THIS coming Saturday (November 8) sees one of the year’s most intriguing fights as wily veteran Bernard Hopkins tackles devastating puncher Sergei Kovalev in a light-heavyweight unification battle. The Atlantic City 12-rounder has divided opinion, with some feeling Hopkins can fiddle his much younger opponent out of it while others are convinced Kovalev will blow the old-school Philly man away.
Whatever happens, it’s a worthy addition to some to the showdowns that have taken place in the 175lbs weight class, which has often been considered something of a boxing backwater – a class for those too big for middleweight and those too small for heavyweight.
Way back in 1932 the fighter most recognised as world light-heavyweight king, “Slapsie” Maxie Rosenbloom, defeated NBA champion Lou Scozza to clear up any doubt as to who was the planet’s best at 175. Rosenbloom, whose nickname came from his tendency to slap, had beaten Scozza three months earlier and would beat him two months later as well; these were the days when world class boxers stayed busy.
A few decades later Bob Foster was a ferocious-punching sheriff from Albuquerque who flattened Dick Tiger to become world king at 175lbs in 1968. Bob was so dominant in his own division that he tried to wrest the heavyweight crown from Joe Frazier – and got walloped in two rounds. That prevented Foster meeting the deadline to defend against the WBA’s top challenger Vicente Rondon, so that body stripped Bob and Rondon duly won their vacant belt.
He retained four times but Foster wanted his “undisputed” status back and a showdown was arranged for April 1972. The result? Foster wiped out a terrified Rondon in two rounds.
When Foster retired in 1974 the title was split between the WBC and WBA, the only two bodies going at that time. It wasn’t until 1983 that we had another unification battle, with WBC champ Dwight Muhammad Qawi meeting WBA counterpart Michael Spinks. Like Hopkins-Kovalev, this was in Atlantic City and the awkward but skilful Spinks unanimously outscored the strong, aggressive but shorter Qawi (formerly Braxton).
There was also the light-heavy unification that got away. In late 1974, after Bob Foster’s retirement, John Conteh outpointed Jorge Ahumada for the WBC half of the title while Victor Galindez stopped Len Hutchins for the WBA version. Both proved fine champions, retaining their belts several times over the next couple of years to provoke speculation that they might meet to decide the world’s best at the weight.
It was a fascinating prospect: the stylish Conteh against the bull-like Galindez, who was a master of the rough stuff inside (although he could also box when he put his mind to it). Sadly, a broken hand kept Conteh out for a while and then promotional problems led him to pull out of a contracted defence, whereupon the WBC stripped him. John would never hold a world title again.
More on Hopkins-Kovalev HERE