Boxing legend Bernard Hopkins’s story, for me, is similar to that of the “tortoise and the hare” – the famous kids fable about the speedy hare who was defeated by the slow and steady tortoise in a race.
When I was a young teenager, I had a poster of Bernard Hopkins on my wall that would fade inconspicuously into the background, due to other surrounding posters of the sport’s superstars and household names that were more familiar to the mainstream boxing crowd, back then, and who took the fore such as Roy Jones, Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya. At that particular point in time their careers where in the fast lane, whereas Hopkins’s standing, in comparison, was in the slow-lane(but making veiled progress).
Occasionally someone would point or motion to B-Hop’s menacing “mugshot” and ask me who he was, and my reply was always something along the lines of: “he’s a good solid pro, that would probably make a decent number of defences of his title, but fall victim to someone at a similar skill level or above(a “belt warmer”, if you will, for a young superstar on the rise) and that would be that.”
I basically expected that B-Hop would have 2-3 years at top-flight and nothing more.
How wrong I was – multiplied by 10….
As years went by, I would witness his victory over the exciting and devastating puncher – Felix Trinidad: a “Road To Damascus” moment for Hopkins that would propel the self styled “Executioner” into boxing superstar territory; his defeat of modern great and ex-Olympian, Oscar De La Hoya, that further solidified his elite position and brought with it exposure to a global mainstream audience and all the PPV revenue that follows, and I also got to see him readdress a loss, albeit in ugly fashion, with the extremely talented Roy Jones who had a win over him.
All those superstar’s careers whose images had ‘littered’ my wall as a young boxing fanatic, like the hare, eventually hit a slumber of sorts. Whereas Hopkins career, like the tortoise, was starting to catch-up and come into its own.
It’s now 28 years on from Bernard’s fateful boxing debut that ended in a loss(which is a watershed moment in its own right, as who knows how Hopkins career would have turned out had he won, due to the defeat seemingly being the main catalyst for him to invoke that legendary “discipline” regime that he adheres to so stringently)and he’s just about to gracefully bow out of the sport at age 51(just weeks away from his 52nd birthday) by fighting a WBC and WBA top ten ranked contender in Joe Smith Jnr (22-1, 18 KOs) at The Forum in Inglewood, California, this Saturday.
This is a fight that comes just a few years after B-Hop’s previous fight when he took on Sergei Kovalev, an elite fighter, who himself has recently just fought for not only the top spot in the light-heavyweight division, but who was also vying with a talented boxer in Andre Ward for the number one position in the pound-for-pound rankings, and although the Philadelphian native lost in that particular fight to the skill-full and hard-hitting Russian, he did manage to go “the distance” and all without resorting to the questionable tactics that he has been guilty of in the past.
There’s no in-depth analysis needed for the Smith fight, everyone in the boxing community knows what Hopkins is capable of, as we’ve had 55 wins, 7 defeats and 2 draws from his illustrious career to muse over, in addition to the decades worth of his media training sessions to assess and “probe”, and with respect to Joe Smith Jnr, who has been a tad underestimated in the build-up, it seems that his only chance, in this fight, is if Hopkins were to suddenly “age over-night” when that first bell rings at the weekend(which we’ve all been anticipating to happen for over a decade and have been proven wrong time and time again), or if he(Smith) somehow manages to connect clean with one of those dangerous and powerful hooks(especially the right-hook) that he possesses.
It’s also worth baring in mind that Smith’s also got nothing to lose and everything to win in this fight: a circumstance which can sometimes cause a fighter to elevate their game to levels beyond normal or which hitherto had been average.
Smith’s style is that of the typical come forward fighter that relies on grinding tactics to break his opponent down. He reminds me slightly of Kelly Pavlik in this regard. But as history has shown, in B-Hop’s career, this is a style that is tailor made for a fighter such as Hopkins who possesses that tricky ‘old school’ defensive mindset and ability, and if we see the type of ‘alien’ that we have come to know and expect, then I can’t see Joe Smith Jnr having his hands raised as the winner.
Even a below par version of Hopkins, as seen against Kovalev, might just be enough to ensure a win.
As Hopkins put it(at the fight’s recent press conference): “Smith is coming to this fight with a shotgun and he(Hopkins)is coming with an Uzi(or words to that effect)”.
That metaphor isn’t too far off the mark.
Regardless of the outcome on Saturday night, it looks as if this fight will be the definitive “swansong” of Hopkins and the last time we ever see the “Executioner” fighting in the ring competitively.
Will we ever see another fighter like Hopkins? Who knows?
Hopkins says there won’t be an other one like him.
He could be right?
But, I beg to differ, because his achievements and the constant reminders and instruction, by him, of how he is special or unique in the “game” and also of how he attained his legendary status in all the fights, press conferences and interviews he has given over the years to the boxing community, has provided current and future generations of pugilists alike the “discipline blueprint” for what’s needed when they feel like or are in the position of the “tortoise racing against the hare” in the sport.
There’s no doubt in the future we will see other fighters ‘like’ him, but it’s guaranteed we will never see another Bernard Hopkins.