Bernard Hopkins: Boxing’s Most Overrated Champion

03.03.05 - By Tyrus Linston: Well, here we go again. The subject is Bernard Hopkins and it seems as though everyone has a riveting opinion of the man and his boxing career. Even boxing’s most prolific writers have chimed in their two cents on this raging debate. I don’t consider myself to be one of them, but I’m compelled to join in on the festivities anyway. When it comes to Bernard Hopkins there is no middle ground. No straddling of the proverbial fence. You’re either for him or against him. I, as most frequent visitors of this great site already know, have a dissenting opinion of the man and his supposed “hall of fame” career. It is my firm belief that Bernard Hopkins has been the beneficiary of shrewd matchmaking.

As a direct result of this, an unsuspecting victim dwells among us. The million-dollar question, and you get all of the marbles if you can answer it, is just who is this victim to which the author is referring? Is it Bernard Hopkins, a good champion who would swear on the bible that he is great or is it the sport of boxing and it’s pundits who have been forced to endure this circus for the last ten years.

Bernard Hopkins has defended the IBF Middleweight Title a record twenty times, but has defeated only two world-class fighters with recognizable, household names. He has only fought three, including the great Roy Jones, the last man to win a title at one hundred sixty pounds and one at heavyweight. Sure the middleweight division, outside of Felix Trinidad and Oscar Delahoya (two welterweights that moved up in weight to face the champion), has been lacking for talent since the turn of the decade, but that was far from the case during the early mid to late nineties.

At that particular time the middleweight division flourished and it’s only rival, in terms of talent and potential, was the dynamic welterweight division. The big names in the middleweight and super middleweight divisions at that time were Julian Jackson, Gerald McClellan, Roy Jones, James Toney, Michael Nunn, Nigel Benn, Mike McCallum, Chris Eubank, Steve Collins, Lamar Parks and a couple of others that I failed to mention.

My point: During this specific time period not only was there ample talent in the one hundred sixty pound weight class, there was a surplus of it. You know, kinda like the surplus that Bill Clinton left George W. Bush when he exited the White House, but that is another story all together. Regardless of whether Hopkins blames Don King, Bob Arum, the politics of boxing or whatever or whomever, the potential bouts with the elite fighters of the one hundred sixty and one hundred sixty-eight pound weight divisions didn’t happen because the IBF champion, Bernard Hopkins, didn’t want them to. Cut and dry.

During this same time frame (mid 1990’s) Don King put on a huge middleweight tournament. During the conception of this tourney, which was in NYC, if my memory serves me correctly, every junior-middleweight, middleweight and super-middleweight boxer that was in Don King’s deep stable of fighters or on pace to be, was present. Outside of Roy Jones and maybe Chris Eubank, every big name in each of these three divisions was there. Everyone except Bernard Hopkins. He had just won the IBF Middleweight Title after beating Segundo Mercado of Ecuador in a rematch of their first fight, which took place four months earlier. This was the same title held by Roy Jones before he vacated it to move up to super-middleweight (168lbs).

Sure, Hopkins says that he couldn’t accept the terms of the deal offered to him by King, but it was pretty much the same deal offered to all of the other fighters. If everything went as planned, the eventual winner of the tourney would have at least two world title belts, some recognizable names on his ledger and more bargaining power when sitting down at the table with King. The real threat to Hopkins’ title was not Don king, but the aforementioned names of the fighters in this article. And this is the primary reason he didn’t enter that tournament.

In 2001, Hopkins finally came around. His inability to generate purse money commensurate with the championship level of the sport, outside of the heavyweight division, of course, brought boxing’s prodigal son to the table. I can imagine that he got tired of making peanuts for fighting all of the mandatory nobodies that were put in front of him in contrast to the Trinidads and Delahoyas of the world. In truth you can’t fight bum after bum after bum and expect to earn sizable purses. Unless, of course, your name is Mike Tyson, and as he put it, he could “sell out Madison Square Garden masturbating.” Now that’s a man who, if nothing else, knows the value of his name.

Very few fighters have that sort of drawing power. Today there are only three fighters in the world that possess “sure-fire” drawing power. Those three are Tyson, Trinidad and Delahoya. Every time one of these three fights, especially if it’s against someone with half of a recognizable name, it’s going to cost you fifty bucks a pop. Bernard Hopkins doesn’t have that kind of drawing power, especially not with the no-action, none of the time style he employs in the ring. I’ll give him points for one thing, he was smart enough to fight two of the biggest money-makers in the sport (Tito and Oscar). By doing this he ensured himself, if no one else, that he wouldn’t leave the ring empty-handed.

A couple of weeks ago on the site, another writer posed the question, “Does Bernard Hopkins have anything left to prove?” And the answer to that question is an overwhelming . Twenty title defenses and only two wins over credible, world-class opposition. This is unacceptable. Sure you can throw the “I ran out of opponents” excuse out there, but in the words of boxing’s second best promoter, Bob Arum, “There is no such thing as not having an opponent.” If you run out of credible opponents in your respective weight class, seek out others in the weight classes just below and just above yours. If the money is right, believe me, they will “play ball.”

Hopkins doesn’t have a problem with the first part of this philosophy, not at all, but he does have a difference of opinion concerning the latter. As Steve Kim of put it, “ Bernard definitely prefers the little guys.” In sixteen years as a professional fighter he has never moved up in weight to challenge a bigger, naturally stronger man. This is an un-negotiable requirement for any man who refers to himself as the world’s best pound for pound fighter. Hopkins has asked this question of smaller men, but refuses to answer it when it is posed to him by someone larger than himself. Can you say BULLY?

This is the best word that I can find to describe Bernard Hopkins as a fighter. You can’t just say you’re the best, you’ve got to prove it baby. Beyond the shadow of a doubt and against the best available competition. When Hopkins does this, he’ll be given the credit that he feels he deserves. When Felix Trinidad left the welterweight division after defeating Oscar Delahoya in his final bout at the weight, he moved up a weight class and fought David Reid. In his very next fight, mind you. No tune-ups.

Many feel that Reid lost because of his lack of experience and that may be true to a point, but they must’ve forgot that twenty-eight out of thirty writers picked Reid to beat Trinidad. Reid, while he lacked extensive big fight experience, was a very talented boxer. He had speed and power, and he probably would’ve beaten anyone in the division outside of Trinidad. Against Trinidad he did have his moments, knocking Tito down in the third round of an action-packed bout. Tito also fought and defeated Fernando Vargas, another champion at the 154lbs weight limit and Mamadou Thiam, a hard-hitting contender from Paris, France. These guys were the best fighters at one hundred fifty-four pounds and after Trinidad defeated them convincingly, he moved up to one hundred sixty pounds to take on the best at that weight. When you do this you can call yourself the best fighter, pound for pound, in the world. And until Hopkins moves up and challenges a bigger man, he will not be able to call himself the best (p-f-p).

Before I get out of here I have got to get this off of my chest: Until Hopkins rematches and defeats Trinidad, he can’t even call himself the best fighter in the middleweight division. He beat Tito in his (Tito) second fight at the weight (160lbs) and he had to fight a perfect fight to do it. Trinidad took Hopkins’ best shots for twelve long rounds and even when he went down from a counter straight right by Hopkins in the final stanza, he got up at the count of eight. His father then stepped in and stopped the carnage. Trinidad, even though he had been soundly beaten, pleaded with his father to let him go on, but to no avail.

The 2005 version of Trinidad is in the prime of his prime. He is now a full-fledged middleweight and has tweaked his style a bit, adding a little bit more movement and savvy in terms of boxing ability. He has devastating power in both hands and can hurt an opponent with any punch he throws. He’ll be sharper and more focused for the rematch than for the first fight. This time around I predict that Hopkins will be in for the fight of his life. Once Tito takes care of Winky Wright, the only other meaningful bout out there for him will be Hopkins.

If Hopkins refuses Trinidad’s request for a rematch, he will have to vacate his titles or he’ll be stripped of them as Tito will be made the number one contender across the board. Trinidad is a great fighter and the epitome of what a champion should be. He deserves his shot at redemption, as the loss to Hopkins is the only one of his illustrious career. What Bernard does in this, his final year as a professional fighter, will determine whether his name will be mentioned alongside the middleweight trinity (Robinson, Monzon and Hagler).

In my opinion, Hopkins has to make up for what he didn’t do during the nineties. He has to make this right. He is in the privileged position to decide his own fate. The ball is in his court. The big question is what will he do with it? Hopefully, the right thing. For his own sake.

Article posted on 03.03.2005

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