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Five Reasons to Watch: Bernard Hopkins vs Sergey Kovalev

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Bernard Hopkins and Sergey Kovalev square off tonight on HBO. Why tune in? We'll help you out with some good reasons to watch the fights.

Rob Carr

Tonight's HBO World Championship Boxing main event between Bernard Hopkins and Sergey Kovalev likely won't be the best fight for the rest of 2014, but it may be the most intriguing on paper, even considering some good stuff coming up on the schedule to close out the year.

In one corner, a true living legend, a man who has gone from "Executioner" to "Alien," the most dominant middleweight in the world from 1995-2005, and probably the best light heavyweight in the sport from 2006-present. In the other corner, a Russian destroyer, likable and easy to root for, a hard-punching rising star.

Bernard Hopkins is not a Rocky Balboa story -- he's the genuine article. And Sergey Kovalev is no stupid Ivan Dragon cliché. Something has to give in this matchup. Here are five reasons to tune in tonight.

1. 49 and Holding

Bernard Hopkins will turn 50 in two months. 50. AARP age. I've mentioned that before, but it's incredible to think he's still an elite fighter and athlete. It would reason that eventually, time will catch up to him. But it hasn't yet. It seemed like it had in 2005, when he lost to Jermain Taylor. Then 2008, when he lost to Joe Calzaghe. Then 2012, when he lost to Chad Dawson. He was 40, 43, and 47. And he's come back exceptionally strong each time. He's the underdog on the books yet again, but that's nothing new. Does he have another magic night in him?

2. Kovalev might be the hardest puncher Hopkins has faced

Sergey Kovalev is a beast. At 25-0-1 (23 KO), he's demolished his last eight opponents on TV and made a huge impression. But the likes of Nathan Cleverly, Cornelius White, Gabriel Campillo, Blake Caparello, Ismayl Sillakh, and Cedric Agnew aren't exactly on Hopkins' level.

Hopkins excels in nullifying what opponents want to and ultimately can do. And it's arguable that his two most complete dominations ever came against another pair of big punchers, Kelly Pavlik and Felix Trinidad. Hopkins seems to relish the opportunity to feast on the fearsome. But that said, Kovalev is a true light heavyweight, a bigger and stronger man than Pavlik or Trinidad. Bernard has a marvelous chin and is hard to hit clean in the first place, but if Kovalev catches him, anything can happen.

3. Unification!

Hopkins is putting his WBA and IBF titles on the line against Kovalev's WBO belt, meaning that three of the four recognized light heavyweight world championships are up for grabs, leaving just Adonis Stevenson and the WBC belt. When Hopkins claimed last year he wanted to unify the belts, it seemed a near impossible task. Politically, it's just hard to even get two belts and hang on to them, let alone four. But the winner of this one will be just one title away, and Stevenson could be in the offing for the winner. I hate to give anyone false hope about something like this, but it seems legitimately possible, at least in the one division, at least in this instance. There could soon be one true and unanimous champion at 175 pounds.

4. Passing the torch?

Despite my reluctance to even suggest Hopkins might lose, and despite his superb physical conditioning, intelligence in the ring, and great dedication and craft, time is time. He's 49 years old. Kovalev is 31, in his prime, and there's no question about his conditioning or focus, either. He's got the skills to go with the power -- he's not someone that Hopkins should completely outclass in the tactical aspects of the fight to the point that it turns into a half-embarrassing mismatch, which Bernard has been able to do several times over previously.

If Kovalev can score an impressive win here, it may be the first true passing of the torch that Hopkins has done. We thought he did it in 2005 when Taylor beat him twice (both controversial), but that turned out to be a mere transition in B-Hop's career. If it does ever happen, it will be a significant moment in the sport. It will also take time to figure out if it's really for real.

5. Ali vs Abregu: Under the radar co-feature

Sadam Ali (20-0, 12 KO) is a 26-year-old welterweight prospect from Brooklyn who represented the United States at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. "World Kid" has bounced around a bit as a pro, working with Main Events, promoting himself some, and now with Golden Boy, he feels he can make the next steps. He's gotten his first major chance to do that with this fight, matched against Argentina's Luis Carlos Abregu (36-1, 29 KO).

This isn't a title fight and it's not a marquee attraction, but it's very interesting. Abregu, 30, is a tough cookie. In 2012, he dominated Thomas Dulorme on HBO, and in 2013, handily defeated Antonin Decarie on the Martinez-Murray undercard in Buenos Aires. His lone loss came in 2010, when he was beaten by Tim Bradley, and Abregu was fairly competitive in that fight, too.

This is a very big step up for Ali, who has yet to face any real competition as a pro, and after seeing him in August against Jeremy Bryan, I'm not so sure he's totally ready for this fight. Here's what I said then:

Ali certainly didn't look like a major blue chipper in this fight. Bryan (17-4, 7 KO) is a competent fighter and gave him a good scrap, using his jab very nicely as his main weapon, but if Ali is going to be a world-level contender, you'd expect him to have done more in this fight than he did. As much as I think he won, he did have some very exploitable issues, and better fighters might not be as forgiving.

Abregu is a better fighter than Bryan, but the style matchup may help Ali, too, and certainly he could have learned from the mistakes he made. It's also entirely possible that Ali sort of got ahead of himself with that last fight, which on paper was just another routine outing for him. That it became more and he still won isn't the worst thing in the world. But we'll have to see if it was an off-night or a harbinger.