The inimitable Bernard Hopkins made history Saturday night, outpointing Tavoris Cloud to win the IBF light heavyweight belt and become (again) the oldest man to win a major title. Hopkins has no intention of hanging ‘em up, joking (we think) that he plans to fight until he is 50. The 175-pound division is loaded with possibilities. Here’s one list:
The winner of Jean Pascal/Lucian Bute
Understand this: Hopkins needs the right opponent. fighter that will stay on the outside and pepper Hopkins with jabs (see Dawson, Chad) is a bad matchup. Pascal has fought Hopkins twice, battling him to a draw and losing a decision in 2011. Both fights were close and, more importantly, entertaining. Bute is more of a wild card: He’s known for his stiff jab but in a knockout loss to Carl Froch last year showed a willingness to engage. Though neither are native Canadians, Bute-Pascal--tentatively scheduled for May--will be the biggest fight in Canadian boxing history due to their close ties to the country. And the winner will get a big bounce coming out of it. Pascal was in the ring after Hopkins win over Cloud and was vocal about his desire for a third fight. To me, it’s the best option out there.
The winner of Carl Froch/Mikkel Kessler
Both Froch and Kessler are super middleweights, but Kessler has fought at light heavyweight before and Froch, who is hunting for big paydays, would move up for the right price. Froch is a brawler who won’t be hard for Hopkins to find; Kessler also prefers a physical fight. Hopkins seems perfectly willing to go overseas, particularly to the U.K., where he has longed to avenge his loss to Joe Calzaghe. If Froch beats Kessler in May, that’s a terrific fight.
*Note: This is the only space I’ll mention Andre Ward. Hopkins-Ward makes no sense. It’s a boring fight and one Hopkins has no chance of winning. Ward is a better tactical fighter than Chad Dawson and at this stage of Hopkins's career, he would be embarrassed.
This may be wishful thinking, as Kovalev doesn’t have the profile Hopkins is looking for. But make no mistake: Kovalev is a 175-pound monster, as anyone who has watched him plow through opponents on NBC Sports Network in the last year knows. Kovalev blends power and skill brilliantly, and it says here he would take out most of the top 175-pounders right now. Consider: Gabriel Campillo, who was robbed of a decision against Cloud last year, was annihilated by Kovalev in three rounds.
More likely, Kovalev is a candidate for 2014. HBO is interested in him and with a couple of fights he could have the exposure (and the title) that would pique Hopkins's interest.
A Cloud rematch
It’s not like Cloud humiliated himself against Hopkins. He fought well in the early rounds before abandoning his jab and attempting to size Hopkins up for one shot. Cloud has a capable trainer in Abel Sanchez, who joined Cloud before this fight, and Sanchez will have Cloud better prepared for a rematch. And Cloud’s power (19 knockouts) makes him a television-friendly threat. If Hopkins can’t find any new challenges, he could do worse than a rematch.
Anyone but Nathan Cleverly
Let’s nip this one in the bud early, shall we? A Hopkins-Cleverly matchup would be unwatchable. Yes, Cleverly is a talented young titleholder, which is big for Hopkins and trainer Naazim Richardson, who doesn’t think Hopkins should fight anyone without a belt. But styles make fights and Hopkins-Cleverly is a Hopkins-Dawson-like stinker. Cleverly (25-0) is a tactical fighter with no power (12 knockouts) and no real resume to speak of. Cleverly has openly pleaded for the fight and Hopkins has said he would go to England to do it. Let’s hope HBO--or any network, for that matter--doesn’t follow him.