Sergey Kovalev runs the table, routs 49-year-old Bernard Hopkins
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- So many times, Bernard Hopkins was able to defy time, and logic, and win fights he had no business winning.
On Saturday, though, the magic ran out.
Hopkins' dream of holding a world title belt at age 50 ended ingloriously, as he had to summon all his heart, will and mettle not to go down in the final round as Kovalev looked to put an exclamation point on his victory.
All three judges gave Kovalev all 12 rounds. Lawrence Layton scored it 120-106, while Carlos Ortiz Jr. and Clark Sammartino scored it 120-107. Yahoo Sports gave Hopkins the seventh and scored it 119-108 for Kovalev.
Promoter Kathy Duva was beaming and repeating, "He outboxed the boxer," after Kovalev's impressive performance.
"I was so eerily calm," she said. "The only thing I was nervous about was that I wasn't nervous."
She had little to fret about Saturday. Hopkins looked in magnificent condition, but he couldn't get his punches off and was fighting from behind from the opening moments. Kovalev dropped Hopkins with a short right hand in the first round and the outcome was never in doubt after that.
Though Hopkins promoter Oscar De La Hoya said Hopkins would drop a division and seek a bout with middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin, Hopkins wasn't so sure he'd fight again.
"It's 50-50 right now," he said. "I really don't want to say anything. Everybody will have a long time to talk about my career. It's been 50-50 the last nine years. I'd done what I had to do."
He hung in against one of the biggest punchers, taking a series of hard right hands and never giving in. He took a pounding in the 12th when Kovalev landed 38 punches against him, most that would have put other men to sleep. No fighter in the 41 fights tracked by CompuBox had ever landed that many punches. Hopkins was reeling a bit in the final round, but didn't go down in one last display of intestinal fortitude.
Kovalev, who referred to Hopkins as an all-time great, said, "I wanted to show I could box and I did."
Kovalev landed 166 of 585 punches, remaining patient and sticking with his game plan. Hopkins landed only 65 punches and very few in the early rounds.
After landing his punches, Kovalev made a subtle but highly effective move – backing up to move out of punching range.
"He was pressuring strong, but he knew when to pull back," De La Hoya said. "It didn't allow Hopkins to counter. This wasn't [Hopkins getting old]. I believe it was what Kovalev was doing. He'd throw and take a step back and didn't allow Hopkins to get his punches off. He's good. He's really good.
"He knows how to use his distance and his power. He was impressive."
It wasn't the night that Hopkins wanted it to be, but he had no excuses. He fought an unbeaten fighter who had been roaring through his opposition, compiling a 25-0-1 mark with 23 stoppages entering the bout.
Hopkins hoped to be able to control the pace, frustrate Kovalev and land the counters, but Kovalev's shrewd plan negated that strategy and there was no Plan B for Hopkins.
"He did just what I knew he'd do," said Kovalev trainer John David Jackson, who was stopped by Hopkins in a 1997 middleweight title bout. "He was the teacher tonight."
Hopkins surprised many when he challenged Kovalev, but he has faced a slew of elite opposition in his career and at 49, knew he couldn't get motivated to fight B-leaguers.
He gambled that he could regain the magic for one more night, but it was not to be. It's not like he looked old and slow; he was beaten by a smart fighter who had a better plan on this night.
But the fact that a 49-year-old willingly stepped into the ring with arguably boxing's hardest hitter speaks volumes about why he's a cinch for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
"We both would fight anyone and that's how we ended up here," Hopkins said. "That's what brought us here. It's what the fans want: One champion, one title, unification."
The bigger loser in this is WBC champion Adonis Stevenson, who bolted HBO earlier in the year for Showtime, ostensibly to fight Hopkins. But when Stevenson was hard to make a bout with, Hopkins went back to HBO and made the deal to fight Kovalev.
Kovalev will return in the spring with a considerably higher profile.
"He just catapulted right to the top of the boxing world," Duva said. "He beat a legend and he's on top now."