Time Ticks For Bernard Hopkins

03.06.04 - By Matthew Hurley: Undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins likes to think of himself as “old school.” A fighter who had to suffer as he rose to the top of his profession. Leaping over hurdles, dodging pick pocket promoters, talking back to the media, raising a child and keeping his marriage stable and… and then stepping into the ring and fending off would be challengers for his crown. The fighting was the easy part. It was everything else that drove this self-proclaimed “angry young man” to distraction. Yet somehow, with his indomitable fighting spirit Hopkins managed to unify the middleweight title, string together a very impressive run as champion and find himself at or near the top of most boxing scribe’s pound for pound ratings.

When everyone is gunning for you that’s all pretty impressive indeed. Just ask his potential opponent Oscar De La Hoya. It must be both thrilling and a bit disconcerting to have seasoned professional fighters dreaming about knocking you out and standing over you screaming in the exaltation of the moment that they knocked out the “man.”

Think what you will about Bernard and Oscar but at this moment their potential fight is the only fight that really matters. And by that I mean in terms of mainstream appeal. No other fight will capture the general public’s attention more than this one. Even with Felix Trinidad coming back, this is the big one. This is the moment Bernard Hopkins has been waiting for. This is his chance to truly shine on center stage. This is a fight that could call into question everything he’s accomplished if he loses. Bernard is aware of that. As is De La Hoya. In fact De La Hoya is counting on that psychological edge. He’s also counting on age and the wear and tear of a brilliant forty-seven fight career to finally catch up to the seemingly ageless warrior.

Though Hopkins envisions himself a present day version of Marvin Hagler he hasn’t fought to the level of Hagler’s opposition. That’s no knock on Bernard it’s just a fact. Even when he squares of against De La Hoya it won’t rise to the ethereal heights of Hagler’s mega-fight with Sugar Ray Leonard. Bernard has beaten every challenger back but other than Felix Trinidad his opponents have not taken the level of his game, and his earning potential, to new heights. Hopkins will sell the fight against De La Hoya with his mouth, there aren’t too many better at sound bites than Bernard, but something seems a little off in this potential super fight. There are many who feel that Oscar has no chance at all against the middleweight champ. In fact there are many, yours truly included, who don’t think Oscar can beat fellow one hundred and fifty-four pound Winky Wright. And in spite of his title loss to Wright I don’t think Oscar will ever figure out how to decisively beat Sugar Shane Mosley. So now Oscar moves up to fight Hopkins, a guy who hasn’t lost in over a decade and who, at this particular moment, deserves to be called the best pound for pound fighter in the world!?! Maybe Oscar does see something, as he claims.

Bernard can only drink from the fountain of youth for so long before he gets water logged. No matter how technically superb he appeared to be in his fight against William Joppy, in which he administered a frightful beating to the former title holder, time waits for no man. It’s like gravity, it pulls you down and wears you out. Somehow Hopkins has fought back father time, in fact he’s knocked the old codger on his ass, but his run can’t go on forever.

Bernard Hopkins will either achieve his goal of twenty successful title defenses or he’ll lose to a massive underdog, as Larry Holmes did to Michael Spinks, or – in a more direct correlation – as Marvin Hagler did to Ray Leonard. Hagler, a proud but embittered man, never recovered from his loss to Leonard. Marvin can’t even stand being in the same room with Leonard and it still unnerves him when his disputed loss is brought up. His pride and anger at having to take a backseat to a media darling and a cash cow in Leonard, the “Golden Boy” of his generation still eats at him.

Here we are, nearly seventeen years after that fight and the similarities are striking. De La Hoya grins and looks handsome while Hopkins sits and stews and spouts venom. Even Hopkins’ greatest victory, over Felix Trinidad, is reminiscent of Hagler’s greatest victory, over Tommy Hearns. Hell, Hearns and Trinidad are so similar in build and their respective live or die approach to their profession that one might think it eerie.

Bernard Hopkins will be in his forties by the time he fights De La Hoya, an ancient amount of years for nearly any fighter. He’s proven his greatness over those long years but at some point those years are going to pull his body back. His reactions are going to slow, just a tad, but enough for someone to take advantage of the slippage. It might not be Oscar but it will happen – either in the gym, where he can hang his head and decide to hang up the gloves, or in the ring when his once awesome skills fail him and he finds himself hanging his head and wondering why, when that opening presented itself, he couldn’t pull the trigger.

Article posted on 03.06.2004

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