In recalling a rather disastrous anecdote regarding Randall “Tex” Cobb, and commenting on sports-writing in general, John Schulian wrote that, “the sentiment still outweighs the results.” It is an idea that easily applies to the endless twilight of Bernard Hopkins. Hopkins, who won a split decision over Beibut Shumenov at the DC Armory in Washington, D.C., last night, has been dealing more in sentiment than result for as long as his age has been the focus of his fights. A 49-year-old man thriving in a bloodsport is story enough: it is a remarkable feat, and will not be reproduced. But in writing about Hopkins, the sentiments, that spectrum of color mixed from a limited palette, provide the real interest. The longer he keeps winning, the stronger those sentiments—both laudatory and critical—will become. And Hopkins, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, just keeps winning.
Hopkins took a few rounds to limber up Saturday night before slapping around his hapless opponent. Sure, Hopkins only worked for about thirty seconds a round, but he still accomplished far more than Shumenov, who mostly followed the old man around, hands at his waist, lobbing telegraphed punches. Even when Shumenov, Las Vegas via Kazakhstan, put his hands together, his wide punches were countered with ease. Once Hopkins dialed in his lead right and had Shumenov biting on feints, the fight was over. The lone blip on the fight’s EKG came in the eleventh round, when Hopkins, 172 1/2, landed a right cross that folded Shumenov’s legs like a collapsible table. A handful of forgettable minutes later Hopkins was awarded a split decision victory by scores of 116-111 twice, while judge Gustavo Padilla turned in an inexcusable tally of 113-114 for Shumenov.
That then, is the result. As for the sentiments? Perhaps the best place to start is with those produced by Shumenov, a fighter who thought it wise to not only prepare for the biggest fight of his career without the help of a trainer, but to enter the ring without one. Shumenov, 174 1/2, may have been considered a top ten light heavyweight, he even had a title, but neither qualification is entirely indicative of his prizefighting merits. Nothing more than names are needed to compile a division’s rankings, and any such list reveals very little about the quality of the fighters or the disparity in ability between them. As for Shumenov’s title, he earned it getting handled by Gabriel Campillo twice, and defended it against the likes of then 38-year-old former middleweight William Joppy—the same William Joppy who looked like he needed an EpiPen after going twelve rounds with Hopkins in 2003. In short, beating Shumenov, 14-2 (9), is hardly the stuff of legend, even if it was a legend that beat him. And really, to credit Hopkins too much for last night’s accomplishment is to do his abilities a disservice. He will beat the likes of Shumenov until he walks away or falls to pieces.
Of course, winning isn’t everything; or at least it should not be in a sport that makes tenuous claims to being a form of entertainment. Hopkins long ago muddled the criteria for entertainment, setting gimmicks and shtick against the backdrop of his age to distract viewers from holding expectations of action in a sport predicated on it. To be sure, there is malice aplenty in a Hopkins fight, but more often than not it comes in the form of arm-locks, low blows, and other mauling maneuvers. However ugly, Hopkins’ ability to get over on trained professionals with little more than guile, some rough stuff, and a right hand remains impressive, and while Hopkins is trying slow the fight to his pace, his opponents deserve some of the blame for letting him.
Regardless, Hopkins’ fights have become an invariable chore to watch, though saying as much is liable to have you branded a simpleton for failing to appreciate the nuance of noogies. The truth is, Hopkins is hardly the only boring fighter to find his way onto network television, and that reality, when considered in light of his age and accomplishments, results in Hopkins being given a pass for what others are routinely excoriated for. And if this goodwill ever evaporates, well, he can always change his mask.
That goodwill is likely to stick around for the rest of the year at least, as Hopkins, 55-6-2-2 (32), is pursuing a fight with Adonis Stevenson. Though not without his flaws, Stevenson kicks like a mule, and despite nearing forty, boasts a significant age advantage over Hopkins. Youth and power have yet to prove Hopkins’ undoing, and it is easy to envision him walking the awkward Stevenson into traps, suffocating him in close, and pot-shotting his way to victory. Still, Stevenson is largely perceived as the greatest threat to Hopkins outside of Sergey Kovalev, whose ties to HBO take him out of the running. Hopkins downing Stevenson? That is as close as Hopkins can get to a result that rivals sentiment.