Bernard Hopkins: Will He Remain Retired?

18.10.06 - By Geoffrey Ciani: Saturday night, undefeated WBO/IBF super middleweight champion, Joe Calzaghe, won a unanimous decision against Sakio Bika. When asked who he’d like to fight next, Calzaghe called out Bernard Hopkins. Said Calzaghe: “I am looking forward to coming to America to show I am the real deal. Bernard Hopkins is the man and 100% I would fight him in his own garden if that is what it took to get him into the ring with me.”

At the end, one was left wondering why Calzaghe would bother calling out a “retired” fighter, especially when he has a potential mega-bout with fellow super middleweight champion, Mikkel Kessler. Does Calzaghe know something we don’t? Is Bernard Hopkins really retired? Or is there a chance the future Hall-of-Famer will comeback for one last fight?

At age 41, it seems unlikely that Hopkins would consider making a return to the ring. Having already cemented his legacy, he has nothing else to prove. He dominated Antonio Tarver—largely considered the best light heavyweight in the world—the last time we saw him. Even more impressive, this was the first time Hopkins fought in this division since his professional debut almost eighteen years ago. That Hopkins jumped up two weight classes at age 41, only to dominate the so-called best fighter in the division is quite the accomplishment. In retrospect, it appeared to be the perfect swan song in a story book career. Or was it?

Despite his age, Hopkins left the game as one of boxing’s elite fighters. No doubt, he was still one of the sport’s top five pound-for-pound talents. Regardless of one’s age, it must be very difficult to leave a sport when you’re on top. Take future baseball Hall-of-Famer, Roger Clemens, as an example. He was determined to retire after the 2003 season, but his competitive nature saw him come back in 2004, where he won a record seventh Cy Young Award. In 2005, he had one of his best statistical seasons ever, and in 2006, he came back for one more run. Will anyone be surprised if Clemens comes back for another season in 2007? I won’t. Likewise, I won’t be surprised if Hopkins makes a return to the ring sometime in the near future.

In order for Hopkins to comeback, however, it would have to be for a worthwhile fight. At this stage in the game, his ideal opponent would be someone who helps him secure a big payday or someone who could help further expand his legacy. For Hopkins to come back, the ideal opponent will suffice both requirements. So who’s out there?

For starters, there’s Calzaghe, who made clear his intentions to try and lure Hopkins back into the ring. A fight against Calzaghe might very well garner a huge payday for Hopkins, but little else. Frankly, I see no reason for Hopkins to take this fight unless he believed it was easy money. He has nothing to gain by beating Calzaghe and everything to lose. As unlikely as a loss would be, it will tear down the storybook ending solidified in his dominant win against Tarver, while a win does nothing to further cement his legacy. Calzaghe is beneath Hopkins and isn’t worth his time and effort.

Another possible opponent for Hopkins might be Roy Jones. Jones and Hopkins squared off way back in May of 1993—a lifetime ago in boxing. Jones won a unanimous decision against Hopkins in a lackluster affair. Ever since, as the stature of both Jones and Hopkins had risen in subsequent years, there have been rumoured talks of a rematch. Negotiating problems prevented this from becoming a reality, but many boxing experts felt that Hopkins had greatly improved since their first encounter and that he would have an outstanding chance of reversing the outcome. That in itself might make it worthwhile for Hopkins. Unfortunately, Roy Jones has a knack for taking the path of least resistance, so it seems highly unlikely that he would decide to rematch Hopkins. Especially since Hopkins just dominated the man who twice dominated Jones in Antonio Tarver. Even though this fight might tempt Hopkins out of retirement, I deem it highly unlikely.

As I see things, the final possibility is the most interesting of the bunch: A fight against WBC heavyweight champion of the world, Oleg Maskaev. Some of you might think this is crazy. After all, Hopkins fought the majority of his career at middleweight while Oleg was a heavyweight. How could Hopkins possibly compete with that? Well, not only do I think Hopkins would be competitive with Maskaev but I believe he could actually beat him (more on that in a moment). Regardless, in terms of risk versus reward, this fight makes a lot of sense. Should Hopkins lose to Maskaev, it will have zero impact on his legacy; nobody would expect Hopkins to win, however, should he win, it would do wonders for his already stellar legend.

When Hopkins fought Tarver, he had jumped two weight classes after spending most of his illustrious career in the middleweight division. Hopkins carried the weight very well. In fact, he looked as good as he’d looked in years, and this was against the top dog at light heavyweight. As Emanuel Stewart noted, Hopkins had probably been struggling to make 160 pounds for sometime, and that 175 may have actually been a more ideal weight for him. The point being, Hopkins had no trouble at all making 175; he actually looked great at that weight. At 6’1”, Hopkins is only two inches shorter than Maskaev, so size shouldn’t be an issue, even if Hopkins entered the ring weighing only 190 pounds.

Oleg Maskaev is as fast as a turtle, and that’s to say, he’s painfully slow. Hopkins is a crafty veteran and a defensive wizard. Indeed, he rolls with punches as well as anyone in the fight game, and thusly, he’s about as hard to hit as anyone out there. Combine this with his impeccable boxing skills, tremendous counter-punching abilities, amazing stamina, and that Hopkins is one of the most intelligent and versatile fighters to have entered the squared circle in the past twenty years, giving him a chance against the very limited Maskaev.

I can envision a scenario wherein Hopkins adopts an in-and-out fighting strategy that baffles Maskaev. It seems extremely doubtful that Maskaev can land his money punch (his right hand) flush on Hopkins, and even if he did infrequently connect with one, chances are, Hopkins would be able to take it well. That Maskaev might be able to put any type of meaningful combination together against the superior Hopkins also seems extremely unlikely, and that’s what it would probably take for Maskaev to stop Hopkins. I believe Hopkins can fight a tactical masterpiece for the first half of the fight before putting on a counter-punching exhibition when Oleg begins to tire in the middle rounds. No doubt, this is a fight that Hopkins can surely win.

Will Bernard Hopkins remain retired? I’m not sure, but I suspect we may see him in the ring one final time before all is said and done, and if we do, I hope it’s against Oleg Maskaev. The only remaining question is whether or not Maskaev is willing to risk being embarrassed against a middleweight, and I believe for the right price, Oleg would be willing to take such a risk.

Bring on Hopkins versus Maskaev!

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Article posted on 18.10.2006

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