IN the opening round of his battle with Russia’s Sergey KovalevBernard Hopkins – knowing full well he had just been clocked by a booming right hand – rose from a knockdown and looked at the canvas for evidence of what might have caused him to slip. Perhaps embarrassed, and suddenly nervous, the old master must have wondered how on earth he was going to fulfil his pre-fight promises of victory. And, forced into survival mode so early, he could not.

He landed the occasional right hand; that crafty shot he throws so well as he dips inside. But the spiteful waves kept crashing against his ageing body.

In round eight, the savvy Hopkins was caught by another right hand and he almost hit the floor. Briefly, he again indicated dodgy ground may have been responsible as he glanced down to the point of the canvas where his feet stumbled. But there was no time to manufacture duff excuses; Kovalev was on him, slashing to the body, jabbing with purpose and launching powerful bombs like Hopkins had never before experienced. The 49-year-old Philadelphian had no choice but to instead concentrate on survival.

It was testament to his incredible fitness, ring generalship, and terrific durability that he did.

And after succeeding to – just about – hear the final bell, he added a new layer to his legend.

“He fought a great technical fight,” admitted Hopkins afterwards. “He used his reach and he used his distance. That was the key to the fight. He definitely has his mechanics, and he has patience and every time he got hit with punches from me, he did the right thing and stepped back, and I had to reset.

“Kovalev is going to be around for a long time, for as long as he wants to. I’ve got respect for him, he wants to fight the best, and that’s what boxing should be about.”

This was the man who did not like the way Roy Jones Jnr fought when he beat him way back in 1993. This was the man who nastily argued against tighter losses to Jermain Taylor and Joe Calzaghe, before attempting to make a case for having beaten the then-superior Chad Dawson in 2012. Perhaps his tales of woe were as much for his own benefit as those around him; in order to continue, to sustain his own reinvention, perhaps he needed to believe he was unbeatable. As is often the case, the louder the public ego, the more delicate it really is.

Whatever the reason for his cries of foul play, a stench of bad sportsmanship surrounded all of Hopkins’ previous high-profile losses.

But not this time. After 12 increasingly gruelling rounds, Hopkins had no choice but to accept he had been thoroughly beaten. Whether Kovalev would have dominated a younger version of B-Hop will forever be unknown, but on Saturday night, the unbeaten Russian won by wide margins, and was unquestionably the better man. And Hopkins, in turn, became a better man because of it.

“Am I going to fight again? That’s like asking a woman after an hour of labour to have another kid,” he joked. “I was trying to turn things around, until the end. Even in the last round until the bell rang.

“I couldn’t overpower him. I felt like a middleweight in there against a cruiserweight. I simply couldn’t engage. Tonight Kovalev was the better man.”

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