Did We Just Witness the End for Bernard Hopkins (and Major Boxing in Atlantic City?)
The crowd was so boisterous you almost forgot they came to see a 49-year-old Philadelphian get beaten up.
Okay, they didn’t come to see that, but that was the end result. Sergey Kovalev rocked Philly’s Bernard Hopkins in a unanimous decision Saturday night at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. Judges gave Kovalev every round. From the time he knocked down Hopkins in the first, the fight never seemed in doubt. Kovalev landed 121 power punches to Hopkins’ 40.
For years Hopkins has beaten his opponents with a mix of incredible conditioning and masterful mind games. “I play chess every day, with human beings,” Hopkins told the HBO Boxing podcast last month. “And most of these guys are checker-playin’.” Hopkins was playing chess on Saturday, and Kovalev came and smashed the board in half with 166 punches.
Hopkins has lost before, but not this badly. He turns 50 next year. He no longer has his light heavyweight title. Boxing scribes immediately asked the question post-fight: Is this the end for Bernard Hopkins?
It’s a good question. With the fight in hand in the 12th, Kovalev went for the knockout. He connected with 38 punches that round — the most ever landed on Hopkins in fights tracked by CompuBox. The 12th round made Hopkins look like a boxer who should retire. Hopkins seemed to have realized this. In Hopkins’ previous loss — a majority decision to Chad Dawson in 2012 — he was clearly beaten, but he put on a face at the press conference. He refused to accept the decision and said he’d “let the public judge for themselves” who won the fight.
He was much more sublime at Saturday’s postfight press conference. He praised Kovalev. He said he wasn’t sure if he’d fight again. “Asking me if I’ll fight right now,” Hopkins said, “is like asking a woman who went through nine hours of labor if she wants to have another baby.” He said it was 50-50 he’d fight again.
Which would be the end of an era, both for Philadelphia boxing (Hopkins has been the city’s most prominent fighter for what seems like an eternity) and for boxing in Atlantic City. Before the fight, I was talking with the Associated Press’ Dan Gelston, who speculated on the idea this was the end for major boxing in Atlantic City. “Hopkins is the only guy who comes here,” he said.
Atlantic City used to get the big fights. In the 1980s, Mike Tyson made four title defenses at Boardwalk Hall. Evander Holyfield made his first title defense against George Foreman at the venue in 1991. In recent years, Hopkins has been the only major attraction. The last big fight at Boardwalk Hall that didn’t include B-Hop was probably the Kelly Pavlik-Jermain Taylor fight. Arturo Gatti packed in about 12,000 fans for nine straight fights in the 2000s. Hopkins has fought four times at Boardwalk Hall since Gatti’s retirement.
It certainly felt like a big-time title fight on Saturday. The largest crowd in six years packed Boardwalk Hall to see Hopkins. They were ready to fight themselves, with several fistfights breaking out in the stands — including one during the sixth round of the main event.
The Boardwalk was hopping, and there were more scalpers than usual. The bars at Caesars, Ballys and the Tropicana were particularly crowded. Boxing isn’t going to “save” Atlantic City — the newest idea for that is a Bass Pro Shops — but Saturday night was proof that people will come to A.C. if you give them a non-gambling reason.
But after Hopkins, who next? Interestingly, it may be Kovalev. While it was largely a pro-Bernard Hopkins crowd, Kovalev fans made their voices heard at Boardwalk Hall. (Many were in the unofficial uniform of a white “RUSSIA” track-suit and white patent leather shoes. Stylish — and comfortable!) I saw his supporters at bars all around Atlantic City into the wee hours of the morning.
“When we’re able to take a fight away from New York and other competitors, I think it shows people that none of us have given up in Atlantic City,” Ken Condon, a sports and entertainment consultant to Caesars Atlantic City, told The Record before the fight. “We’re just going through a business re-sizing because the monopoly is over. There are casinos everywhere on the East Coast now. But this is a nationally televised, big fight, which will let people know that we are still alive and well at Caesars Atlantic City and we’re still active in making the city viable and bringing big events to Atlantic City.”
Oscar De La Hoya, whose Golden Boy Promotions produced Saturday’s fight, said he’s committed to bringing more big fights to Boardwalk Hall as well, specifically mentioning Philadelphia’s Danny Garcia.
It remains to be seen. Hopkins may be gone. Will major boxing in Atlantic City follow?
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