Antidisestablishmentarian arch-kook Bernard Hopkins continues his wicked, wicked ways when he tackles undistinguished Karo Murat tomorrow night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in a fight with all the vital signs of roadkill.
For nearly 20 years Hopkins has railed against the system that pays him millions of dollars, grants him headline slots on premium cable, and allows him to have an exclusive seat on the Golden Boy Promotions Star Chamber. As distasteful as he is talented—and he is very, very talented—Hopkins makes for excruciating viewing most of the time. Even the high profile he has kept since the Clinton Era has not made him a bankable attraction. Since 1992, Hopkins has fought on ABC, ESPN, FOX, CBS, BET, Showtime, USA, FSN, HBO, and Pay-Per-View. He has also beaten two of the biggest names of the past 15 years—Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad.
Still, there is very little clamor to see Hopkins fight. Not only has Hopkins participated in two of the biggest pay-per-view duds of the last decade (against Roy Jones, Jr., and Chad Dawson), but he has also been booed from coast-to-coast for years.
In order to stir up a little interest this time around, Hopkins has changed his nom de guerre to “The Alien” (swiped from Richard Grant) and has also linked himself to the hottest name in boxing—Floyd Mayweather, Jr. This is one of the oldest tricks in the book, but it was enough to bamboozle a few media types into a little extra PR work. (Nor does the fact that this fantasy fight was not ruled out by Stephen Espinoza mean anything, since his network stands to gain if Hopkins gets free advertising before his fandango with Murat.) But the buzz meter hardly seemed to move. As of yesterday tickets in blocks of 10 (10!) were available for nearly every section of Boardwalk Hall. And fighting someone as anonymous as Karo Murat is not likely to help Hopkins win fans.
With a chip on his shoulder the size of a tombstone, Hopkins is a perpetual sourpuss whose crude threats of bodily harm are rarely dramatized in the ring. But nothing is going to keep Hopkins from his trademark Vile Style. According to some armchair Freudians, poor sportsmanship, dirty tactics, and boorishness are part of his greatness. Yes, B-Hop, who refers to himself as a “living legend,” just like Larry Zybyzko used to, has succeeded over the years because, well, because he is one hell of a jerk. Admiring Hopkins is sort of like admiring Leni Riefenstahl: oh sure, Leni was morally repugnant, but what an eye for mise-en-scene!
Just how Murat was approved to make his American debut on a premium cable network in the first place, is, like many things in boxing, a mystery. After having a Visa denied him a few months ago, Murat was replaced as the top contender in the IBF by destructive Sergey Kovalev. But neither Showtime nor Golden Boy seemed interested in “Krusher.” In fact, as far back as June 19, it was reported that Showtime was leery about Kovalev.
Somehow, however, Karo Murat fits the bill. Are there tangible reasons for this other than what Stephen Espinoza has tweeted? Maybe. Not only did Kovalev have a much better chance of beating Hopkins and giving Richard Schaefer heartburn, but as a mandatory challenger, GBP would have no options on Kovalev. True, Murat is also a mandatory, but not many see him upsetting the dope, whereas a puncher like Kovalev represents a legitimate risk to just about anybody who answers the bell against him. In addition, a few years ago Kathy Duva was highly critical of the relationship between Golden Boy and HBO. The Big Payback lurks around every corner in boxing, where pettiness, vindictiveness, dissimulation, backbiting, and betrayal are as common as flies are in an outhouse. Golden Boy Promotions is not going to invite Main Events into the sandbox unless they have to, so Duva, too smart to waste energy squabbling with the GBP/Showtime Syndicate over a lost cause, got Kovalev a title shot on HBO against Nathan Cleverly.
No sooner was Kovalev out of the picture than Hopkins began babbling about how Kovalev ducked him. Hopkins, however, knows better, because he is actually part of the GBP/Showtime Combine and is privy to some of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans from which he benefits. The fact is that his own promotional firm (where, as noted, he is part of the front office) and his own network (where he has done some commentating) are not interested in Kovalev.
As for the fight itself, Murat, 25-1-1 (15), is up against it, despite the fact that Hopkins is closing in on SSI checks. Few fighters are as technically sound as Hopkins, 53-6-2-2 (32), and every time he steps into the ring, it is a victory of form over decadence. As long as he keeps facing one-dimensional plodders, Hopkins can remain a force until The Rapture. Last March, for example, Hopkins made Tavoris Cloud look like he was trudging through swampland in clogs. (Cloud, who seems to have lost his spirit, was subsequently outboxed by Adonis Stevenson, a man with three left feet.)
After 25 years as a professional, Hopkins, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, still retains his balance, timing, and defense. Even his slantwise stance is textbook. For every Hopkins, who understands the tattered rule “to make yourself small,” there are dozens of pugs who advance with such little thought that they often resemble men about to push through a revolving door on Fifth Avenue. And when Hopkins is not interested in putting on the moves, he indulges in his penchant for mugging, mauling, and mewling. Either way, nearly everyone involved loses when Hopkins fights these days. And Murat is not expected to be the exception.
Although he is entering the ring for the biggest fight of his career, Murat has been idle for 16 months, and his last start was a scheduled eight-rounder. Murat, 28, does a credible imitation of his stablemate Arthur Abraham, but he is not nearly as stingy with punches as Abraham is. He likes to whip uppercuts in close with his stubby arms whenever he sees an opening for them, and works occasionally from the outside with his jab. But since losing his first pro fight in 2010 (a 10th-round TKO loss to Nathan Cleverly) Murat, Kitzingen, Bayern, Germany, has been toiling on the fringes. A disappointing draw against hard-luck Gabriel Campillo was sandwiched between wins over Willie Last and Kenny Getup types. Four fights ago, Murat was in the ring against a man who should have his licensed revoked—Christian Cruz. None of this adds up to Murat being competitive with most top light heavyweights, much less Hopkins. Unless Hopkins finally crumbles into dust like Christopher Lee at the end of Horror of Dracula, then there is no reason to believe an ordinary fighter like Murat will scatter him to the winds.
Leave it to boxing to redefine the term “living legend” to include the phrase “followed by hoots, boos, and catcalls whenever he performs.” Hopefully, there will be something to cheer about tomorrow night. If not, at least you can console yourself during the fight with the fact that you are witnessing history. Or something like that.