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When Canelo Alvarez first mentioned to Golden Boy Promotions president Eric Gomez that he was interested in moving up to light heavyweight to challenge Sergey Kovalev, Gomez sought the opinion of a man who, like Alvarez, had held the middleweight title.
In addition to being a long-reigning middleweight champion, Bernard Hopkins also moved up to light heavyweight and won a title there. And significantly in relation to Alvarez, Hopkins fought Kovalev in the penultimate fight of his career in 2014.
He had a quick and direct response for Gomez.
“Dangerous,” Hopkins said.
That perilous bout is now a reality and only days away, on Saturday (9 p.m. ET, DAZN) at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas with Alvarez looking to grab Kovalev’s WBO light heavyweight title.
And while Hopkins says there are more than a few threats that Alvarez will have to navigate, he’s adamant that the jump from the middleweight limit of 160 pounds to the light heavyweight limit of 175 isn’t one of them.
“The least problem Canelo is going to have is fighting at 175,” Hopkins said. “It doesn’t have to do with ego, but he wouldn’t be jumping two weight classes if he didn’t feel comfortable and had already tested the waters, whether that’s in training, getting in there and fighting and sparring with someone very credible and is a contender today as we speak.
“The fans wouldn’t know about that. But once the surprise [news] hit, it’s important to understand that Sergey wasn’t surprised. He and Canelo know each other very well. They know each other very well and went a few rounds in Big Bear, California. That’s just sparring, yeah, but it’s also mental and you have a comfort level because you’ve been in there.”
To Hopkins’ eye, though, Alvarez needs to move and dictate the pace of the fight. He said Kovalev loves to fight at a measured pace and when he can, he’s at his best.
Alvarez, Hopkins said, needs to take that away from him and make him uncomfortable. He has to make Kovalev fight before he’s ready and not allow him to rely on his timing and having his feet set.
But Hopkins added that when he talks about Alvarez needing to move, it’s not with his legs; rather, he thinks he needs good head-and-shoulder movement.
“Canelo has to be on the move, because it’s hard to hit a moving target,” Hopkins said. “I’m not talking about leg and foot movement, because they could get him worn down and possibly knocked out. I’m talking about him moving from the waist up. One of the guys who had the most difficult styles to time and hit, even though he was a little shorter [for a heavyweight] was Mike Tyson.
“Mike had those fast hands and the swivel of his waist was just incredible. His legs were in the same position, but his waist was moving and turning and as soon as you’d commit and go to punch, you’d miss and instantly go, ‘Uh oh,’ because you knew what that meant.’ He’d be right there in front of you, but he was making those movements and it was so hard to hit him. That’s important for Canelo.”
Avoiding Kovalev’s power shots will be important, since Kovalev is a strong puncher and has 29 knockouts among his 34 wins in 38 fights.
But Alvarez also has to unleash his own offense, and Hopkins doesn’t believe a sustained body attack is the only way to go. He thinks it’s about the pace.
“Canelo needs to fight with a level of speed and energy that he doesn’t do a lot,” Kovalev said. “Look at the Andre Ward fights and even my fight with [Kovalev]. Sergey is a smooth operator. He takes his time and hopes you accommodate him on taking his time, which means don’t pressure him. He doesn’t like to have to mentally react to you.
“You must make him do the opposite. You must not give him a break to take a step back to set up and work that jab, that stick. That stick must be put in his back pocket. So if you’re Canelo, to do that, you know you’re not as tall, so you’re moving at the waist and you make him pay when he misses and you don’t allow him to be at that pace he loves. You make him pay when he misses and he’s going to be conscious of that whenever he goes to throw any other punches.”
Hopkins said Kovalev has to fight a big man’s fight and keep Alvarez at the end of his punches.
His power makes him a threat throughout and he said Alvarez can’t afford to forget that.
“Canelo can’t gamble with this guy,” Hopkins said. “You must be on him and be aware, even when Sergey is tired and you think you’ve got him, that that threat is still there. A puncher can lose everything else, but they don’t lose their power. Ask Michael Moorer, when he fought George Foreman.
“Canelo has to always be aware of the threat and can’t afford to make a big mistake because if he does, that could be it. Canelo has a very good chance to be successful in this fight if he doesn’t forget that threat and get careless. He’s a smart guy and I think he knows that, but that’s so important for him.”
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