Bernard Hopkins Has More At Stake Than Marvin Hagler Did

30.08.04 – By Frank – Bernard Hopkins must beat Oscar De La Hoya on September 18th 2004. Bernard Hopkins must beat Oscar De La Hoya on September 18th 2004. Let me phrase it a little differently. On September 18th 2004, Bernard Hopkins must successfully defend his undisputed World Middleweight Championship against Oscar De La Hoya. Because if he doesn’t, the legacy that he’s built since 1995 will lose a lot of it’s shinny glow. Like all things in life, it may not be fair, but that’s just the way it is.

Since the Hopkins-De La Hoya fight has been announced, it’s often been compared to the Hagler-Leonard Middleweight title fight back in April of 1987. Although it has been beat to death by every writer, the comparisons are fair, legitimate, and cannot go unmentioned.

Bernard Hopkins and Marvin Hagler both came from a very tough upbringing, neither ever had anything handed to them in or out of the ring. They both fought for small purses at the start of their career, neither was ever a media darling, and they didn’t fight in the Olympics winning a Gold Medal. Like Hagler had against Leonard, Hopkins is entering the De La Hoya fight riding an 11 year unbeaten streak. Another thing Hopkins and Hagler share is that they never fought outside of the Middleweight division, and rank one and three all time in successful title defenses. It’s also ironic that the biggest fights and title defenses of their careers have been against fighters moving up in weight to challenge them.

Oscar De La Hoya and Sugar Ray Leonard have even more in common than Hopkins and Hagler. Both De La Hoya and Leonard were Olympic Gold Medalist who flashed Pepsodent smiles and were media darlings. They were both perceived as being pretty boys and never get full credit for being as physically and mentally tough as they really are. On top of that they both won multiple division titles and were practically Millionaires from the day they turned pro. Another common bond they share is that they both fought the best of their era, and waited for the perfect time to challenge the most formidable opponent of their career.

There are even more similarities between Hopkins and Hagler, De La Hoya and Leonard, but they are too numerous and redundant to mention. However, De La Hoya and Leonard share one glaring parallel that cannot be overlooked or ignored. That is neither of them had anything to lose heading into their Super-fights with Hagler and Hopkins. They were both viewed as big underdogs and weren’t expected to win. All Ray Leonard had to do was not be embarrassed or humiliated by Hagler, and his legacy would not suffer. The same thing applies to De La Hoya. As long as he isn’t destroyed by Hopkins, his image as an outstanding fighter will not suffer.

However, the opposite is true regarding Hopkins and Hagler. The way I see it, Hopkins has more at risk versus De La Hoya than Hagler did against Leonard. I say this for two reasons. The first is Sugar Ray Leonard was, and will always be ranked higher and viewed as a greater fighter than Oscar De La Hoya. That is not a slight to Oscar, it’s just the way it is. Leonard was a better fighter than De La Hoya in the ring and could do just about everything better. In a match up between them, De La Hoya doesn’t hold one advantage over Leonard in my opinion. On top of that, Leonard also had a better career fighting and beating better fighters.

The other reason I say Hopkins has more to lose than Hagler is because of their career resumes. Anyone who has ever read anything I’ve written on Hopkins, knows I’m a big advocate of his. I think he his the total package and is a complete fighter. Without question his name must be mentioned in any conversation discussing all time great Middleweight Champs. That being said, his resume doesn’t read like a who’s who of outstanding fighters like Hagler’s did prior to fighting Leonard.

During his career, Hopkins has fought some very good fighters. But other than the names Jones and Trinidad, there aren’t any other names on Hopkins record that jump out at you. Antwun Echols, Robert Allen, Keith Holmes and William Joppy are all very good fighters, but they are not great fighters. Against the two legitimate great fighters that Hopkins has shared a ring with, he’s 1-1. Roy Jones and Felix Trinidad are without a doubt the two fighters that distinguish Hopkins’ career, until after he fights De La Hoya. Although it’s unfair, Hopkins’ legacy will be tied to the outcome of his fight with De La Hoya.

Heading into his fight with Ray Leonard, Hagler was viewed as a great fighter more so than Hopkins currently is. Just about all Boxing Historians and analyst regard Hagler as an all time great, despite the fact that he didn’t have his hand raised after fighting Leonard. Personally, I view Hopkins as an all time great, but there is a large faction that currently exist who do not view him in that regard. Imagine if he lost to De La Hoya?

Marvin Hagler benefited by fighting in a very deep Middleweight division in the 1970’s and 1980’s. When looking at Hagler’s resume, it’s loaded with some outstanding fighters along with some greats. Early in his career, Hagler fought Sugar Ray Seals, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, Willie “The Worm” Monroe, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, and Bennie Briscoe, and beat all of them. Those are six outstanding fighters, and out rank Echols, Allen, Holmes, and Joppy, despite the fact that none of them won the Middleweight title. The problem was Monzon was the ruler of the Middleweights during that era, who successfully defended the title against Briscoe.

Hart, Monroe, Watts, and Briscoe knocked each other off and then were ultimately knocked off by Hagler. Prior to fighting Leonard, Hagler was only beaten twice. His two loses where in his first fights with Watts and Monroe at the Philadelphia Spectrum. I was at both of those fights. The loss to Watts was a home town decision favoring Watts. The loss to Monroe was fair and Hagler didn’t deserve the decision, although it was close. Unfortunately there is no film of that fight. There was a bad snowstorm that night in Philadelphia and the Television and camera crews couldn’t get to the Spectrum. Hagler fought Monroe twice after losing to him and stopped him both times. He fought Watts in a rematch and stopped him. Minus Hopkins, anyone of those contenders could handle any thing currently campaigning in the Middleweight division.

Once Hagler fought for the title, he fought Vito Antuofermo twice, Mustafa Hamsho twice, Alan Minter, Wilford Sypion, Juan Roldan, and John Mugabi. Those fighters alone makeup a pretty good list. Add to that the names Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns, and that’s decidedly deeper than Hopkins resume. And don’t talk about Duran being a former Lightweight and Hearns turning pro at Welterweight. Hopkins’ biggest win is versus a fighter who turned pro at Welterweight, and De La Hoya turned pro as a Junior Lightweight.

When comparing and breaking down Hagler and Hopkins as fighters, it’s very close. Had they met on their best night, I’d favor Hagler, but it’s very close and if he beat Hopkins, it would be by decision. However, that’s were the similarity ends. There can be no doubt that heading into the biggest and most anticipated fights of their career, Hagler has a better resume than Hopkins. Hagler’s legacy was more solidly in place than Hopkins is.

Hagler lost to Leonard and yet nobody disputes his place among the top five Middleweights in history. And that was to a Leonard who had only fought once in five years. I just can’t see Hopkins losing a close somewhat disputed decision to De La Hoya and still being held in the same regard that he is prior to the fight.

In my opinion, Hopkins has more at risk versus De La Hoya than Hagler did against Leonard. The fact that Hagler was more widely accepted and viewed as an all time great more so than Hopkins is, enabled his career not to be dealt a severe blow historically off the defeat to Leonard. If Hopkins loses to De La Hoya, his career will take a monumental hit. Should De La Hoya pull off the upset like Leonard did, I doubt Hagler and Hopkins will ever be mentioned in the same vein again. That’s not a fair to Hopkins, but I just think that’s the way it will unfold. For Hopkins to firmly solidify his legacy for all time, he must beat Oscar De La Hoya on September 18th 2004.

Writers Note:

In May of 2003, I personally contacted 15 respected Boxings writers and historians. I asked them to list the top five non-heavyweight fighters from 1978-2003. Everyone of them included Sugar Ray Leonard among their top five. Thirteen of the 15 included Hagler among their top 5. One of them had De La Hoya in their top 5, and not one included Hopkins in their top 5.

For the record, the top three were Sugar Ray Leonard with 15 of 15 votes, Marvin Hagler was second with 13 of 15 votes, and Roy Jones was third with 12 of 15 votes