29.11.05 – By Kevin Kincade: Much has been made of Bernard Hopkins’s behavior since he lost his title to Jermain Taylor. He has gone to court to try to get the decision overturned based on Duane Ford’s scoring of the final round; has repeatedly badmouthed the new champion, and, in general, has behaved as the quintessential sore loser. Big Deal. Did you really expect anything else?
Bernard Hopkins has had to fight for every ounce of respect he’s garnered over the last 17 plus years. After being released from prison, he decided to stay straight and become a fighter…then he lost his pro debut. As any former convict can tell you, reintegrating back into society is anything but easy…Battle # 1 for Mr. Hopkins. He lost his first fight and had that much further to climb to establish himself….Battle # 2. Can you imagine the amount of determination it must have taken to become not only a successful prize fighter; but a championship contender from those beginnings? The school of hard knocks and the world of hard socks molded hard man in Bernard Hopkins. To rise from his origins to the pinnacle of his success, it could have been no other way.
If the struggle to get to the top wasn’t hard enough, when he finally arrived, he had to deal with the fact that nobody gave a damn. All of his life, at least during his professional boxing career, his soul was screaming and fighting for all who would listen, “I AM SOMEBODY!!” Then, when he finally reached the top of his game and captured the belt…..nothing. Nobody cared, nobody knew who he was. They (we) were too busy lauding over Roy Jones Jr., James Toney, or any other fighter HBO or SHOWTIME decided to groom into a star. Bernard Hopkins was the invisible champion until, at 36….an age when most fighters are retiring, or should….he knocked a star from the sky. Only after he stopped Felix Trinidad did he receive any recognition for his ring accomplishments. Go ahead…..Tell me I’m wrong.
Finally! Everybody knew his name, knew who he was, recognized all the men he’d beaten and how well he’d learned his craft. He was being mentioned alongside the sport’s immortals: the Marvin Haglers, the Sugar Ray Robinsons, the Carlos Monzons……OH, it was a long time coming; but it came!! And just when it looked like the Hopkins fairy tale, American Dream, or any other applicable cliché you want to use, was about to play itself out and he’d (here’s another) ride off into the sunset with his 21st successful defense against the “heir apparent”, something went awry on the way to Happily Ever After….the kid won.
Think about that. Here’s a hard luck kid who’s done time, lost his first fight, fought in obscurity AS A WORLD CHAMPION for Years, manages himself because he trusts No One….why should he?!…and now, all that he’s worked so hard for is taken away by three old men sitting ring side. Did you really expect him to be gracious? He had the kid reeling in the last round and dominated the three rounds before that….isn’t the champion supposed to get the benefit of the doubt in a close contest?? Not where Bernard Hopkins is concerned…No Sir! Nothing’s ever come to him easy in his entire life, so you bet your ass he’s gonna fight and complain and sue and whatever else he can do…..’cause he can take care of himself and needs no one!!
So, now what? What’s gonna happen on December 3rd? Will the king regain his throne and take back what was “stolen” from him? Will Bernard finally get his long awaited happy ending? If he does, only Hopkins would benefit from it….which is exactly the way he’d have it. Surely he doesn’t need to regain the belt to be considered an all-time great. He’s already accomplished that with his significant ring accomplishments. Twenty successful defenses is nothing to sneeze at. Hagler didn’t do it. Monzon didn’t do it. Robinson sure didn’t do it. Great as he was, he still had to lose the belt four times to win it five. Ketchel didn’t do it, nor did Greb nor Walker nor anyone else….Only Hopkins. So, why come back to win the title only to retire right after the fight, or so we think? In a word, Pride. Bernard wants to leave it in our minds that he was without a doubt, the best of our time and have even the future title-holders compared to him with old pundits saying things like, “Yeah, he’s good; but he couldn’t have beat Hopkins. Damn, he was great!” If Hopkins regains the belt, even if Taylor should go on to win it later after Bernard calls it a career, people are still going to remember Bernard besting him….some would say twice, regardless of the official decision of the first bout. Immortality, that’s what Hopkins wants…..his respect; and he’s going out to get it.
Will he succeed? That, truthfully, is anybody’s guess. From the last fight, we can ascertain he waited too long to put any kind of real pressure on the kid and fell victim to the Marquis of Queensbury’s rules. Taylor won more of the early rounds, close though they were, regardless of Hopkins’ thorough dominance over the last 4. Four rounds do not win a twelve round fight without knockdowns. It’s simple math. And while it could be argued that Bernard won more of the first eight than he was given credit for, he left too much room for doubt. If B-Hop wants to regain his precious title, he’s going to have to widen the distance between he and Taylor in the eyes of the judges. But, at 40, can he set the kind of pace required to do that? Taylor may have been the more exhausted of the two at the conclusion of the first bout; but I submit that was due more to nerves than any pressure Hopkins was applying. Taylor won’t be nervous for this one. If anything, the kid is going to come out looking to prove himself and prove those who thought Hopkins won the first one wrong. That’s not good news for old Bernard.
Taylor showed and educated jab in the first bout and superior strength, so Bernard won’t be able to wrestle him around the ring. Most of Hopkins success was found on the inside in the clinches and one would suspect that he will attempt to utilize that style more in the rematch early on to wear the kid out; but odds are Taylor will be expecting such a tactic. The primary difference between the two is obviously the age and experience factors. Both, I believe, will come into the rematch looking to prove something and trying harder to win than in the previous bout. The advantage, to my way of thinking, would go with Taylor. He’s younger, faster, stronger, and is bound to have learned more in the first fight with Hopkins than he learned in all of his previous contests. We have not seen the best of Jermain Taylor; but there is little doubt that Hopkins has anything left with which to surprise us. We’ve seen everything that Hopkins can do in the ring….and can’t do. More importantly….So has Taylor.
The hopes of HBO reside on the shoulders of Taylor, who they see as the future of the division….at least until he moves up. Hopkins is just another former champion wanting to hang on to the glory he tasted for oh so few years; a former king not wanting to give up his throne and not wanting to fade back into obscurity. He knows he cannot hold onto it forever; he recognizes his mortality. However, recognition of the ultimate truth does not keep any of us from daring to dream and longing for the impossible. And for those, like Hopkins, who have tasted gold, know better than any how hard it is to let go….especially Bernard, who fought so hard for the recognition he’d longed for his whole life.
Jes One Mo Time, jes one mo time: that is the lament of every former champion with very few exceptions. Ali had to come back. Robinson didn’t leave until years after he should. Holmes, Foreman, Charles….the list goes on and on. Glory is a difficult addiction to give up and the withdrawal has cost many a pugilist their health. It’s a shame that Bernard has taken the avenue he has since losing his championship; but there’s only so much that can be expected of a man who has experienced so much negativity, who has had to fight so hard for so long, daring to trust no one. Bernard Hopkins will go out kicking and screaming all the way; but I suspect he will go out, none the less, win or lose after this one. Don’t be surprised if his demeanor following the rematch with Taylor reminds you of another great middleweight after his final bout…..a guy by the name of Hagler. Maybe he’ll also follow the Marvelous One’s example of staying out and ignoring the call of “Jes One Mo’ Time”. For one, I hope so.
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