It’s Greatness, Bernard, Plain And Simple

20.09.04 - By Matthew Hurley: The biggest fight of the year turned out to be a tactical yawner. As the rounds progressed the only question was whether or not Oscar De La Hoya was going to make it to the final bell. It turned out a left hook to the liver was enough to end the “Golden Boy’s” quest for the middleweight championship. He was facing a fighter so perfectly honed by years of ring experience and constant training, the definition of a throwback fighter, that writers who picked his nemesis to win, this one included, must now simply doff their cap to the best middleweight of the last twenty years.

The only reason I eventually picked De La Hoya to beat Bernard Hopkins was I was fairly certain that the old man was slowing down and that the younger fighter, with the supposed faster hands and faster feet, would steal away with a decision victory. But “The Executioner” is an anomaly. He is, apparently, ageless. How this fighter continues to box at the ultimate level with such remarkable consistency is, quite frankly, beyond me.

Not only was he just as fast as Oscar, he was the better boxer. Once again his deceptiveness proved telling. Rounds passed and it seemed as if nothing was really happening. Yet, that’s Bernard’s modus operandi. He lulls you into a false sense of security. I’m not talking about his opponent, who is consistently eating methodical shots to the body and head, but to the viewer, who is leaning back in his chair waiting for that dramatic knockout blow. Rarely is Hopkins dramatic. That’s what makes him so dangerous. He’s technical. Quite frankly, he’s as brilliant a technician in the ring that we’ve seen in ages.

But he beat a blown up lightweight. Why should anyone be surprised at the outcome of this fight, or his other big fight – the beat down of Felix Trinidad? There’s only one reason – because he won, and won big. Bernard Hopkins hasn’t lost a fight in over a decade. People who know boxing, or think they know boxing (yours truly), have picked against him and we continue to wipe the egg off our face. This was the only time I personally picked against him and looking back, I can’t believe I did. No matter what Bernard decides to do from here on out he has risen to the level of the elite fighters that I hold dear to my heart – Hagler, Hearns, Leonard and Duran. The “Fabulous Four” now has a fifth, albeit an outsider, but Hopkins is just as good as any of them.

“What’s my secret?” he asked with a wink at the post fight press conference. “I ain’t telling.”

It’s greatness, Bernard. That’s all, plain and simple.

Bernard Hopkins victory over Oscar De La Hoya was a victory for professionalism. It was a blue collar guy proving his worth. And make no mistake, despite De La Hoya’s charm, charisma and good looks, he’s a fighter who deserves respect. He was just out of his league on this night. Some might say he was simply out of his weight class, and to an extent that’s true, but he was also beaten by a superior fighter. In that sense there should be no question. De La Hoya is a terrific fighter, a hall of famer. He’s a fighter who has fought just about every tough foe he possibly could have and held his own against every one of them. But Bernard Hopkins is just better.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would get stopped by a body shot,” Oscar said after the fight. “You’re stuck… You want to get up but you can’t. It was a perfect body shot.”

In the aftermath of super fight 2004 De La Hoya’s future is questionable. He really doesn’t have to fight anymore. Certainly not for money and not for his place in history. He will never be thought of as highly as those “Fabulous Four” simply because he never really had an emphatic victory in a major bout. Although there are plenty of fans who will say otherwise and the mere fact that it’s debatable speaks well for him. He will always have his critics, but even they have to begrudgingly nod their heads in appreciation of all the excitement he’s generated for the sport.

As for Bernard, he can finally do whatever he wants. At the post fight press conference he indicated that he will doggedly pursue his 20th defense of his beloved titles and then seek out a big money fight, perhaps at light heavyweight. That 20th defense will ultimately be a big letdown. It will probably come against a no-hoper, but Bernard will train for it with the zeal and commitment that has made him such a great champion. Whatever he does, there is finally an ease to Bernard Hopkins. He knows his career is winding down, but he also knows he’s proven his worth.

“You should know that even though the clock is all our enemy, there’s things you can do to yourself in how you take care of yourself, how you think, how you eat, how you sleep, that can prolong – not stop – but can prolong the aging process,” he said pointedly after the fight. “And that’s why four months from now, January 15th, you’re looking at a 40-year old undisputed middleweight champion of the world.”

Later, he was asked, “How do you do it Bernard?”

The champion smiled and shook his head. “I don’t know… I’m speechless… For once Bernard Hopkins is speechless…”

It’s greatness, Bernard. That’s all, plain and simple.

Article posted on 20.09.2004

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