 months ago.

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Donaire-Mathebula/Pavlik-Rosinsky Overview

By Hamilton Nolan

Nonito Donaire - Photo Credit: Chris Farina - Top Rank

Nonito Donaire is one of the most beautiful fighters in all of boxing. He stalks his opponents with the footwork of an NBA guard doing cone drills. He dips, whirls, bounces, dodges and attacks comfortably from a gyroscope’s worth of angles. And he throws a perfectly horizontal left hook that hits like a bowling ball on a chain. It’s why, after some of his more impressive wins, Donaire has flirted with the #3 spot on some pundits’ pound-for-pound lists, right behind the very best.

But few would rank Donaire there now. Not because his skills have eroded or because he’s been in any danger of losing, but because some of his own flaws have become clear. Last October, Omar Narvaez exposed Donaire’s lack of effective body punching simply by covering his head in a stubborn shell for 12 rounds and then leaving the ring beaten but unscathed. And in his last fight, in February, Donaire proved that cockiness does not equal defense, allowing his face to be lumped and swollen by Wilfredo Vazquez, who did not fall for the mesmerizing head movement of The Filipino Flash. In order for Donaire to re-ascend the pound-for-pound rankings, he will need to win a superfight. And there are superfights to be made: with Guilermo Rigondeaux at 122 pounds, or with Yuriorkis Gamboa or Mikey Garcia at 126 pounds. In order to get one of those superfights, Donaire needs another convincing signature win. That means he must direct all of his attention toward destroying Jeffrey Mathebula.

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Compubox Analysis: Donaire vs. Mathebula

By Compubox

If fighters were in charge of matchmaking, fight such as Saturday's 122-pound unification fight between the WBO's Nonito Donaire and the IBF's Jeffrey Mathebula would take place far more often. Elite fighters have a mindset of invincibility fueled by intense pride and they believe fights such as these will bring out their very best performances.

Will Donaire enhance his top five pound-for-pound standing or will Mathebula score the signature victory of his career? Their respective CompuBox histories offer these clues:

The Anti-Rodney Dangerfield: If a picture is worth a thousand words, a monumental one-punch knockout is worth a thousand servings of respect, something the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield yearned for his entire career.

Donaire's chilling two-round stoppage of Fernando Montiel prompted his two subsequent opponents -- Omar Narvaez and Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. -- to fight far more cautiously.

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