Bernard Hopkins: The Living Legend
21.10.08 - By Anthony Coleman - What more can be said about the man? Every time you want to count him out, every time we say he is too old, every time we say that his best days were done or can’t beat this young stallion; Bernard Hopkins pulls something like this off. He did it seven years ago when he was the heavy underdog going into his unification fight with Felix Trinidad. He was supposed to get blown out because he wasn’t that good to stop a hurricane like Tito. Yet B-Hop turned in one of the greatest Boxing performances of all time when he dismantled Tito in 11 1/3 lopsided rounds.
Article posted on 21.10.2008
On Saturday night, everybody knew that Hopkins was once a boxing GOD, but we thought those days were in the rearview and he was a huge underdog going into his showdown with Kelly Pavlik. Some of us thought that he was actually going to be knocked out. Yet on October 18th 2008, for one night Bernard Hopkins reclaimed his body from September 29th, 2001 to recreate another masterpiece and proved once again to all of the naysayers that he is a legend..
Quite simply his performance was near flawless. Gliding around the ring at will, using feints, shoulder rolls, counters, lead right hands, body work and his greatest sustained bursts of offense since that aforementioned miraculous night in Madison Square Garden. At 43 years of age he made the much younger Kelly Pavlik look downright amateurish. Repeatedly he would lure Pavlik in, made him believe that he had an open shot at him, skate out of the way and made him eat a hard counter shot. So dominant and onesided was his performance, nearly all who watched the fight wondered if Hopkins would actually score a knockout out. It was once again Hopkins at his very best, and as he has shown time and time again, when he is at his very best he is so dominant on both offense and defense that it is nearly impossible for him to be defeated. Yet what was most astonishing and awe inspiring wasn’t just the performance in the ring, but his immediate action after the bell was rung.
Even before the official scorecards were announced, HBO cameras zoomed in at Bernard Hopkins as he stared menacingly at press row and everybody who was inside Ceasar’s and watching at home knew exactly what was happening. That was to show all of his detractors in the media, all of those who said that he was too old to still be great; it was him telling them that he is still that damn good. Shit, with the camera looking straight at his face and into his eyes he might as well been looking at all of the boxing fans who doubted him. Yet at the moment I was shocked knowing that despite being recognized as for his accomplishments and now a millionaire the main factors that drove him on his annihilation of Trinidad was still there as he left Pavlik defeated: it was that resentment he had towards those who said that he wasn’t good enough and the people he thought was holding him back.
Those who remember the now legendary build up to the unification match with Trinidad will remember Hopkins downright distasteful antics. In the press conference in Puerto Rico, Hopkins literally stood around surrounded by thousands of Tito’s biggest supporters and stomped on the Puerto Rican flag. He royally pissed off Trinidad and nearly incited a riot in the building. He followed that up by telling every Puerto Rican who confidently boasted that Tito would whoop his ass to “bet your green card.” There was a big stink about his offensive comments he made about Joe Calzaghe before their fight (“he’ll never lose to a white boy”), but his very xenophobic and jingoistic response to a group of Spanish speaking people who are in fact US citizens were every bit as disgusting. Yet it was done for two reasons: promotion for the fight, and because he was honestly bitter about the fact that he was not getting the credit he deserved (still inexcusable if you ask me).
Most of the sports media focused on Felix Trinidad, who was considered by many to be the best fighter in the world pound for pound before their fight. The narrative was how the win would be his third unification title victory in as many years and another head on his mantle as he continued his march to all-time greatness. Meanwhile the narrative to Hopkins’ story was a complete afterthought.
Very little of the pre-fight attention was focused on the fact that Hopkins had gone undefeated for a decade. There was very little talk about how had already unified two thirds of the division with his victory over Keith Holmes (though that maybe due to the fact that their fight was a horrible foul-filled wrestling match). Most frustrating for Hopkins was the fact that nobody seemed to care or realize that if he won the fight not only would he be the first undisputed Middleweight champion, but he would also break his tie with Carlos Monzon and become the sole record holder for Middleweight title defenses. But instead of having equal billing with Tito, he was not only looked upon as the B-side but the vast majority of observers picked the Puerto Rican legend to stop him. Of course the opposite took place and Hopkins felt that this win should have been sweet vindication. But he still felt that he was being slighted and denied his fair financial wages. For a while it seemed as if he was sabotaging his own career with his erratic business decisions. Truth be told, no other fighter has been so motivated by his rage and resentment towards Boxing’s hierarchy that Hopkins. The last person you would have to reference to match that kind of venom is the Executioner’s idol: Marvin Hagler.
Like Hagler, his career was hampered by politics and his unwillingness to play by the establishment’s rules. Even more depressing was the fact that even after they became champions they still found paydays and respect to elude them. Yet just like Hagler, they both found their pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and were able to become millionaires. But the main difference between the two men was Hopkins’ resiliency.
Hagler left the sport after his razor close loss to Ray Leonard and his inability to gain a rematch. Meanwhile Hopkins was able to bounce back from his close losses to Jermain Taylor and add more big wins over Tarver, Wright and now Pavlik. Those wins are now a big part of his legacy and when he retires they will be mentioned in reference to his everlasting greatness.
But now hopefully after this victory and all of his previous accomplishments he finally realizes that he is recognized as a true living legend. Not just one of the best fighters of this generation, but one of the best fighters who have ever lived. Mark my words if you would have put “The Executioner” back at any point in the history of the sport he could have been a champion and probably defeated many of the all time greats at Middleweight. There have been very few fighters who have combined his boxing IQ with complete mastery of offense and defense. What he has done at this late in his career (and I include the Trinidad fight as late in his career), is truly awe-inspiring and though he may rub people the wrong way (and that includes me), we all know that it will be a long time when we see other fighters on the same plane of excellence that he has achieved over the last fifteen years.
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