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Hopkins: Can He Cash the Ticket?
By Matthew Sanderson (June 30, 2004)  
Bernard Hopkins
Bernard Hopkins is often categorized as the classic blue collar fighter: a hard, gritty man, who has found success by honing his skills on the job. He’s proven himself one of the most complete, long-reigning champions in the game. That doesn’t come easy, especially if you've never had an amateur career. On the road to his $10m payday with Oscar De La Hoya, however, he has come close to losing every positive thing that has defined him as a fighter. Let's hope he gets it back, and soon.

The trouble won’t begin this September, when he faces the Golden Boy – whose recent form appeared more like the Marshmallow Man. It started back on another September – the 29th of 2001 – when Hopkins iced three-time champion Felix Trinidad to settle the argument for the undisputed middleweight title.

Hopkins boxed beautifully on the move. He ground down and knocked out his more celebrated foe in 12 one-sided rounds. It’s been hailed as one of the most complete performances by a world class fighter since Whitaker outclassed Chavez. Hopkins confirmed what many suspected after handling veterans such as John David Jackson and Keith Holmes. He was a perfect fighting machine, suddenly at the top of his game. But that’s when everything went wrong.

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Hopkins threw himself to the canvas after the big win, laying on his back, seemingly in relief. It was his first big win, against one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. He had wowed the Garden, but acted like he had just conquered the galaxy.

When he got back in the ring against unheralded Carl Daniels, he looked poor. He fought like a man who had nothing to prove, and struggled to stop a mediocre opponent. His desire and skills were nowhere to be seen. It was remarked that if a Trinidad rematch could be made, the Puerto Rican – so badly outclassed five months earlier – could possibly be installed as favourite.

Over a year later another problem came to the forefront. Hopkins had been hounding Roy Jones for years, eager to erase a1993 points defeat. When the offer finally came – $6m, the biggest payday of Hopkins’ career – he negotiated himself out of it. It was turned down on the grounds that Hopkins should pocket the higher purse.

Hopkins was no longer the throwback technician who would take on all-comers. After years of being an underpaid and even less appreciated champion, he started to expect better – too much, in fact. If he had fought and actually beaten Jones, he would have been in a much better position to call the shots. Don King pointed out that Hopkins had won the lottery ticket, but couldn't find a place to cash it.

Bernard would drive a hard bargain, and if it wasn't met he would back away. Hopkins should be commended for doing things his way. But, as a consequence, he would perform well below his own high standards. Business School had been grafted onto Old School, and his career floundered uneasily.

After negotiations for the major fights fell through, he was matched against hopeless Frenchman Morrade Hakkar. Hopkins again laboured to victory, earned very little money, and left many people scratching their heads when he kept his number two spot in most people’s pound-for-pound lists.

Hopkins subsequently called out a lot of big name fighters, like Antonio Tarver, Dariusz Michalczewski, as well as James Toney. But the money was smaller than he expected. It was reported that Don King would take a cut from Bernard's purse for the Toney fight – so nothing would become of it.

Hopkins looked much better against William Joppy nine months later. Although pushing 39, he looked at least seven years younger and gave the former champion an old school beating. It was a fine display of educated mauling, and reminded us why we like him so much. He brought all the moves along with him, and reminded us he can break down just about anyone.

Hopkins was tentative last time out against Robert Allen, in a dreadful affair, to set up the big De La Hoya payday. Bernard, who looked lethal beating the 'Fighting Marine' to a pulp four-and-a-half-years before, wasn't willing to risk anything. He fought as though he was trying to cash a lottery ticket, afraid that he'd get mugged along the way.

Can he cash the ticket this time around? Sure, Oscar looked shaky last time out, and can't crack an egg at 160 unless he treads on it.

But afterward, when he has raised his profile, and the paydays come rolling in, let's hope 'The Executioner' goes back to doing what he does best. Let's see him crack some world class heads, against guys that have a chance of beating him. Let's see him garner those few extra brownie points for that place in Canastota.

Winning the lottery is one thing. Investing for the future is another entirely.
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