Tomorrow night in Washington D.C. Bernard Hopkins hopes to continue his historic run as the oldest fighter to have ever held a world championship. Hopkins will be looking to add another world title, specifically Beibut Shumenov’s WBA light heavyweight championship, to his belt collection. Hopkins will be making the second defense of the IBF world championship he won last March against Tavoris Cloud. Hopkins’ opponent, 30-year-old Beibut Shumenov, has successfully defended his WBA world championship five times. Each man will be looking to unify the IBF and WBA world championships in hopes of landing a showdown with the division’s recognized champion, Adonis Stevenson.
Beibut Shumenov is the best fighter Hopkins has faced since he lost a decision to the division’s former kingpin, Chad Dawson. Hopkins’ previous two opponents, Tavoris Cloud and Karo Murat, were less skilled pros than the methodical Shumenov. Shumenov is a strong, fairly athletic fighter, with a good punch, and decent hand speed. Shumenov likes to track down his opponents and work them down with precise punches. Shumenov does not like to waste a lot of his punches, preferring to be set before throwing his shots as to be sure they are accurately thrown. While planting his feet to release his punches however, Shumenov can sometimes be there to be hit by his opponent. Shumenov throws a decent check left hook counter, but is without question more effective going forward than he is at fighting off the back foot.
Against Hopkins, Shumenov will hold nearly a 2o year age advantage. For that statistic to work to his advantage, Shumenov can not allow Hopkins to dictate the pace. If he does, Hopkins will turn the tone of the fight into the kind of slow-paced action where he can implement all of the frustrating tactics the 26 year veteran is known for. The problem for Shumenov is, he does not fight at a particularly fast pace. He too prefers to methodically break his opponents down, and usually the accurate punching of Shumenov would allow for that to not be a problem. However even at 49, Hopkins remains one of the tougher fighters to catch cleanly in the sport. If you can not catch your opponent often enough, you had better outwork him. If Shumenov will indeed need to throw more punches than he is accustomed to, than it will be very difficult for him to summon such an effort against the defensive wizardry of Hopkins.
Bernard Hopkins himself is no longer the fighter he was 10, or even 5 years ago. The Philadelphia native’s reflexes and athletic gifts are greatly diminished. Five years ago Hopkins would unquestionably beat Shumenov, and would be the faster fighter as he was against Kelly Pavlik. Now both of those proclamations are far from being certainties. Tomorrow night may very well be the end of Bernard Hopkins. Hopkins may not posses the reflexes anymore to stand in front of Shumenov and make him miss and tag him with counters. Instead the future hall of famer may have to resort to scratching and sniffing his way to a victory. Thankfully for Hopkins, he is one of the best in the game at winning such a fight.
Bernard Hopkins is playing with fire, and Beibut Shumenov may be catching the aging legend at the perfect time to burn him. However, Shumenov has fought just once in the past two years, a 3 round affair. In the early rounds where Hopkins is often a notoriously slow starter, the ring rust for Shumenov will cost him greatly. Shumenov will not be able to build a commanding lead in the first half of the fight. Once the old warrior works his way into his rhythm and sees everything Shumenov has to offer, he will begin to land with his signature right hand and solve the puzzle put in front of him. Look for Bernard Hopkins to hold and hit Shumenov, roughhouse him, and do whatever it takes to go home with the victory. Bernard Hopkins finds a way to win again.
BRB’S FINAL PREDICTION: BERNARD HOPKINS VIA UNANIMOUS DECISION.