Saturday, July 21, 2007

:boxing: The Match of the Masters:: Hopkins vs. Wright

In the world of boxing, the meeting of the minds of master fighters can be a rare occurrence, indeed. This isn't about a matchup between two top prospects (last weekend's Margarito-Williams), or one between a pair of action figures (the now dually-retired Gatti-Ward. It is not even one concerning merely the biggest names in the sport (Mayweather-De La Hoya). Saturday night will be a night when two of today's greatest practitioners and students of the ring square off in bout to decide who has truly mastered its game and craft.

I would make an allusion here to this being a chess match, but the champion is more of a checkers kind of guy. Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins has accomplished much over his career. Breaking Carlos Mozon's consecutive title defense record at Middleweight (and becoming an Undisputed Champion along the way), sustaining a twelve year win streak, and claiming victories over Felix Trinidad, Oscar de la Hoya, and Glencoffe Johnson are a few of the highlights reached by the Philadelphia native over a 47-4-1 (KO 32) span. After coming out of a (very) brief retirement roughly a year and a month ago, he dominated Antonio Tarver for his Light Heavyweight championship. It is this title that he will be defending against fellow veteran Ronald "Winky" Wright. Wright is one of the most revered (and avoided) of boxers, himself being a former Undisputed Jr. Middleweight Champion and a conqueror of Sugar Shane Mosley (twice), Ike Quartey, and Trinidad, who he easily retired for good.

Both men are atypical of the standard boxer. Hopkins is a quintessential "old school" fighter. Finely tuned and conditioned, even in his 40s, he holds a great ability to adapt to different styles in different situations and play psychological games with his opponents on both sides of the ring. He's also been known for his physicality and defensive skills--as well as a few dirty tactics. Wright is perhaps the best defensive fighter in boxing. His unusually long arms have given him the opportunity to construct a nigh-penetrable guarding style that has lead him to the sort of success that he has garnered today. On top of that, he has a very basic, yet very tight, offensive style consisting of jabs and well-timed combos. What minds he doesn't break down with words, he does so with his frustrating and discouragement-building skills (ask Trinidad).

While great examples of great boxing, the losses on their respective records, among other aspects, suggest that they are not untouchable Adonises of their sport. Hopkins has a habit of starting slow, normally in the first four rounds, something that has relatively cost him in his two fights with Jermain Taylor (despite controlling most of both bouts). Additionally, he has had some problems with faster-fisted fighters, such as De La Hoya (another example of a slow start) and Taylor. Speaking of the latter once more, his fight with Wright, a draw, showed that the Pensacola native's storied defense could be broken through. "Bad Intentions"'s powerful shots were able to get through and connect, a feat that became more common as the fight wore on. And as was seen in the second Mosley fight and against Sam Soliman (to a degree) Winky, too, has a bit of trouble with faster foes and will spend more time using defensive maneuvering than counterpunching or disrupting their flow of hits.

Though not essentially "perfect" fighters, one would be hard-pressed to find better individuals in the ring. Veteran experience, ring savvy, craftiness, confidence, hard-working, dedication, stubbornness, highly-skilled--these are few traits that describe both Bernard Hopkins and Ronald "Winky" Wright. Two defensively-minded, tactical stars that aren't afraid to get in the mix, this has been a bout that has been long-awaited, and long-dreaded. Because of their very technical style, many have wished see which man is the better, but the general consensus has been that it will be rather lacking in the action department. As likely as that could be, the two matches that showcased their respective flaws and capabilities, Taylor and Trinidad, demonstrated that they can create entertaining bouts.

So who will triumph in this Match of Masters? Hopkins will most likely be a little more active in the first four rounds than usual, trying to bully around the lesser powered Wright. The challenger, on the other hand, will rely on his superior hand speed and defensive prowess to negate his efforts. The champion has been slowing down ever so slightly and has not fought in over a year (Winky in over six months), but if he finds himself comfortable with Wright's lack of power, it may boost his attempts at mauling him as the fight wears on. Conversely, Winky can take a good deal of punishment and give some right back, as seen against Taylor. And conditioned and able as Hopkins is, Wright too can hang on to the very end. The level of action, however much, should remain constant. If Hopkins is slow on the uptake once again and Wright presses the action, moving around and keeping distant, peppering off shots along the way, he could be looking at another high-mark to his 51-3-1 (KO 25) record, no matter how much "The Executioner" steps it up in the latter rounds. In order to secure a victory, Hopkins will have to stay active early and pressure close to him, switching stances and styles along the way and be effectively aggressive. I don't see either man getting knocked out, but a draw is very possible.

Prediction: Hopkins, Split Decision. As good as Winky is, he might not be able to pull off the same bag of tricks on a fellow veteran like Hopkins--and vise-versa. The deciding factor may come down to who has the bigger bag, the better endurance, and the better concentration. Hopkins is the more versatile of the two, and Winky might become distracted by his tactics, which he dislikes so much, and focus more on complain about it. Though the champion is the bigger of the two, both have about equal endurance, so size will not be too much of an issue (as seen in Taylor-Wright). Overall, Hopkins should be able to out-master Wright in a difficult, yet pleasing, bout.

...Just don't underestimate Winky.

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