Saturday, November 15, 2014

My Hopkins-Kovalev Weekend Part II

Click here for Part I

The sun sets in Atlantic City and fight night is here. There's a massive undercard leading up to the televised fights, with something like 48 bouts on it (slight exaggeration) and none of them promises to be all that interesting. Poor David Greisman has to get to the arena by 5:15 to catch the first fight. The HBO broadcast doesn't start until 10:45; that's going to be a long night for him. 

Before heading to the fight, a festive meal is needed. And there are of course more people to meet. The guy's name is James Bagg Jr. (@jamesbaggjr), although that's a pseudonym. Over the last few years he has carved up Twitter with his hilarious boxing memes and ridiculous captions to pictures in the boxing world. To this point, very few had met the man, who is actually a literacy teacher in New York City. His arrival for fight weekend was a mini-event among many of the boxing guys in our circle. Bagg drove down from Staten Island with two of his friends and we meet at the lobby of the Claridge. 

Also joining us for dinner is James Foley, the co-host of the weekly TOBR boxing podcast who flew in from Chicago, and Tim Starks. This is one funny group. After patrolling the chilly Boardwalk for acceptable places to eat (it took a while – this one's a vegetarian, this one doesn't eat seafood, etc.), we settle on Buddakan at the Caesars Pier, one of the nicer restaurants in Atlantic City. Now, I wouldn't say that as a group we were badly dressed, but upon entering the restaurant there was a collection of young ladies wearing their best dresses and done up to the 9's. We may have looked a little scruffy by comparison. 

Dinner rolls on and it's a rapid-fire exchange of jokes and good-natured ribbing. I keep checking my phone for updates to the Felix Sturm-Robert Stieglitz fight in Germany, getting the latest from Arran McLachlan, a boxing sharpie I know who lives in Scotland. As we are paying our check, Brian Campbell, Eric Raskin (who writes for Grantland and does the HBO boxing podcasts) and Brin Jonathan Butler (another boxing writer) meet up with us. Campbell and Raskin will be on camera after the fights and look sharp.  

After dinner, we take some group pictures and I head back to the hotel room to charge my phone and kill some time. Personally, I get worn down by watching 10-fight cards. I like to show up for a preliminary bout or two and then stay for the televised fights. Following the early bouts via Twitter, it doesn't seem as if I'm missing much. 


Making my way into Boardwalk Hall always excites me. Seeing many wonderful fights there, like the Williams-Martinez series and Taylor-Pavlik I, the place oozes history. It held the 1964 Democratic Convention. The Miss America Pageant has almost always called it home. The Beatles played there! Built in 1926 and declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1987, the arena is the perfect venue for boxing. With not a luxury box in site and very few advertisements in the main bowl of the arena, every seat is on top of the action. The views on the second level might be better than those on the bottom tier.  

I make my way to my section where I sit next to Chris Lukach and his father, Pete, or, as we call him, Big Pete. Chris (a former co-worker of mine) and I share a lot of the same tastes, such '70s funk music, rodeos and of course boxing. He was also with me for my first live fight, the double bill at Boardwalk Hall featuring Cotto-Quintana and Margarito-Clottey. Over the years, Chris, his father and I have gone to see a number of fights together and Big Pete often hosts us for the big PPV cards. Big Pete loves any fighter from Eastern Europe but as I take my seat, he assures me that his Eastern European predilection is not why he's going with Kovalev by knockout. He likes Krusher tonight because he thinks that Kovalev is too strong and hungry at this point of his career for Hopkins.

Ninety minutes or so until the HBO telecast starts, there's a lot of time to kill. The final undercard fight is a non-competitive bout between undefeated prospect Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (who was one of Hopkins' chief sparring partners for Kovalev) and "the opponent," Emil Gonzalez. After two rounds, Gonzalez's corner stops it. Chris and I walk around the arena a few times and catch up on what's going on in our lives. The arena is pretty much filled up. 

The first fight of the HBO broadcast features Sadam Ali, an undefeated 2008 U.S. Olympian, against hard-hitting Luis Carlos Abregu of Argentina. This is an important symbolic matchup because it's the first non-purse bid Golden Boy-Top Rank fight in several years. It's also an odd pairing of fighters because Ali hasn't been thought of as a particularly elite prospect and Abregu has run hot-and-cold in his U.S. television appearances; it seemed strange for HBO to invest in this fight. Leading up to the bout, not a single person whom I talked with thought that Ali, who struggled in his last outing against Jeremy Bryan, would defeat Abregu, who has beaten quality fighters like Thomas Dulorme and Antonin Decarie. 

As expected, Ali dances around the ring as the fight starts. He uses his jab and speed to keep Abregu away. If you squint hard enough, Ali looks like the recent version of Amir Khan, who under trainer Virgil Hunter has emphasized his natural athleticism and boxing technique to avoid prolonged exchanges. This style can be effective but it's certainly not crowd-pleasing. In these early rounds, Ali makes Abregu look like a helpless plodder. 

What I appreciate most about East Coast boxing crowds is that you can't bullshit them. Ali is stinking the joint out and the crowd is booing by end of the first round. Abregu looks slow and tentative. He can't cut off the ring effectively and in instances where Ali takes a break from running, Abregu pays him far too much respect. Abregu almost refuses to press the action. 

As the fight progresses, Ali starts to sit down on his power shots. Buoyed by his early success, he puts two and three-punch combinations together and, surprisingly, his power is getting to Abregu. In the sixth round he drops Abregu and the crowd starts to get energized. Feeling more confident in the pocket, Ali continues to take more risks, giving Abregu some openings to land his right hand. Abregu in particular has a very good eighth round. And although Ali is comfortably ahead at this point, Abregu still seems dangerous. 

But Ali puts an end to any conceivable Abregu comeback in the ninth round. Mixing in a blistering right uppercut with his straight right hand and left hook, Ali tags Abregu at will. He scores a knockdown with some savage power shots and later sends Abregu almost through the ropes. Ref Harvey Dock stops the fight at this point and the crowd applauds Ali's performance. It was a strange bout, where a stinker turned into to a thriller in just a few moments. Ali will now look to become a player in the deep welterweight division and I'm sure that he will find his way back to HBO very soon. 


The energy in the building picks up between fights – perhaps a little too much because a huge brawl breaks out right above the floor seats. This one gets contained fairly quickly (there will be another one) and everyone gears up for the main event. Unfortunately, the sound system for the night pales in comparison to what your Walkman could produce in the '80s. It's impossible to hear clearly anything that Michael Buffer says in the ring. 

On the arena monitor, Hopkins is shown in his green Alien mask and the crowd goes wild. The fighters make their way to the ring and I'm guessing that the support is split 70/30 in favor of Hopkins. After getting into the ring, Hopkins, still in full Alien regalia, goes to each corner of the ring and stares down the audience. Chris and I crack up. Whatever you might want to say about Hopkins, he really tries hard to sell himself. 

From the opening bell, Kovalev works the jab and the right hand, mixing shots to the head and body. Hopkins uses the ring to find angles but barely lets his hands go. Near the end of the round, Kovalev, catching Hopkins transitioning from defense to offense, connects with a short right hand that sends Hopkins to the canvas. It's not a thunderous blow but Hopkins' chin has been so good over the years; whenever he goes down, it's a big deal. 

In the second round, Hopkins tries to set a trap. Covering himself up in the corner, Hopkins invites Kovalev to come closer. Kovalev throws right hands to the body and jabs as Hopkins remains in his shell. Hopkins then explodes with a right hand and Kovalev responds immediately with an even bigger right hand, sending Hopkins right back to the corner. At this point, I know that Kovalev is fully prepared for the fight. 

I'm sure that Hopkins and his team studied Kovalev's fight against Cedric Agnew, where Agnew would blast out of the corner with one or two quick punches, catching Kovalev off guard. In those situations, Kovalev was unprepared to counterpunch. But in watching round two against Hopkins, Kovalev, and his trainer, John David Jackson, have clearly worked on improving in this scenario. When Hopkins fires, Kovalev is always prepared with the counter. Advantage: Kovalev.

As the rounds play out, I'm amazed by Kovalev's discipline and intelligence. He doesn't let Hopkins clinch or work inside, geographies that clearly favor the grizzled veteran. Even when Hopkins stays in place on the ropes, Kovalev doesn't take the bait. He's not rushing in trying to end it. Instead, he peppers Hopkins with thudding jabs and right hands, using his range and reach to limit Hopkins' opportunities. Kovalev doesn't get caught up in being macho; he's just trying to pick up points. 

Watching Kovalev's performance, it's a pleasure to see him execute such a sublime game plan. Jackson (a former Hopkins opponent and co-trainer) knew the exact formula to beat Hopkins: punch volume, distance and not overcommitting on shots. Following the formula, Kovalev cruises through the rounds. Hopkins lands a couple of decent right hands in the fifth and a few in the eighth and ninth but that's about it. Tonight he's outgunned by a younger and stronger fighter and he knows it. 

The 12th round is some special stuff. Hopkins, refusing to finish meekly, lands his best shot of the fight to start the round. Kovalev is affected by the right hand and Hopkins goes for the kill. After taking a moment to regroup, Kovalev returns fire with punishing right hands and left hooks. He follows the old man around the ring Krushing him with power shots from all angles. This is why Hopkins didn't open up throughout the fight; when he finally did, he's met with type of hellfire that permanently changes a man. By the end of the round, Hopkins is teetering. Referee David Fields would be well within his rights to stop the bout but he's letting Hopkins make it to the final bell if he can – Fields probably ends it if it's not someone of Hopkins' stature in there. After Hopkins' catches hellacious bomb after hellacious bomb, the bell rings and the crowd roars with approval. 

With this performance, Kovalev cements his status as one of the top fighters in boxing and Hopkins deserves credit for having the intestinal fortitude to last 12 rounds against that type of vicious assault. To Hopkins' credit, he didn't resort to any of his dirty tactics in the fight. He took his beating like a pro and really went for it in last round. 

Max Kellerman interviews Kovalev and there's a mixture of elation and relief on the fighter's face. He knows that this is his moment and I'm sure that he feels a tremendous source of pride in how he performed on the biggest stage of his career. He pays his respect to Hopkins, credits his team and looks forward to his next opportunities. 

In defeat, Hopkins is surprisingly gracious. He knows that he has been beaten by a better man and there is no excuse making or attempts to diminish Kovalev's accomplishment. Hopkins wishes Kovalev a continued run of success as a light heavyweight champ. 

By now, most of the crowd has filed out but there are I'd say still 1,000 or so fans still in the arena. Many inch their way closer to the ring as Hopkins talks. After his interview with Kellerman ends, Hopkins is cheered by the remainder of the crowd; clearly his career ring achievements and his grace in defeat resonate with them.


Chris and Big Pete leave the arena and a few minutes later I make my way to Caesars. The post-fight euphoria is in full effect at the casino with the craps tables bustling, the aisles full with people coming back from the fights and the high-dollar blackjack tables filled. A rush of energy permeates the air.

I head over to Toga Bar but I'm not in a celebratory mood. My worst feeling in boxing this year was the night that Sergio Martinez took a hellacious beating from Miguel Cotto. Watching Martinez limp around on one leg, a shadow of what he once was, seemed like the cruelest of punishments to me. In fact, I didn't travel to Madison Square Garden to see Cotto-Martinez in case that exact scenario occurred. I hate seeing an older master take a sustained beating. 

Although I respected Hopkins' dignity in his losing effort tonight, I didn't enjoy watching him get pulverized. I had seen Hopkins bested before. Chad Dawson clearly outclassed him, but tonight was different. Tonight Kovalev manhandled him; I don't have the post-fight glow as I make my way into Toga. 

I scan the room and the boxing crowd has already started to gather. I say hello to those I know. There's Chris and Liza from Virginia, Ramiro from Texas, Mark from North Jersey, a whole crew from Philadelphia, @smelodies, from wherever @smelodies is from. After a few minutes I walk away from the boxing folks and head over to the bar. 

I'm sipping a Johnny Walker Black and sit quietly for a few moments. I start laughing when two 30-something hookers next to me mock a couple of younger pros working the other side of the bar. "Look at those girls with their asses hanging out. That's not sexy. Learn how to dress!" 

In time, more boxing people funnel in. I start talking with Aris Pina and Bob Canobbio of CompuBox. A few minutes later Foley and Bagg come over. I shoot Foley a derisive look when he attempts to order a Malbec at Toga. We start talking about the fights and are all impressed with Ali's performance. None of us saw that coming. And we pay the highest compliments to Kovalev. We knew that he could punch but none of us realized how smart of a fighter he is. 

Little by little, our section fills up. Campbell and Raskin make their way over. Some HBO guys, including Kieran Mulvaney and Mike Gluckstadt, an editor for, do as well. Talking about the fights, my spirits are lifted. What's next for Kovalev? There's no way Stevenson will fight him. That was a great crowd tonight. 

Soon Nicole and Lisa Duva make their way over and Bagg spends some quality time talking to Nicole. Starks and Greisman arrive after the press conference ends as well as Greg Domino, who works at the communications department for HBO Sports. 

We're all having a good time, downing some drinks, cracking jokes and talking about the fights. At 4 a.m. Toga closes and we make our way over to Bally's where the Kovalev afterparty is in full effect. 


Even though it's well into Sunday morning, the L Bar at Bally's teems with excitement. Members of Kovalev's team and many of his supporters are there, celebrating the victory and going through some serious amounts of vodka. Greisman fills me in on the post-fight press conference and I congratulate Kathy Duva (Kovalev's promoter) on her victory. 

Greisman and I spot Egis Klimas, Kovalev's manager, and we make our way over to him. We reintroduce ourselves to Klimas (I had previously met him last year in Denver) and Greisman tells him that he was nominated earlier today by the East Coast division of the Boxing Writers Association of America as manager of the year. Klimas is gracious regarding the honor and then makes a joke about not winning last year. Greisman then asks Klimas where tonight ranks in his career in boxing. Klimas gives an interesting answer, which I'll lightly paraphrase.

"If Lomachenko [another Klimas fighter] beat Salido in just his second pro fight, that would have been number one. But he didn't so tonight is clearly my best moment in boxing." 

"I'm surprised you said Lomachenko would have been number one since Hopkins is a legend." Greisman says.

Klimas looks at us for a moment and says, "Well Salido is a legend too. He's a great fighter." 

I think about what Klimas had just said and it stars to resonate. Now, most wouldn't claim a 12-loss fighter like Orlando Salido as a legend or an all-time great, but what Klimas revealed is very much how Salido is perceived in the sport, which is, pardon my French, that he's one tough motherfucker. Klimas saw how vicious Salido was that night, how much pride he had and the hell he put Lomachenko through, especially early in the fight. We talk about that bout for a few minutes and then the topic turns toward tonight's action. 

I ask Klimas about his confidence level going into the fight. He responds that when he heard that the Hopkins camp was using Shabranskyy as a sparring partner, he felt very confident. We then talk about Klimas' immediate plans for Kovalev and he tells us that he wants Kovalev to fight often on HBO to broaden his audience. If a big fight comes, it comes. 

Klimas, although clearly reveling in the huge victory, has many interesting insights regarding how to build Kovalev. He notes how the Russian fan base needs to be built and that it would take a number of fights to make Kovalev a real box office draw. 

The conversation remains very interesting until Lem Satterfield of Ring decides to hijack it with a stupid question. He asks Klimas if he envisions a Kovalev-Golovkin fight happening soon. Klimas shoots him a dismissive look and says, "GGG is at 160 and Kovalev's at 175. I don't see that fight happening." Lem pursues this line of questioning and Klimas starts to get annoyed. I leave and go over to the other side of the bar. 

It's now five in the morning and Kathy Duva is still beaming with pride in her elegant purple dress. Well-wishers come over and she talks with everyone about Kovalev's magnificent performance. I take a seat right by her and soon Lisa Duva, who refers to herself as "the black sheep of the family" since she isn't in the boxing business, comes over to sit next to me. Although not officially with Main Events, she knows how important Kovalev's win is for her family and the company. We talk about Lisa's work in New York City's film office and her neighborhood back home. 

I stand up to talk to Kathy. She's kicked off her Jimmy Choo shoes and she's enjoying a drink. I ask her if she was worried coming into the fight. She said that at first she had some concerns but then after talking to John David Jackson, he told her, "we got this," and then she felt much better. She sings Jackson's praises for quite a while. I then ask her about Kovalev's future and she says that she just wants him to stay active and in front of people. She isn't expecting Stevenson to fight him and she doesn't seem to be all that concerned about Kovalev's next opponent.  

She tells me a great story of how Kovalev came to her attention. After other promoters passed on him, Klimas negotiated to get him on one of her undercards. As Duva relays it, Klimas said, name whatever fighter you want and Kovalev will fight him. Duva picked Darnell Boone because Kovalev had struggled with Boone in their previous fight plus Boone was a known commodity. Once Kovalev destroyed Boone in their rematch, Duva was sold on him. She signed him up immediately after that fight. From that night on, she knew he was something special.  

We start to talk about what is next for her company. The output deal she had with NBC Sports Network has concluded and as of now she doesn't have a lot of dates for her fighters. She told me that she's been busy talking with ESPN and other potential partners and that they'll (Main Events) figure out a way to keep their fighters in action.

When talking to Kathy Duva, one thing really stands out: her competitiveness. Even though her promotional company is relatively small, she stands by Main Events' record in developing fighters, identifying new talent and creating stars. We spend probably 10 minutes talking about how hard it has been for her to get Steve Cunningham bigger fights. 

Going back and forth on Cunningham, another thing occurs to me; she really gives a shit. Just hours after one of the biggest recent victories for her company, she's still laser-focused on getting one her other fighters another big opportunity. This isn't for show. She's really bothered by Cunningham's plight. We talk for a few more minutes about her fighters who had won on the NBC Sports card earlier tonight and then I thank her for her time.  

I check out the crowd, which is still going strong. Bagg and Foley are like two peas in a pod – taking pictures, cracking jokes, one-upping each other on funny responses. Campbell and Nicole Duva are having laughs all around. I start talking with Gluckstadt, Greisman and Starks about the night that was. We all realize that we witnessed a special performance and we were happy to be there for it. 

At 6:15, I say my goodbyes to everyone at the bar and head upstairs to my room. Another fantastic boxing weekend has unfolded and I couldn't be happier. 

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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