Friday, May 20, 2011

Hopkins faces Pascal and history in Montreal

By JE Grant

Philadelphia’s Bernard Hopkins seeks to not only overcome light-heavyweight champion Canadian Jean Pascal in Montreal Saturday night but also Pascal’s friend Father Time.

With a victory Hopkins, 46, will become the oldest man to ever win a title, surpassing George Foreman’s record set in 1994 with his knockout of defending heavyweight champion Michael Moorer.

Most boxing observers once believed that with back-to-back middleweight title losses to Jermain Taylor that the natural downturn had come in the career of a champion who successfully defended his title 20 times.

Though both losses were by close decisions, it was clear, we thought, that the ravages of time and a long career slowly, but inevitably, put him past the elite level.

Instead we were entertained by a comeback that seemed improbable at so many points.

Following Taylor, Hopkins immediately moved to light-heavyweight and promptly out-thought and out-fought a listless title-holder, Antonio Tarver. Another win over a one-time big name Winky Wright at a catch-weight put Hopkins on the road to another title defense run.

Once again, however, a second defense, this time to a real light heavyweight, Hopkins looked old as Joe Calzaghe sped past him. More importantly, Hopkins faded badly down the stretch, something that simply never happened to him.

In Hopkins’ next bout, Kelly Pavlik was supposed to finalize his career by applying big power.  Instead, the craftsman went to work in exposing Pavlik’s less than firm grasp on the finer points of the sweet science.

Hopkins assured himself of at least one more payday.  A tuneup win against underpowered Enrique Ornelas setup his long-awaited rematch with a faded Roy Jones Jr.

The rematch proved disastrous for both fighters. Jones was only a shell of his former self and Hopkins, though winning clearly, fought as if he were underwater. The fight was an embarrassment and appeared to spell the end for Hopkins as a serious contender.

The seemingly faded Hopkins still had one commodity that sells tickets – a big name.

Jean Pasqual, who, despite his clear win against Chad Dawson to gain wide recognition as the legitimate titleholder in the division needed more than a win – he needed that big name.
Other than Dawson, in his only other fight against a member of the boxing elite, Carl Froch, for a super-middleweight belt, was a disappointment as Froch thoroughly dominated him and defended his title.

Of course we know he that in Quebec City last December Pascal got far more of big name Hopkins than he wanted. 

In that fight, Hopkins eschewed the awkward, frustrating style that won fights but led observers to wonder how much fight he really had in him.

Although knocked down twice by Pascal (one knockdown was questionable), Hopkins came on strong in the middle and late rounds to gain an apparent win only to hear the scorecards yield a majority draw. The disappointing verdict did prompt an immediate rematch and gives Hopkins one more chance to set the age record.

PREDICTION: Hopkins decided on an aggressive strategy in the first fight. By pressing, Hopkins exposed the limits of Pascal’s ability. It also exposed Pascal’s one considerable strength – the punching power of a real light heavyweight.  Pascal was unable to make adjustments while Hopkins adapted and applied the lessons from the early rounds.  There is no indication that Pascal has the diversity of skills that Hopkins possesses and can call on. Although not slow, Pascal does not punch well in combination. He also faded after the middle rounds against an opponent who was not throwing thunderous punches. Not a good indicator. Hopkins will eventually get old, for real, and not be able to reach into his vast toolbox to find a solution.  Unfortunately for Pascal, Hopkins found the tool in December and he will put it to work from the opening bell.  Bernard will not suddenly find power; so don’t expect Pascal to crash to the canvas. Instead, Hopkins will methodically win round after round, leaving little doubt.

Hopkins wins by clear 12 round decision.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Abraham and Ward clash in Super-Six semi-finals

By JE Grant -
The brilliance of Super Six is that it has generated stiff tests of our judgments about each of the participants. Amazingly corrupt sanctioning bodies often allow the top echelon fighters to never cross paths, all the while defending “world” titles of rapidly diminishing value.

Fighters, promoters and managers of the Super Six richly deserve credit for working through the complexities of international boxing politics to push these men into a series of clashes that expose strengths and weaknesses of champions and contenders alike.  Without it, various title-holders would have continued to wade through meaningless mandatory defenses against unworthy competition.

Saturday night’s semi-finalists Arthur Abraham and Andre Ward exemplify why Super Six is to be prized.

Entering the tournament Abraham, 32-2 (26 KOs), Germany, was seen as a ruthless powerhouse who withstood a tremendous beating at the hands of Edison Miranda. 

His second round knockout of former champion Jermain Taylor in the first stage of the tournament seemed to solidify both his menacing persona and his reputation as punishing, relentless predator.

But something happened along the way to the big cup. In his meeting with Andre Dirrell, the normally in-control Abraham became unhinged by the mobile and crafty American. His inability to adapt to a high-level boxer-puncher led to him being knocked down and frustrated – which he demonstrated when he blatantly slugged a defenseless Dirrell who had fallen to the canvas. 

The ensuing disqualification loss was merely a footnote to the real story: “King” Abraham suddenly seemed one-dimensional.  He punched one shot at a time. He covered up frequently between those single punches.  He simply could not adapt.

Some thought perhaps Abraham was merely the victim of a bad night.

His next opponent, Carl Froch, though not nearly as mobile or slick as Dirrell, was awkward but also very intent on winning and adaptive.

Again, Abraham when faced with a top athlete who presented something other than a headlong rush forward, would not or could not make adjustments.

Making adjustments has not been a problem for Ward, 23-0 (13 KOs), Oakland.

Unlike the seemingly established Abraham, coming into Super Six Ward was widely still seen as very good, but barely proven upstart.

Yes he had good skills and Olympic pedigree. He had at least one notable win, ironically over the puncher Miranda in a fight which saw him put his boxing skills to good use. 

He was not fully tested and maybe not ready – and besides he drew what appeared to be the toughest opening opponent, the once-beaten and pre-tournament favorite, Mikkel Kessler.

In one fight, Ward zoomed from prospect to titlist and more importantly he dominated an able and fit Kessler. In virtually every department, from speed, to skill, to stamina he was one big step ahead of the Dane.

Ward’s complete mastery over Allan Green and Sakio Bika – both fights in which he essentially won every round – has now pushed his name out front as the favorite. Despite having scored no knockouts in Super Six, his lopsided wins presented powerful evidence of major talent.

Still, Abraham has proven he has power and is rugged. Just as Super Six has allowed Froch to bounce back after a disappointing loss to Kessler, Abraham is now afforded a similar chance.

The question remains as to whether his style and strength will expose a major flaw in a fighter who, to date, has shown no major weaknesses.

PREDICTION: Unfortunately for Abraham, the genie is out of the bottle.  Go straight at him guns blazing and he will knock you into next week.  Give him a little movement, a jab, and defensive skills and, well, he becomes ordinary. Young Andre Ward presents a nightmare for the one-trick Abraham.  No one in the tournament moves better, punches with greater variety, or exhibits better concentration throughout his bouts. Perhaps more important is his proven ability to adapt and overcome – a skill that makes him the Super Six tournament’s only special fighter. Abraham will go after Ward hard early and then the frustration will set in. Ward will pile up the rounds and before we all realize it, the fight will end after 12 rounds and he will have captured all of them.  This fight may turn out to be a one-sided yawner.

Ward wins by a clear 12 round decision
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