Bernard Hopkins: The Fine Wine of Pugilism

18.07.06 - By Neil Goodman: Old father time keeps rollin’ on; but Bernard Hopkins seems to be impervious to the effects of the years passing by. I remember being a young and fresh faced boxing fan, as I read about the man who had turned his life around and was heading for a championship bout in the Middleweight division. The descriptions of the Executioners performances, both on the way to, and within the ring captured my imagination.

Of course Hopkins developed his style over the years; he steadily shifted from aggression to an altogether more cerebral means of beating his foes. His road to the top was a long one; it is hard to believe now that it was not until his third attempt at seizing a world title that he felt the belt around his waist. Once Hopkins disposed of Segundo Mercado at the second time of asking Hopkins was to hang onto to his IBF title belt like a drowning man hanging onto his last breath!

Its only now, when looking back over Hopkins ring record, that you really do appreciate both his longevity and professionalism to stay at the top for so long. There are those, in recent times, who have criticised the match making and means by which Hopkins has been getting the job done; but in truth (regardless of anything else) it is some achievement to be a dominant title holder for 10 years!

Let me throw a few names and memories your way; who remembers Joe Lipsey? Undefeated in 25 fights (20 KO’s), he bit the dust within four rounds. John David Jackson, a former world title holder, was taken out inside seven rounds. Another old battler (but not back then) Glenn Johnson was given a lesson and stopped in eleven rounds. There are numerous other names of note on the slate too; Holmes, Allen and Echols.

Even now it is hard to believe that it has been nearly five years since Hopkins dissected Felix Trinidad; not so much with an axe as a surgeons scalpel. Once Bernard’s hand was raised in triumph over the younger rising star of world boxing, then his career was all set to sky rocket. At last the old man could no longer be overlooked; he held three major title belts and had performed way above the expectation of the boxing fraternity.

It would be fair to say, in the extreme, that Hopkins did not exactly seize the moment. His next few fights did little to build upon his stunning success and his stock plummeted. If, as unlikely as seemed, Hopkins had a PR or marketing team then they should have been shot; two fights in two years?! At this point I think the expectation was that Hopkins was a sitting duck, just waiting for a young and accurate gun to take aim and fire.

Hopkins may not have been active in terms of competitive outings, but each and everyday he was perfecting his craft in the gym. You only had to look at William Joppy’s face after twelve rounds to understand that Hopkins was not about to fall from fistic grace. Hopkins continued to fulfil his mandatory defences, pick up his pay cheques; his patience was commendable and ultimately to be rewarded.

In 2004 the Golden Boy, Oscar De La Hoya, stepped up to middleweight and targeted the Executioner as his golden ticket into the Boxing Hall of Fame. Judging by his own inimitable barometer, Oscar at 160 lbs looked like a boy on a man’s job as he warmed up for Bernard. This said, come fight night, Oscar was all business.

The fight unravelled as a tactical battle, more feints than hooks and more parries than punches on target. It was a pick’em fight after 6 rounds; maybe Oscar’s youth would finally unsettle King Bernard from his thrown or at least make an argument of the occasion on the scorecards. But if you thought Bernard was going to be rolled over by a good looking ‘kid’ from LA…well guess again! Hopkins steadily started to assert his strength and jab, once his jab was working it was only a matter of time before he lowered the boom.

In the ninth round Hopkins pin-pointed a well delivered hook under Oscars elbow; the damage done was instantaneous. De La Hoya could not hold the body shot from the fully fledged middleweight and once again the Executioners axe glistened within the sporting spotlight.

I now have to put this article into fast forward; I am sure anyone wants a blow-by-blow recount of the ‘battles’ against Eastman or Taylor. The master tactician unfortunately was just a bit too technical and tactical against the rising star. There would be many that would argue, with some justification, that Hopkins should have just nicked one of the decisions. But, as a wise man once said; ‘Champs don’t just nick anything’.

It looked like Hoppo was going to bow out on a low note; but he knew he was never going to go out like that. The echoes of Archie Moore are difficult to ignore; age; tactical savvy and now a leapt into the Light Heavyweight division. I must admit I thought the match-up against Tarver was purely to bolster the pension fund; how wrong I was!

Come fight night Hopkins look every bit the Light Heavyweight and was in seek’n destroy mode right from the off; if he saw a gap then the right hand was slotted home. He was strong, he dictated the pace of the fight and it got the stage whereby he was intimidating the bigger man. Tarver just did not know what to do, or what to try and he knew all to well that Hopkins is not a man to get KO’d by one punch.

As the judges went to their scorecards, the decision was a formality. The redemption, if one was necessary, was secure (as was the place in the Hall of Fame). Now Hopkins, the boxer, wants to hang up his gloves. But can Hopkins the business man walk away after such a dominant performance. Right now Bernard can pick his final and ultimate fight; Johnson, Jones or Calzaghe. Surely the prospect is to tempting?

Article posted on 18.07.2006

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