CompuBox: Hopkins vs. Kovalev

By CompuBox

When Adonis Stevenson made the jump from HBO to Showtime, he believed he would have the best of all worlds: An "easy" defense against Andrzej Fonfara, a potential three-belt unification against Bernard Hopkins after that and -- most importantly for Stevenson -- a sure way to immediately avoid fighting WBO counterpart Sergey Kovalev, who the "Superman" would have ended up facing next had he not switched his network loyalties.

It's funny how life works out sometimes. Stevenson had a much tougher time with Fonfara than expected -- he overcame a knockdown before posting a hard-fought decision victory -- and Hopkins ended up moving back to HBO to fight Kovalev, the man Stevenson intended to leave out in the cold. Now it is Stevenson who must search for lucrative opponents while "The Krusher" gets the big prize.

Give "The Alien", a better than 2-1 'dog, tons of credit for taking a fight with the most dangerous opponent in the division -- and doing so just two months shy of his 50th birthday. That's more than can be said for Stevenson, who is 14 years younger but sadly wiser given how his "master plan" panned out.   

Statistical factors that may shape the contest include:

Through the Years: Including Hopkins' failed challenge against Roy Jones Jr. (5/22/93 L 12- Jones landed 27 punches in round six- to this day, the most landed by a Hopkins opponent in 40 of his fights tracked by CompuBox), his time near the top of his chosen sport has stretched an incredible 21 1/2 years -- more than 40% of Hopkins' lifespan -- and 32 of his 65 contests, which translates to 49.2%.  He's 24-4-2, (1 nc, 1 nd), 13 ko's in title fights.  A win over Kovalev would place Hopkins in a tie for third place for most title fight wins. (1. Chavez-31;  2. Joe Louis- 26; 3. Michalczewski-25; 3. Ricardo Lopez-25; Narvaez-25.)  At 49 yrs., 314 days, Hopkins is the oldest fighter to hold a major world title.  Hopkins' 313 title fights rounds are third most in boxing history.  (1. Emile Griffith 339, 2. Abe Attell 337). 

One of his most notable statistical gifts is his propensity to limit his opponents' output and accuracy. As a younger man, he did it with force. As the sport's eldest statesman, he has done it with guile. The result, however, has been the same.

Of his 32 title fight opponents, only two managed to exceed the division average in terms of punches thrown per round -- and both of them lost.

The first incidence occurred when Antwun Echols averaged 58 punches per round during his first of two encounters with Hopkins in December 1999, surpassing the middleweight average of 56.4. Hopkins nullified Echols' dangerous power with volume (59.5 per round) and significant accuracy gaps (37%-17% overall, 20%-7% jabs, 45%-25% power) and the result was lopsided numbers both on the judges' scorecards (119-109, 118-110 twice) and in the CompuBox stats (263-116 overall, 46-21 jabs, 217-95 power).

Hopkins went more than 13 years before another title-fight opponent managed to break through. In March 2013 defending IBF light heavyweight king Tavoris Cloud tried his best to retain his crown against the 48-year-old "Alien" by throwing 54.2 punches per round, slightly more than the 53.4 light heavyweight norm. But Hopkins captured his second major 175-pound crown despite throwing just 34.8 punches per round because he was much more precise (41%-21% overall, 31%-18% jabs, 48%-26% power). Once again, Hopkins won over the judges (116-112 twice, 117-111) and the stats (169-139 overall, 110-72 power to offset Cloud's 67-59 jab connects edge).

A significant note: Joe Calzaghe's average output of 58.9 (the highest ever recorded for a Hopkins foe) exceeded the light heavyweight norm, but their bout wasn't for one of the four "major" title belts. Still, Calzaghe won a split decision that many say should have been unanimous. That's because Calzaghe out-landed Hopkins 232-127 overall, 45-11 jabs and 187-116 power and was more accurate across the board (33%-27% overall, 20%-12% jabs, 39%-31% power).  Calzaghe's 232 landed punches are the most by a Hopkins opponent  in 40 of his fights tracked by CompuBox.

As Hopkins added years and pounds to his always finely-tuned physique, his fistic philosophy changed, at least in terms of output. The numbers illustrate that transition:

Age 25-29 (4 CompuBox-tracked fights) -- Hopkins: 73 punches per round (36% overall, 26% jabs, 42% power); Opponents: 41.4 punches per round (29% overall, 11% jabs, 39% power).

Ages 30-34 (11 CompuBox-tracked fights) -- Hopkins: 59.2 punches per round (32% overall, 12% jabs, 43% power); Opponents: 41.5 punches per round (20% overall, 9% jabs, 29% power)

Ages 35-39 (9 CompuBox-tracked fights) -- Hopkins: 51.4 punches per round (42% overall, 22% jabs, 48% power); Opponents: 39.1 punches per round (26% overall, 18% jabs, 34% power)

Ages 40-44 (8 CompuBox-tracked fights) -- Hopkins: 37.4 punches per round (33% overall, 16% jabs, 38% power); Opponents: 43.6 punches per round (24% overall, 18% jabs, 28% power)

Ages 45-49 (8 CompuBox-tracked fights) -- Hopkins: 37.6 punches per round (37% overall, 27% jabs, 43% power); Opponents: 37.6 punches per round (25% overall, 17% jabs, 31% power).

The drop-off in volume is stark but Hopkins' effectiveness both on offense and defense has remained rock solid. In fact, Hopkins' accuracy after age 45 is virtually identical to what it was in his 20s while his defense overall and against his opponents' most powerful punches has improved. The only concession to age is his slightly increased vulnerability to the jab, but then again he's fighting better opponents now than he did back then.

It's one thing to look magnificent at age 49, it's entirely another to be a better fighter (at least statistically) at that age. His ability to control his environment (he has faced a consistently low amount of fire throughout the decades) and to seize upon every opening has been the statistical secret of his success.

An Evolving Krusher: During his rise to prominence, Kovalev was a juggernaut that destroyed opponents with a searing fusion of volume and accuracy. Against Roman Simakov, Darnell Boone, Lionell Thompson, Gabriel Campillo, Cornelius White and Nathan Cleverly, Kovalev averaged a combined 81.6 punches per round and landed 40% overall, 33% jabs and 44% power (well above the light heavyweight norms of 32%, 23% and 39% respectively). Except for the Thompson fight (58.9 per round), Kovalev topped the 80-punch-per-round threshold in every fight and exceeded 90 in two of his biggest fights against Campillo (90.8) and Cleverly (93.9). Not surprisingly, every fight ended in a Kovalev KO.

Conversely, his overwhelmed opponents managed just 32.8 punches per round and only Cleverly topped the 40 mark (40.5). They landed a combined 27% overall, 25% jabs and 30% power, pretty good numbers given Kovalev's all-out attack.

In his last three fights against Ismayl Sillakh, Cedric Agnew and Blake Caparello the knockouts continued (he has stopped his last nine opponents and 13 of his last 14 bouts have ended inside the distance) but the pace has dropped off dramatically -- a combined 43.6 punches per round -- as well as his precision (a combined 30% overall, 20% jabs, 38% power). Moreover, Kovalev's volume was in the 30s against Sillakh (35.9) and Caparello (31.4), plus Caparello managed to out-throw Kovalev 58-50 as well as score a knockdown. The good news is that, at least percentage-wise, Kovalev's defensive numbers improved across the board (a combined 23% overall, 17% jabs, 27% power). Will that be enough to deal with Hopkins?

Perhaps it's because all three were tall stylists and two of them -- Agnew and Caparello -- largely fought out of the southpaw stance, that Kovalev has produced lower numbers. Still, the trend doesn't bode well for Kovalev since the 6-foot-1 Hopkins is the ultimate stylist and, by far, the smartest fighter he likely will ever face.

The X-Factor: Since the spring of 2012 John David Jackson has overseen Kovalev's development and in recent fights has served as his chief second. No one, not even Hopkins' trainer Naazim Richardson, can boast Jackson's combined in-ring and out-of-the-ring knowledge of "The Alien." Not only did Jackson fight Hopkins in April 1997 (he lost by seventh round TKO), he sparred countless rounds with him in numerous training camps and had long been a part of the day-to-day training operations. Hopkins credited Jackson for teaching him how to fight left-handers, an illustration of Jackson's perceptiveness and knowledge. If anyone knows all of the nooks and crannies of Hopkins' ring mechanics and psychology, it is Jackson -- and he will pass on all of that knowledge to his younger, stronger, hungrier and harder-hitting charge.

Prediction: On paper, this is the most dangerous fight Hopkins can take, but the old man has seen it all and done it all. His extraordinary ring IQ and his exquisite conditioning will give him a chance to win any fight, including this one.

That said, the presence of Jackson may well tip the scale toward Kovalev. If Hopkins has any physical or psychological vulnerabilities, Jackson knows them and will let Kovalev in on all the secrets. Also, despite recent trends, Kovalev is still capable of generating fantastic volume and thus can force Hopkins to fight far harder than his 49-year-old body can maintain.

The result will show itself in the first three rounds. If Kovalev stands at long distance and tries to box with Hopkins, B-Hop will win by decision. But the guess here is that the ambitious Kovalev will fight the man instead of the legend by imposing his youth, strength, volume and power.  "The Krusher" will become the first man to stop Hopkins, perhaps by the middle or late rounds.