As the only fighter to go the distance with unified light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev over a 16-fight span dating to 2010, Bernard Hopkins knows a thing or two about what makes the "Krusher" so dangerous.
Hopkins, the ageless wonder who is still active at age 50, dropped a unanimous decision to Kovalev (27-0-1, 24 KOs) in their November unification bout. He was also a ringside analyst for HBO in Kovalev's next bout, an exciting eighth-round stoppage of former champion Jean Pascal in March.
"The Alien" will resume his analyst duties on Saturday when Kovalev, 32, defends his 175-pound titles against mandatory challenger Nadjib Mohammedi (37-3, 23 KOs) at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas (HBO, 10 p.m. ET/PT).
Hopkins was a recent guest on ESPN.com's Making The Rounds, where the former two-division champion previewed the fight and updated the latest on his own future in the sport.
What did you learn from facing Kovalev that gave you more perspective on him as a fighter?
One thing I learned about Sergey is that he's very, very unpredictable. Most of my opponents were predictable -- not all, but most. He has, I guess you could say, the unorthodox European style. We are taught most of the time that they don't have a lot of movement. The European fighters are normally straight up and robotic, yet have every other attribute to compete and also to be great fighters. And this ain't overhyping anything, as his record speaks for itself. The only thing [Kovalev] needs is the names to prove it. But I've been in there and I think I hold some credibility of my opinion -- win, lose or draw.
Kovalev stood his ground despite being rocked by Jean Pascal in his March victory. You called that fight from ringside in Montreal. What type of vulnerabilities did Kovalev show you?
Well, he showed vulnerability because he's a come-get-you guy. And when you're a come-get-you, you're not a counterpuncher and not a guy who backs up and dances or tries to create something backpedaling. What I have seen Sergey do is mature even more, and that might seem scary to his opponents who might listen to this interview. Yes, I've seen him get rocked one or two times -- not only in the [Pascal] fight, believe it or not, but I've seen it in the fight before my fight [when Kovalev knocked out Blake Caparello in August 2014] where he was exchanging. Sometimes that happens, but it's what you do after that. That's what I've seen and I told my [HBO broadcasting] partner Jim Lampley. I said: "Listen, when you go into the fire, you're going to get hit."
And that tells me a lot about the character of a fighter who is known as a puncher and known as a seek-and-destroyer. If he has some resistance, he don't back up and then try to become something else that he's not used to doing with an 80 percent knockout [percentage].
Mohammedi is a relative newcomer to fight fans in the United States. What does he have to do in order to have success against Kovalev?
Actually, it's simple. It's to avoid those big shots, give him different looks and actually be first [instead] of last. He can't actually be the receiver. He can't play back catcher or he will get batted.
Mohammedi is being trained by Abel Sanchez, who guided Kovalev to an 7-0-1 record with seven knockouts just a few years ago, before the two had a falling out. What type of role might Sanchez's experience with Kovalev play in this fight?
Yeah, it plays a role. And I respect Abel. I have a lot of respect for him. We have met twice or three times against his fighters in my career with the latest against Tavoris Cloud at the Barclays Center in New York [in March 2013]. So I know Sanchez and he is qualified, even before [training Gennady Golovkin]. No disrespect to that as one of the trainers who knows what he is doing.
Since I cleared that up, and not that I need to clear that up, Sergey has John David Jackson, who I know very well, in his corner. And John David Jackson let him know that however he feels about Abel -- and it's probably not good for whatever reason, but who's wrong or right I don't know, since I wasn't there and neither were you. But I can tell you that I [would] have used it as fire, especially as a champion for 12 years holding the middleweight title. And I say to you that I used every little bit that even didn't seem that big of a problem, [but] I made it one.
Can we expect to see you, at age 50, in the ring again anytime soon?
Hopefully, hopefully. If not the tail end of the year, I'm looking for the first of the year to wrap it up, and to put a bow on it when you wrap it up, not to just announce it after a win or a loss or a draw. They might say, "Oh, you ain't going to do nothing, Bernard. You ought to just retire." But I didn't come into this business cheesy and I won't leave cheesy. I came in here with class and I leave with class and I will fight with class. That's why I took the fight with Sergey. It didn't seem like any other champion or top contender was biting at the bit. So, trust me, I got here using my brain a little bit and I will use it on the way out because I still have one.
But all the champions, whether they under the Golden Boy banner or not, if they have any pride about their legacy -- if you even care about it, and you might only care about your check and your car, I don't know -- but I just know that there are some out there, wherever they at, that want to have a legacy, where they can talk about whether they have the money or not in the bank.