ATLANTIC CITY, United States (AFP) – Sergey Kovalev punished 49-year-old ring legend Bernard Hopkins over 12 rounds on Saturday, unifying three light heavyweight world titles with a lopsided unanimous decision.
Hopkins, the ageless “alien,” was brought to earth with a thud when Kovalev knocked him down in the first round.
The hard-hitting Russian powered on from there, never troubled as he added Hopkins’ World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation titles to his own World Boxing Organisation belt.
Two judges scored the bout 120-107 for Kovalev, while a third saw it 120-106 for the 31-year-old Russian, who had never been past the eighth round in 26 prior fights.
Kovalev improved to 26-0 with one drawn and 23 knockouts.
Hopkins, who will turn 50 in January, fell to 55-7-2, enduring the most lopsided decision of his career.
Already the oldest fighter to capture a major world title, Hopkins insisted the defeat wouldn’t automatically spell the end of his ring career.
“I would not disclose anything now,” he said. “It’s 50-50, what I’m going to do, but I’ve done more than anybody expected me to do in my whole career. I’m fine. I will think about it.”
Kovalev said he thought Hopkins “needs to stop his career,” if only to “give younger guys a chance to be champions.”
That said, Kovalev added that he thought Hopkins could beat World Boxing Council light heavyweight champ Adonis Stevenson – although whether Hopkins will now pursue that bout remains to be seen.
Certainly Kovalev showed he didn’t need Hopkins to step aside, imposing his will from the opening bell.
“Bernard is a tough opponent and very good at keeping the distance,” Kovalev said.
“He’s a great in the boxing world. But I wanted to show my fans I could box and I did. He touched me with some good punches, he has some good form.”
Despite encouraging chants of “B-Hop! B-Hop!” from the crowd of 8,545 at Boardwalk Hall, Hopkins had no answer for Kovalev’s power and the Russian’s disciplined plan of attack.
“The better man was Kovalev,” Hopkins said. “He fought a great technical fight. He used his reach and he used his distance and that was the key.”
After sending Hopkins to the canvas with a right to the face in the first, Kovalev staggered Hopkins with another right in the eighth, although the veteran – whose only concession to age is the grey stubble on his chin – stayed on his feet.
Finally in the 12th, Hopkins seemed to realize he’d need to produce a knockout, but Kovalev seemed just as intent – landing 38 of his 89 punches in the final round.
“I’m crazy,” Hopkins laughed when asked about going toe-to-toe with Kovalev in the 12th, but then added: “I’m kidding. It’s what the fans want to see. They want to see good fights. I was engaging, I knew if I could get a good shot in I could turn things around.”