Game Of Thrones: Boxing Edition, Volume One - Bernard Hopkins Is An Alien


There are two types of thrones in boxing: the one for titles and the one for money. Usually, to sit on one throne means to sit on the other, but not always. If you don't understand this essential dichotomy of the sport it can easily appear a messy and haphazard arrangement of match ups and business decisions—hell, even if you understand the game it can still feel like that.

Take the Adonis “Superman” Stevenson situation for example. A year ago no one but the boxing hardcore could pick this guy out of a line up. Then, in 30 seconds he changed that with a left hand from hell.

Four fights and four knockouts later, Stevenson is the star of the light heavyweight division and in the running for fighter of the year for 2013. Because Stevenson fought on HBO there were two big names that the network, matchmakers, and fans were all eyeing with eagerness: Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward.  Kovalev, a light heavyweight knockout artist from Russia, had a spectacular 2013 as well, and because of his much vaunted punching power seemed like a perfect foil for Stevenson. Ward, a pound-for-pound elite fighting one weight class below Stevenson, had on multiple occasions told the press that he intended to move up a division. These weren’t matchups for tomorrow, but especially with Kovalev, they were matchups tentatively scheduled for 2014 (if only in the hearts of fight fans).

Then, after signing with Al Haymon, Stevenson mysteriously and expeditiously broke away from HBO and signed to fight on rival network, Showtime. What the hell happened?

By knocking out Chad Dawson back in 2012, and knocking out all challengers since, Stevenson had won and held onto the lineal light heavyweight championship. By that I mean, Stevenson held not just the official WBC title, his claim to the throne can be traced back to the first champion of that division. In other words, he’s the guy who beat the man, who beat the man, who beat Jack Root—the first light heavyweight champion of the world. Stevenson clearly sat on the throne of titles.

He did not, however, sit firmly on the throne of money. In the light heavyweight division, the cash cow is Bernard Hopkins. That’s largely why even after other men won titles in the division, they called out the aged fighter. The problem is that the old man refused to fight like he was old. Even in victory (see Dawson v. Hopkins 1 & 2), the men to defeat Hopkins never looked good doing it. Add to that Hopkins’ ability to rebound with a flashy win (either in style or just because of his age) and he was right back on the money throne for the division.

Now, nearly 50, with a ton of money in the bank and profit sharing from his partnership with Golden Boy Promotions, Hopkins isn’t as fixated on the money throne as others might be. What he craves is history, titles, legacy. For that reason he attempted to unify two of the light heavyweight titles on Saturday night, against the relative unknown Beibut Shumenov. But Shumenov’s title wasn't the end game or real prize--it was stepping stone to Hopkins' true desire: the lineal crown held by Stevenson and respected by history.

Stevenson, 36-years-old, recognizes he only got a short time to cash in on his late-achieved fame. So he upended two mid-level paydays against Kovalev and Ward for the biggest of his career (Showtime blew HBO’s offer out of the water for Stevenson’s upcoming fight against Andrzej Fonfara) and an opportunity to knock Hopkins off his throne. With Stevenson’s power, he has what is needed to take the throne, a flashy awe-inspiring victory against the ageless wonder.

Behind the scene on this intricate arrangement is boxing titan Al Haymon. In the past few months he’s signed Stevenson, Luis Collazo (who derailed Victor Ortiz’s comeback with a first round knockout), BJ Flores, Paulie Mallignaggi, and Amir Khan. Collazo, Khan, and Malignaggi are the latest pieces in the Game of Thrones for the welterweight division.

Everyone knows who sits atop the money throne for all boxing divisions. Floyd “Money” Mayweather. He’s also the lineal, Ring magazine, WBC, and WBA titleholder at welterweight, which makes his claim to the Throne of titles pretty solid (but not totally unchallenged). Clearly, all roads lead to Mayweather.

Al Haymon must recognize, however, that with three fights left on his Showtime contract, Mayweather is still in need of sellable opponents (if not credible ones). On May 3rd, the opponent will be hard-hitting Marcos Maidana, the Argentine who put Adrien Broner on the canvas twice and sullied his unbeaten record. An underdog to be sure, but also as credible and sellable as anyone in the welterweight division not named Manny Pacquiao.

And there it is. Manny Pacquiao. Anyone who’s even said the word “boxing” in the last half decade has probably heard of the super fight that never was between Mayweather and Pacquiao. From Pacquiao's side of the equation there is a roadmap for making that fight happen. Read here for that. But if that fight doesn’t get made, again, where does Mayweather turn to?

Haymon, part Tywin Lannister and part Varys, has a plan. Several actually. To keep the Thone of Money profitable and the Throne of titles exciting, he’s building threats to the thrones and arranging them in a way that at the end of the day still leaves open the possibility of a super fight.

With a victory over a former Mayweather opponent, Luis Collazo burst back onto the main stage of the boxing world. He also earned himself a shot against the man who was recently passed over for a fight with Mayweather, Amir Khan. Haymon has undoubtedly whispered in ear of both fighters: “win and maybe Mayweather is next.” A decisive victory for either would certainly help fans to believe that a shot at the thrones is viable.

But Haymon isn’t counting on just these players. The boxing game isn’t that linear. He also arranged for Shawn Porter and Pauli Malingaggi to grind their way toward the Maywaether sweepstakes as well. On Saturday, Porter brought a quick and brutal end to Malignaggi’s climb, with a piston-like jab and a set of overhand rights and left hooks that dropped Malignaggi twice and ended the fight in the fourth round.

Even if Porter gets hurt between now and Cinco de May Day, or the Khan-Collazo matchup proves to be dud, Haymon still has rising challenger, Keith Thurman, as an potential (outlier) opponent for Mayweather. Even if all these fighters look spectacular in their victories, Haymon still has plenty of time to negotiate a super fight with Pacquiao and his team. As you can see, for a matchmaker like Haymon, the business of boxing requires a crystal ball, a sharp mind like Bobby Fischer, and the flexibility of an acrobat.

What’s exactly next for Hopkins and Mayweather is unknown.  Hopkins must sit and wait to see if Stevenson can keep his crown and Mayweather has an appointment with destiny just a few weeks away that could unravel all of Haymon's careful planning. No matter what happens, what will remain a truism is that in boxing’s Game of Thrones, kings rise, fall and return. And at each of this steps you can be sure that power brokers in the shadows, like Haymon, will have heavy hand in deciding the tide of history.

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