The Great Hopkins: Still Disrespected, Unrecognized… and Motivated By Brian Gorman, Doghouse Boxing (Dec 17, 2010) Doghouse Boxing - Tweet
When does a fighter no longer have anything to prove to us?
By this time, in the twenty-third year of his illustrious, improbable Hall of Fame career, former middleweight and light heavyweight world champ Bernard Hopkins should be spared of this era’s “What have you done for me lately?” mentality from the media and public. While most fighters’ peak performances span but a few years if they are lucky, Hopkins has time and again reminded us of his extraordinary talent, discipline, focus, courage and mastery of the sport. But yet, for many who can only dream about achieving a fraction of his accomplishments, it’s still not enough.
May 1983: As an 18 year old Philadelphia street kid, Hopkins is charged with the first of a series of robberies, which will later lead him to serve about five years in the notoriously rough Graterford state prison. Jean Pascal was barely six months old.
Do we judge all athletes equally?
Their behavior and comments may lead us to question their judgment and class out of the ring, but in terms of historic achievement, those failings are irrelevant. Hopkins has etched his place in history not just once but many times including an historic middleweight championship run, a light heavyweight championship victory at 41 and the number of Hall of Famers and champions he has on his resume but the media only grudgingly offers him intermittent praise in order to fawn over lesser boxers like Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad, both of whom Hopkins crushed in the ring.
October 11, 1988: In the same year as his release from Graterford, where he discovered his love for boxing, Hopkins debuts with a loss against Clinton Mitchell, who will only fight four more times. Pascal isn’t quite yet six.
Are people simply who we say they are?
Hopkins often creates the animus that follows him with his abrasive personality and misguided comments, such as telling Joe Calzaghe that he’d “never let a white boy beat me” (as if feelings like that are supposed to surprise us white people) and using nationalism against Puerto Rican Trinidad. (Can’t that be considered funny more than anything?) While those shortcomings deserve mention, he also receives very little accolade for a complete turnaround, transforming from young criminal to a clean living, crime-free life of a man who defeated long odds that most don’t regardless of whether he ever won a championship. Say what you will about Hopkins, in many ways he’s what’s great about boxing.
September 29, 2001: Despite 14 defenses of his IBF middleweight title over 6 years, Hopkins finds himself the decided underdog against the beloved undefeated Trinidad. Nevertheless, he dominates “Tito” and finishes him with a right cross in the final round, becoming the undisputed champion. The 18 year old Pascal has just joined the Canadian national boxing team.
What happens when the chosen ones always lose to the same man?
We tend to place our focus on the losers if not make excuses for them, calling them too small or questioning their personal lives or conditioning. De La Hoya, Trinidad, Kelly Pavlik, Antonio Tarver and Winky Wright and Glen Johnson all shared one thing in common: They stood across the ring from a better fighter those nights, one who should go down as an all-time great, regardless of weight.
June 10, 2006: After going 16 years with only one loss, highlighted by 20 straight middleweight title defenses (second only to Joe Louis) but followed in 2005 by two controversial decision losses to Jermain Taylor, Hopkins moves up to light heavyweight at age 41 and thoroughly outclasses heavily-favored champ Tarver, who had been at his best in wins over Glen Johnson and Roy Jones, Jr. Two weeks later Pascal beats journeyman Darnell Boone to move to 13-0.
Why do we concentrate more on athletes’ failures than their successes?
Hopkins was ridiculed for his performance this April, even though he comfortably outpointed a shot Roy Jones, Jr. Prominent voices in boxing also chastised him for not taking a bout with former champ Chad Dawson earlier in the year and essentially cherry-picking for a challenge to Pascal this Saturday night, as if he hasn’t earned that right at this stage of his career and life. In boxing, perhaps more than any other sport, one fight or a handful of fights is the fighter’s career. Boxers become legends based upon those few extraordinary moments that we remember for decades, and Hopkins amassed those types of moments many times over.
October 8, 2008: Hopkins once again defies the odds at least those set by the so-called experts and delivers a boxing education to undefeated middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik, temporarily earning him his due credit. Two months later, Pascal will lose an excellent scrap to England’s hard-nosed Carl Froch for the WBC super middleweight crown.
Is it that we never learn about people or that we know we don’t need to?
Where the half-life of analysis and commentary lasts maybe a week, we bear no accountability for our brazen, offhand remarks about the stars of the sport (and hint: that doesn’t mean us). Therefore, feel free to denigrate or ignore Hopkins’ greatness because of disdain for him or preference for others and you’ll be none the lesser when he proves you wrong again. But also realize that you’re actually helping him by fueling that fire that still burns in him.
December 18, 2010: Less than one month from his 46th birthday, Hopkins challenges Quebec’s Pascal in the new light heavyweight world champ’s hometown. A knockout is almost out of the question: Hopkins hasn’t stopped anyone since dropping De La Hoya six years ago, and nobody south of 200 pounds will penetrate his masterful defense and floor Hopkins.
With an economical approach designed to take away his opponent’s strengths, Hopkins should have a difficult time getting a decision over the awkward but fast and athletic Pascal in his town. It just might require the type of transcendent, historic performance that we haven’t seen before.