Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Hopkins-Kovalev Weekend Part I

I leave Philadelphia for Atlantic City around 1:45 on Friday afternoon to catch the Hopkins-Kovalev weigh-in. I usually don't care much for weigh-ins and rarely attend them. Yes, they can be amusing displays of regalia and pomp, but ultimately, the crowd gathers, the fighters get on the scale, there's a forced staredown for marketing purposes and it ends. Weigh-ins are more often than not the definition of anticlimax. 

However, Bernard Hopkins isn't any ordinary fighter; one never knows what to expect from him. Plus, he has meant a ton to me over the years and really helped me appreciate boxing on a more cerebral level. Also, I'm a fan of his shtick. What can I say?

Walking into the weigh-in at Caesars, I'm surprised by how many people are there, not to mention the rows and rows of chairs filled up by media members. Atlantic City has had very few fights of real significance over the last decade but this one has piqued the curiosity of fans and media alike. People are actually excited to be there for a Bernard Hopkins fight, a rarity indeed!

Tattoo is on the microphone doing his thing, trying to amp up the crowd. For some reason, Golden Boy keeps trotting him out to their events; I wonder if he has dirty pictures of someone.

Besides Tattoo, the stage is empty. There's a large crowd of Russians in the audience. And while they have their native flags and Team Kovalev gear, they aren't as boisterous as say, the Polish fans are for Adamek or even Wladimir Klitschko's supporters. Overall, the crowd is lively but not necessarily rabid. Hopkins has his cheering section but he doesn't engender the passionate frenzy that other superstars do in the sport. People root for him, support him, respect him, but how many really live or die with him?

As 3 p.m. approaches, Michael Buffer makes his way to the stage. He's there to announce the weights for the HBO fights; Tattoo will handle the preliminary bouts. The lights go down and the Corona girls file in behind Buffer. The promoters (Oscar de la Hoya and Kathy Duva) and the state athletic officials come on stage. I'm glad to see that Larry Hazzard Sr. is back leading the state athletic commission. He was forced out years ago because of a silly political issue. For my money, Hazzard was the best boxing commissioner in the U.S.

Within moments, Hopkins and Kovalev are ready to weigh in – Hopkins, 173.5; Kovalev, 174.5.  Both fighters stand next to each other for the staredown, which for Hopkins seems to be his default setting. Will there be pushing? Punches thrown? Inappropriate gestures? Drama?

Not today. Everything is benign. And with that, pictures are taken and the fighters and their teams exit, not to be seen or heard from until tomorrow night. Like a graduation procession, the boxers from the various undercard bouts are announced to the stage. They undress, make weight and then leave so that the next two contestants can partake in the ritual. It's all very orderly.

The crowd starts to file out. ESPN is doing a live recap of the weigh-in and it's good to see that the network has deployed a number of reporters for the weekend. For their stand-up TV spot, Dan Rafael, Brian Campbell and Kieran Mulvaney are giving their thoughts on the fight and a number of fans are watching them. 

Harold Lederman, HBO's unofficial ringside judge, is in the back of the room watching the weigh-ins for the undercard fights. Not required to be there, Harold observes the action closely. Having met him a couple of times before, I go over to exchange pleasantries. In every conversation I've had with Harold, I come away with the same feeling: the man thoroughly and completely loves the sport. 

By now the room has emptied out and only a few stray media members and fans remain. I walk out to the hotel lobby where Abel Sanchez, Gennady Golovkin's trainer who's in town to work the corner for an undercard bout, is giving some interviews about Golovkin's next fight against Martin Murray. I also spot Joe Antonacci, a local ring announcer, in jeans and a jacket. I've probably seen Antonacci dozens of times over the years but always in a tux. It had never occurred to me that he actually wears anything else.

I then run into Mark Sarmiento, a friendly acquaintance whom I have known through Twitter. I met him for the first time last year at the Alvarado-Provodnikov fight weekend in Denver. Mark and his mom have flown in from Houston. It's her birthday and he wanted to take her to a big fight. Her first choice was to see Pacquiao but with Manny plying his trade in Macau these days, that wasn't a realistic possibility. I talk with her briefly and she's a charming lady. Mark and I make plans to connect after the fights on Saturday. 
Milling around waiting to meet up with my friends David Greisman and Tim Starks (who both happen to be excellent boxing writers – David for and Tim for his site The Queensberry Rules), I spot Kieran Mulvaney and go over to introduce myself to him. We've chatted many times over the years through Twitter but had never actually met in person. He's just as great as I expected him to be. 


Social media in boxing is a strange thing. I've been active on it since 2011 and to my surprise I've wound up liking probably 95% of everyone whom I've met in person. And I'm not one who necessarily likes a lot of people right off the bat (it's a character flaw; I'm working on it).

But thinking about it further, my warm feelings towards those in the boxing community shouldn't be so surprising. In America, boxing has turned out to be something like an irrepressible cult, a niche sport with absolutely fervent followers who won't let it die. And as a member of this group, I wind up sharing many characteristics with those whom I encounter. 

Members of the boxing community ostracize themselves from society at large. Fighters train for months at a time, often leaving home. The best in the sport are fanatical about their nutrition, what they put into their bodies, workout habits and fight preparation. For months of the year, the top boxers aren't interacting socially or living their lives like normal people; they are in semi-seclusion or a controlled environment (there are of course some colorful counterexamples). 

With the exception of the very top tier, boxers are far removed from mainstream appeal in America. Those who are even known by the general public are often looked at as curiosities, mere personalities and/or well-sculpted performers who pop up for a week here or there a couple times of year. The sixth-best welterweight in the world could very easily cruise down any street in America and be scarcely recognized. Even though boxers are among the best athletes of any sport, very few break out of the sport's ghetto and gain recognition from casual sports fan. 

In America, members of the boxing media are often looked down upon by other sportswriters. Whether the sport is viewed as irrelevant in today's media landscape, one that is promoted, executed and adored by savages, or considered a cesspool of corruption, major media outlets find many reasons not to cover boxing. Being a boxing writer isn't seen as some fast track to media stardom or riches. Those who wind up on the boxing beat for more than a few years stay there because they really love it. I'm sure that their colleagues look at them like strange zoo animals. "Look, touch the boxing writer. This guy actually loves covering such a sorry sport. Give him some peanuts." 

While others socialize on weekend nights, boxing fans stay at home. They constantly have to negotiate with loved ones or friends to carve out time to see the fights. They miss events or leave them early. Their social bonds have been weakened by spending too many Fridays and Saturdays on their couch. 

And they have to put up with so much political bullshit in the sport just for the mere possibility of entertainment. They turn on their TVs week after week hoping for a few moments of excellence and action. Just as often as not, their nights end in disappointment. But true boxing fans are a resilient bunch and they will be back next weekend. 

All of those involved with boxing continually have to defend their beloved sport. (Isn't it barbaric? How do you watch that? How can you still be a fan? Isn't boxing so corrupt? I stopped being a fan when such and such happened.) This defensiveness helps bind the boxing community together together. When in town for a boxing weekend, I don't care all that much what state a fan, a writer or a trainer is from or what his politics or religion are. We start off with a love of the sport and move on from there. Everyone gets a little bit of good will. 

Those in the boxing community share a little secret. We put up with the bullshit and lunacy because this secret is profound: we all know that when boxing is at its best, it's unbeatable. Those thrilling, unforgettable moments create a high stronger than any drug. The anticipation leading up to a big fight, the thrill of the crowd, the excitement and tension, is unmatched in professional sports. A big fight makes the Super Bowl seem like the opening round of a golf tournament. 


I meet up with Greisman and Starks and head over to The Claridge. In some combination, we have gone to fights together in Jersey, New York, Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania and other spots. We catch up about what's new in our lives – I had last seen them during the Golovkin-Geale weekend in July – as well as our thoughts on the fight. We are all predicting Hopkins to win, but none of us really knows for sure. After a few minutes, Greisman starts to work on his articles from the weigh-in for BoxingScene; he’s constantly working during fight weekends. 

For dinner, we meet up with Brian Campbell from ESPN, another person whom I've interacted with for years online but am just meeting in person for the first time. As ESPN's boxing editor, he has quickly and quietly raised's presence in the sport. He has done a great job of introducing the Making the Rounds feature and has helped to expand ESPN's coverage of international fights. In person, he's enthusiastic, quick with a joke and has an endearingly goofball sensibility. Almost from the jump, he's trying to set up some karaoke for the night.

At dinner, we shoot the shit, gently josh each other, opine about the state of the sport and partake in some boxing gossip – what’s next for this fighter, this promoter or this network. A commonality that those in the boxing community share is the combination of angst/anticipation/gallows humor when talking about the sport. On record, Campbell is going with the Kovalev knockout. 

I step out from dinner for a moment and run into the biggest Hopkins fan that I know. His name is Dave but he goes by @Buflo_dolla on Twitter. As he nurses a beer, he's nervous about the fight tomorrow but feels that Hopkins will pull it out. He understands that it's a very dangerous matchup for Hopkins. He can deal with a loss but he just can't bear to see Legend, as he calls Hopkins, get knocked out. 

After dinner, Starks, Campbell and I walk down the windy boardwalk to the Tropicana where we meet up with Mulvaney for a drink. Slowly but surely, others from the boxing community start to trickle in for the weekend. Vic Salazar, from Tha Boxing Voice, is there enjoying a meal with his family. Peter Clarke, another writer from that website, is also around with his ever-present smile. We shake hands and hug, talk about the fights and head to the bar. Opinion seems equally split on Hopkins and Kovalev. Absolutely nobody thinks that Sadam Ali has a shot on the undercard. We ask Mulvaney's about his varied and unique writing career; very few are experts on both whaling and boxing. We then transition to the favorite parlor games of boxing fans/writers: what was the best live fight you've ever seen? What fight made you a fan of the sport, etc.

Another commonality you will see among boxing people is that they can't stop talking about boxing. Where does this fighter go next? Why did he sign with this guy? Do you think that this writer is any good? This particular fight needs to happen! 

I think that there is a simple explanation for this non-stop boxing talk: boxing fans don't have that many people to talk to in person about the sport. It isn't like going to the grocery store or the corner tavern where everyone has an opinion on the Cowboys or the Yankees. Some of us might have a friend or two who likes the sport and watches from time to time, but how often can we have live, engrossing boxing conversations? We have to take advantage of these opportunities.


In my opinion, Atlantic City is the best location in America for a fight weekend. In the large cities, people ride in for the fight or stay in any number of hotels. Afterwards, maybe some groups of people get together, but most find their way home or go back to where they are staying. In Vegas, there are tons of entertainment options during a fight weekend and also the hotels are so big. Even if everyone congregates at the MGM Grand (which doesn't happen), there are so many nooks and crannies in that vast hotelopolis.

But in Atlantic City, everyone's trapped. Coming from the large cities of New York, D.C. or Philadelphia, it's too far or too late to make it home after the fights. And there are only so many places to stay. With four casinos closing this year, the beleaguered shore town has faced tough times, but it's still an ideal place for a boxing gathering. Yes, there is gambling, and perhaps some dance clubs here and there, but there aren't nearly the distractions you find in other cities. Everything is close to each other and self-contained. The result is a strong sense of a boxing community, like boxing is taking over the town for a few days.  

During this fight weekend, Atlantic City doesn't resemble a town on life support. Caesars, the host hotel, is filled and rocking all weekend. The boardwalk is crowded. The restaurants, while not bustling, are pretty busy and there are even many well-dressed patrons among the diners (to put it mildly, A.C. is not necessarily known for its beautiful people).

Later on Friday night, Starks and I check out the Toga Bar at Caesars, easily the best gathering spot for fight fans. Here's how I described the Toga Bar in an article from last year:

Let me set the stage. Toga Bar is a bar/lounge at Caesars right off the casino floor. It has a big oval bar and to the left there is a dance floor and an area with couches. The following different groups congregate here during fight weekends: boxing personnel (fans/fighters/trainers/promoters/writers), local riff-raff, bachelorette parties, groups of middle-aged men, a few normal couples, prostitutes and old timers. On Saturday Nights, scantily clad women dance on elevated platforms by the bar as the DJ spins the dance hits du jour
I've seen some strange things at this place: projectile vomit that would make fans of The Exorcist squeamish, the best couch dance ever – by a woman who was waiting for her husband to get released from prison (no clothes were removed), Eddie Hearn owning the room dancing with a half-dozen ladies at a time, a 60-something guy wearing all black with Blues Brothers sunglasses dancing by himself for hours at a time, a girl being thrown out of the bar for exposing her breast…I could go on and on. With this eclectic mix of different ages, races, socioeconomic backgrounds and walks of life, I've never had the same night at the Toga Bar twice.

The boxing crew (Campbell, Starks, Greisman and others) stands at a table talking to Nicole Duva, the Vice President of Marketing for Main Events and the daughter of Kathy, who is the company's president. The 60-year-old Blues Brothers dancer is there as are the dancers on top of the bar. The vibes are good.

We joke around and talk about the #NicoleDuvaHeads hashtag on social media. Nicole, being a very attractive women, has amassed a number of admirers over the years. She's a very good sport about it; she's also whip smart. 

Everyone's talking about the big fight tomorrow night and I'll say this: we don't get cheated on our liquor. By now it's 2:30 a.m. on Saturday morning and it's time for me to turn in; there's a big day ahead of me for tomorrow. 

Click here for Part II

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter
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  1. Great Blog and incite thank you my friend. Johnny from Wales U.K.

  2. Good Stuff ! And yes, Tattoo is F'n horrible, couldn't stand him the first time I saw him.