Hopkins or Jones Jr, Who will leave the Stronger Legacy?

Bernard HopkinsBy John Brady - It’s one of the most interesting debates in boxing. Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. Two old rivals, two COMPLETELY different styles who will both be inducted into the hall of fame the second they are each eligible. So who will go down as the better fighter?

On May 22, 1993 Roy Jones outpointed Bernard Hopkins by three unanimous scores of 116-112. On this night however, Roy was LIGHT YEARS ahead of Bernard when it came to the experience factor. On fight night Jones had already experienced over a hundred and twenty amateur fights, numerous golden glove tournaments, and fighting overseas. Not to mention he also experienced painful defeat in the famous 1988 Olympics where he was flat out robbed of a gold medal at age 19. Roy also had the benefit of quality sparring partners in his amateur days including the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard..

While Jones was honing his skills fighting in the Olympics and winning amateur tournaments nationwide throughout the eighties, Bernard Hopkins was spending the better part of the decade sitting in Graterford State Penitentiary. It was when Hopkins was sitting in jail that he decided to take up boxing. Not exactly the world class training, sparring partners, and opponents that his old friend Roy was receiving at the time.

After being released in 1988 Bernard immediately turned pro losing his debut to a man named Clinton Mitchell who would only fight a total of five times in his entire career. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to Hopkins because it made him realize that he was in with the big boys now. If he was going to step up in class to become a champion, and beat fighters with Roy Jones-like experience, he would have to have a do or die attitude. He wouldn’t get many chances and he knew it. That loss caused Hopkins to take a year and a half off from boxing to clear his head and make 100% sure that this was the route he would take. Upon returning, he would then go on to win twenty consecutive fights before meeting Jones that night in May for the IBF middleweight title.

In my opinion that fight was good for both men. It was a quality win for Jones against a good up and coming fighter who obviously didn’t possess his skills but was the best opponent he would have fought up until that point. It was also a quality loss for Hopkins because he was still a very green fighter, only five years removed from prison and going twelve quality rounds with the future pound for pound king had to be a great learning experience. The fight in 93 proved that Roy was the more experienced fighter AT THAT TIME. And we all know that Roy Jones and Bernard Hopkins have both done a WHOLE LOT more for their respective careers since they clashed in the early nineties. Unfortunately one thing they couldn’t do in the past 16 years was agree to a purse split for a rematch. That’s what happens when you’re dealing with two of the biggest egos in boxing. Although something tells me it absolutely would have happened the last time around had Jones beat Calzaghe in November, but that’s neither here nor there. It’s never going to happen and that’s that. So back to my original question, who goes down as the better fighter?

After beating Hopkins, Jones would then move up the weight classes with ease eventually becoming the first fighter in over 100 years to go from middleweight titleholder to heavyweight titleholder. Along the way he would record quality wins over James Toney who was one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world at that time, Virgil Hill who Jones was the first one to knockout (with a body shot I might add), and Montell Griffin who Jones suffered his first loss to by disqualification but set the record straight with a first round pummeling. Roy eventually climbed all the way up to heavyweight where he would meet WBA champion John Ruiz in March of 2003. Roy coasted his way to a unanimous decision victory and was now on top of the boxing world. He was the clear cut pound for pound king. But apparently Jones climbed too many weight classes. His options were running out. It was either stay at heavyweight and be forced to fight the likes of Lennox Lewis and/or Mike Tyson which most would view as suicide. Or option two; move back down to Light Heavyweight and face long time nemesis Antonio Tarver who Roy had already been accused of ducking in the past. Jones chose option two and watching him in the Ruiz fight compared to the first Tarver fight which was only eight months later, it looked like he had aged eight YEARS instead of months. Roy wound up squeaking out a decision in what turned out to be his last meaningful victory and this in my opinion is where he should have retired. Roy would then go on to suffer his first knockout in the rematch and his second KO to Glen Johnson. Tarver would dominate Jones in the third meeting, and then Roy would eventually get back on the winning track with journeymen and blown up, over the hill welterweights. He did have one meaningful fight in the midst of his “comeback” against Calzaghe where he reminded all of us how old he is. However during Roy’s prime which started right about when he fought Bernard and lasted up until the first Ruiz fight at Heavyweight, he was a very special fighter that does NOT come along very often. The problem was he fought strictly on his reflexes and his god given speed but once that started to wear down with age, he became human. His legacy however, will never be forgotten.

After the loss to Jones, Hopkins kept his head up high. He was like a sponge soaking up all the knowledge around him about the sweet science that he could. He was already a gym rat so the physical conditioning wasn’t a problem. He was now learning about shady promoters, fighting overseas, adapting to different styles etc. Bernard unlike Roy revolves his fighting style around strategy and planning which he’s one of the best at by the way. He was also never all that concerned with “providing entertainment” as Roy was. This, combined with his amazing work ethic has lead to him not taking much punishment throughout his career or even being in much trouble for that matter. This has resulted in Bernard’s fighting career aging like a fine wine. It got better with age. As a matter of fact the better part of Bernard’s career didn’t even begin until the Trinidad fight when he was 36 years old. When Roy was 36 he had already been KO’d twice and almost everyone was begging him to retire. Bernard defended his middleweight title a record twenty times before dropping a controversial decision to Jermain Taylor. Jermain then took care of business in the rematch as well in a close fight but much more convincing then the first. Bernard’s middleweight run was over. He had defeated the likes of Glen Johnson, Oscar DeLaHoya, and Felix Trinidad along the way. He was 40, he made a ton of money, put his name in the record books, and now he was facing two consecutive defeats. Most fighters would have called it a career. Hopkins was just getting started. After the Taylor fights, he immediately moved up two weight classes to take on the best Light Heavyweight in the world, former Roy Jones conqueror Antonio Tarver. Hopkins would dominate Tarver to take the Light Heavyweight crown. Bernard would then take on a man in Winky Wright who had an impossible style to figure out and was one of the most avoided fighters in the business. Hopkins would again win unanimously. Then came another controversial loss for Hopkins at the hands of Joe Calzaghe. I think Bernard ruined any chances he would have had for a rematch by telling Joe before the fight that he would “never lose to a white boy”.

Hopkins begged for a Calzaghe rematch after Joe disposed of Roy Jones but never got one. So what does he do? Well, what does Hopkins always do after a loss, he shakes it off goes out and redeems himself by shocking the boxing world again. After the Calzaghe loss, Hopkins would take on undefeated middleweight knockout artist Kelly Pavlik. With the whole world writing him off, Bernard would go out and give Kelly a 12 round clinic while making 43 look like 23. This would be his last fight to date and he is now talking about taking on the winner of the Dawson-Johnson rematch on November 7th. I can only imagine what a victory over the winner of that fight will do for his legacy.

Both fighters are phenomenal in their own way. Roy was a physical freak, while Bernard was and still is a mental freak. (And I mean that in a good way.) Roy Jones’ legacy is intact and is not going anywhere but he stopped adding to that legacy after the first Tarver fight. Roy is fighting the likes of Prince Badi Ajamu, Anthony Hanshaw, Omar Sheika, and Jeff Lacy while Bernard is still fighting world class opposition like Tarver, Winky Wright, Joe Calzaghe, and Kelly Pavlik. Granted Roy Jones fought Joe Calzaghe too, but I think we all saw the difference there.

Look, Roy wants to keep fighting and that’s fine. I’m not one to tell somebody how to earn a living but the bottom line is this; the Roy Jones that we’re seeing today is NOT the Roy Jones that we came to know and love, and the Bernard Hopkins that we saw on May 22nd 1993 is NOT the Bernard Hopkins that we came to know and love. Did they both fight at one point? Yes. Were they both at the top of their games when they did? Absolutely not. Both of these men are two special fighters that we all had the privilege of witnessing throughout their careers and still are to an extent. Few questions though, Roy 100% in his prime versus Bernard 100% in his prime, who wins? And also who goes down as the better fighter? Who leaves us with the stronger legacy? The debate lives on.

Article posted on 12.08.2009

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