Hopkins/De La Hoya: 20 Years From Graterford

16.09.04 - By Matt Hurley: During a lengthy press conference at the MGM Grand Arena middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins held up a picture of two inmates from Graterford Prison in Pennsylvania from some twenty years ago. The picture was of a nineteen year-old Hopkins and a lifer named Smoky Wilson. “This is me and my first trainer in Graterford, one of the roughest spots you can be,” he said in a measured tone. “It’s a picture of one of the people who made me a man and not a punk.” Hopkins hesitated, then turned the picture over and read what was written on the back. “You will be middleweight champion one day.”

All these years later Bernard Hopkins is indeed the middleweight champ and is on the cusp of the biggest and most important bout of his boxing career. Eighteen defenses down, a place in the hall of fame assured, but one opponent standing in front of him who could possibly tarnish all that he’s accomplished. One opponent who represents everything Hopkins resents and has had to flail away against from within the shadows of a long overlooked career.

The anger that has spewed vitriol from his mouth for years has been uncharacteristically restrained in the buildup for this pivotal fight, but it has seethed into a vicious and focused training camp and the words finally came pouring out at yesterday’s press conference.

Hopkin’s refers to the picture again. “I looked at the picture for seven or eight weeks,” he says. “There’s a magazine in his (Wilson’s) hand that can be seen clearly. Who happened to be on the cover? Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns.”

The champion paused and smiled. “Now it’s seventeen or eighteen years later and here I am being mentioned with one of the greats. Hagler. So I didn’t just start thinking about being a champion. I was thinking about it in prison in 1985.”

Suddenly the loquacious Bernard Hopkins that fight fans have become accustomed to reared back and the venom spewed forth. “Who’s the hungrier man?” he shouted. “Give me a rich fighter and hungry fighter if his talent is like mine and I’ll tell you what you got. Dead Man Walking! I done it the old Frankie (Sinatra) way. I was bred for this fight. Vindication is on Saturday night!”

His opponent, a fighter who entered boxing immaculately groomed for success, sat only a few feet away, stone faced. Oscar De La Hoya didn’t flinch but he also didn’t interject because he knows that this is Hopkins arena.

Hopkins verbal assault is now at a fever pitch. “I am not playing off De La Hoya cheap,” he says, “but this man got all the luxury. He’s been blessed. I never been given the opportunity to lose and come back. I’m one and done. It’s always been like that for Bernard Hopkins. There is a lot of stuff Oscar was privileged not to go through. That is my edge. That is the fire. I’m the hungriest fighter in the world.”

Oscar remains stoic. He’s been through this before. Fernando Vargas dogged him for years and pushed him at one of their press conferences and he fought back and then ultimately knocked his rival out. With Hopkins however, he yields, at least verbally, to his opponent. There’s no point in trying to compete. Few fighters can talk in such brutal yet eloquent metaphor as Hopkins.

But Hopkins understands his position in this fight. He knows, no matter what pundits and fans believe (and most believe he should win), that Oscar is a formidable foe. “Oscar is no chump. Let’s be clear on that. Oscar will fight to the end. He will not quit. Oscar De La Hoya is not a guy who is going to lay down because it’s Bernard Hopkins. But I’ll set a fierce pace. De La Hoya will be shocked. I’m going to make him fight every minute, every second, every hour and he better not take a deep breath or he’s going to get knocked out. He’s a lion, but a lion can’t hang with a shark.”

Hopkins again looked down at that picture as if to remind himself of how far he’s come. He’s finally made it and no “Golden Boy” is going to stand in his way. He’s worked too hard and been denied too long. This is his moment, the one he’s waited nearly twenty years for.

His opponent, the biggest name in boxing, continued to stare ahead unflinching.

Saturday night, words will mean nothing and two men from different ends of the social and boxing spectrum will engage in the biggest fight of the year.

Article posted on 16.09.2004

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