Fighting

Heavy-hitting Sergey Kovalev poses serious challenge to Bernard Hopkins

It might be difficult to imagine, but Bernard Hopkins has accumulated nearly a decade worth of accomplishments in the light-heavyweight division. When Hopkins made the move to the 175-pound class after a dominant 10-year run as middleweight champion, few expected a similar span of success.

Yet Hopkins continues to defy skeptics and father time. The part-time Miami Beach resident, who turns 50 in January, will seek another performance for the ages in his latest light-heavyweight title fight Saturday night.

In possibly his stiffest challenge since his rise to light-heavyweight, Hopkins will face Russia’s Sergey Kovalev in a title unification bout at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

“This is one of the significant fights of the year, if not one of the fights of the year,” Hopkins said. “I just want to make sure that when there is a debate about Bernard Hopkins’ legacy that people will be up all hours of the night debating arguments amongst the world of the experts.”

While Hopkins’ middleweight reign is lauded for 20 successful defenses, his light-heavyweight stay features noteworthy wins over Antonio Tarver, Kelly Pavlik and Jean Pascal. Hopkins further enhanced his light-heavyweight status with a lopsided decision victory over Roy Jones Jr., who was far from the top fighter of the 1990s when he faced Hopkins four years ago.

And, as he did in the middleweights, Hopkins is amassing multiple sanctioning body belts, resembling again the closest contemporary boxing has to an undisputed champion along with heavyweight titleholder Wladimir Klitschko. Hopkins will defend his World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation belts against Kovalev, who will risk his World Boxing Organization title.

“There’s not one fighter I wouldn’t put my record up against,” Hopkins said. “In this era — in any weight class — I put the work in to have the track record to be taken seriously.”

Nonetheless, Hopkins (55-6-2, 32 KOs) acknowledges the obstacle Kovalev could pose to his legacy. Kovalev (25-0-1, 23 KOs) has built a reputation as one of the sport’s most prolific punchers.

“I have the same thoughts on Kovalev that most people here do,” Hopkins said. “He’s a dangerous puncher. We won’t take anything away from this guy because he’s real.”

Kovalev, a Fort Lauderdale resident, has knocked out his last nine opponents. The stoppages include his title-winning performance over Nathan Cleverly last August and three subsequent title defenses.

“I always have bullets in my arsenal,” Kovalev said of his punching power before a workout last week in Deerfield Beach. “My hands are my weapon. It’s my weapon in the ring. Hopkins thinks that I only have two bullets but I will bring more.”

In the closing weeks leading to Saturday’s bout, Kovalev, 31, also has dealt with another pressing issue. His wife, Natalya, gave birth to a son, the couple’s first child, two weeks ago in California. Kovalev remained in South Florida preparing for the fight.

“Now I have a conversation through Skype with my wife and my son,” Kovalev said. “After my fight I am going to go home and meet him personally. When I see him, I am going to hug him and spend time with my family.”

Grand match

Considered a possible opponent next year for Floyd Mayweather Jr., England’s Amir Khan will face two-division titleholder Devon Alexander on Dec. 13 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

A former junior-welterweight champion, Khan (29-3, 19 KOs) fought on the Mayweather-Marcos Maidana rematch undercard May 3 and won a unanimous decision against Luis Collazo.

Alexander (26-2, 14 KOs) also enjoyed a junior-welterweight reign before a successful move to the 147-pound class, where he won a sanctioning body belt against Miami’s Randall Bailey two years ago. After two successful defenses, Alexander lost his title against Shawn Porter last December.

On the same night, fomer champion Timothy Bradley will face Argentina’s Diego Chaves at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.

Coming up

Saturday (8:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network): Amir Mansour vs. Fred Kassi, 10, welterweights.

Saturday (10:45 p.m., HBO): Bernard Hopkins vs. Sergey Kovalev, 12, for the unified WBA, IBF and WBO light-heavyweight titles.

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