Farewell To A Legend
By Paul Mason
This Saturday (17th December) sees the end point (for now at least!) of the extremely long, remarkable, and illustrious career of Bernard Hopkins (55-7-2, KO32).
Although there are no championships or rankings on the line, the chance to round off a stellar career, was just too good of an opportunity for the Philadelphian to turn down, and he will bring the curtain down at the Inglewood Forum in California, some 28 years after his professional debut.
The debut in question was unbelievably a loss to Clifton Mitchell, also on debut by a four round majority decision in October of 1988. And all this after Hopkins was sentenced to 18 years in Graterford Prison for nine felonies. He discovered his passion for boxing whilst inside. After serving almost five years, Hopkins was released from prison in 1988 .It seemed at this point, almost impossible to think that he would go on to make over twenty defences of the middleweight crown, and also reign as a WBC Champion at Light Heavyweight.
Following that early loss, Hopkins then went on a 22 fight winning streak. This lead him into his first World Title fight, for the IBF Middleweight Title. The winning streak was ended by unanimous decision at the hands of a peak and at the time, untouchable Roy Jones Junior.
Five fights later, he again challenged for the same version of the title, this time against Segundo Mercado In Ecuador. Hopkins recovered from knockdowns in both the fifth and seventh rounds, and rallied late on, but this was only good enough to secure a majority draw by way of all three judges rendering different decisions. A rematch was always a natural conclusion and this happened four months later, back in the USA in Maryland. Hopkins left no doubt this time, winning with a seventh round knockout to capture a version of the world title.
Seven low key defences followed, until a strange incident in his August 1998 defence against Robert Allen. Hopkins suffered an injury after he was accidentally pushed through the ropes and out of the ring by referee Mills Lane, following a series of holding between the two fighters. The second meeting was arranged for February of 1999, and again Hopkins rendered the judges redundant with another seventh round knockout, with Allen down in the second and sixth rounds.
Three more defences were negotiated before Hopkins met Keith Holmes (WBC Champion) in a bid to unify the division. This also marked a fight in the first round of the 2001 unification tournament in the Middleweight division, in an attempt to create one undisputed champion. Hopkins dictated the fight and triumphed by a wide unanimous decision.
Next up, Hopkins took on the then undefeated, and pound for pound star, Felix Trinidad, with WBC,WBA and IBF titles all on the line. Hopkins caused controversy by throwing down Trinidad’s native Puerto Rican flag in press conferences in both New York and Puerto Rico. Hopkins then upset the betting favourite 18 days after 9/11 with a career defining performance, forcing the well behind on the cards Trinidad’s father to enter the ring and stop the fight in the 12th and final round. This made “The Executioner” the first undisputed Middleweight Champion since the great “Marvellous” Marvin Hagler in 1987. He was also named the Ring Magazines 2001 fighter of the year.
Four more defences were made, before a super fight was made with Oscar de la Hoya in September of 2004. De La Hoya had acquired the WBO version of the title after controversially outpointing Felix Sturm on the same night Hopkins had to come through Robert Allen for a third time (by unanimous decision). In another fight where Hopkins was considered the underdog, he flattened the golden boy with a wicked body shot to end matters in the ninth round to hold all four available belts in the division. This also gave him a career high $10 million purse.
After a routine defence against British based Guyanan Howard Eastman, Hopkins iron clad grip on the titles was over in the 21st defence. Jermain Taylor outpointed him by split decision in a close but subjective fight, ending his long reign as champion. An immediate rematch took place five months later but this time Taylor won 115-113 on all three judges’ cards.
Hopkins was now being written off by most, but turned back time at the age of 41, drubbing Antonio Tarver up at Light Heavyweight, and one year later he did the same to the highly skilled and slick Ronald “Winky” Wright. His renaissance was ended in his next fight however, as in another tight contest, Britain’s own Joe Calzaghe dealt him a split decision defeat.
Now 43, Hopkins again defied father time by dominating and seemingly winning every round against another highly rated fighter, this time Kelly Pavlik. Enrique Ornelas and a one sided points win against the shell of Roy Jones Junior in a rematch followed, before Hopkins attempted to cement his legacy by challenging Jean Pascal for the WBC Light Heavyweight title. Success would mean becoming the oldest world champion in history. But it wasn’t to be as he had to settle for a draw, rallying from being knocked down in rounds one and three.
A rematch was a natural, and at 46 years old, Hopkins unanimously outpointed the Canadian in his own home town to overtake George Foreman and make history.
This was short-lived however as a no contest with Chad Dawson followed (Hopkins was again injured after being wrestled to the canvas) and in the rematch he was on the wrong side of a majority decision.
He could have been forgiven for riding off into the sunset, and call it a day, but Hopkins then stunned the boxing world further by relieving Tavoris Cloud of his IBF Light Heavyweight title at the age of 48 and defended against Karo Murat. He was now being known as “The Alien” due to his age defying accomplishments.
In April 2014, aged 49, Hopkins added to his collection by outpointing Beibut Shumenov for the WBA version of the Light Heavyweight Title. This then led to a unification match with the much feared puncher Sergey Kovalev, looking to add the Russians WBO title to his collection. It wasn’t to be though as Kovalev knocked down Hopkins in the first, but was taken the distance by the remarkably wily 50 year old.
Rather than go out on a defeat, and with nothing to prove, Hopkins will come back from a 25 month layoff at the grand old age of 51 and take on Joe Smith Junior (22-1, KO18). Smith is no pushover either, having knocked out the respected Andrzej Fonfara in just one round in his last fight, but B hop would not have it any other way. I can only hope Hopkins, now back under his “Executioner” moniker, signs off in style , and in five years’ time (providing he stays retired!) he will surely be a first ballot hall of famer.
Thanks for the memories.