WASHINGTON, DC–Bernard Hopkins works as a walking metaphor for his sport. Hopefully, the old man never becomes one of pugilism’s barely-walking, slurred-talking clichés.
Boxing is about getting up when you get knocked down. So is Bernard Hopkins. Sentenced at seventeen to more years in prison than he’d been alive, the Philadelphian escaped from the criminal life while incarcerated by enslaving himself in boxing. If his boxing matches have not been about the comeback, his life has.
The same year Bernard Hopkins went to prison in Pennsylvania, Beibut Shumenov entered the world in Kazakhstan. After just seven years in the ring, the light heavyweight titlist faces off with Hopkins in the DC Armory (live Breitbart Sports coverage to follow from ringside). Showtime also features former 140-pound and 147-pound titlist Paulie Malignaggi versus Shawn Porter for a welterweight belt and Peter Quillin versus Lucas Konecny for an alphabet-soup middleweight title. The main-event pairing surely plays as an act of sadism. Whether that label more accurately applies to the 49-year-old tasked with defeating an athlete in his prime or to the veteran of just fifteen fights asked to crack the code of the craftiest of competitors awaits tonight’s verdict. Hopkins boasts experience in a sport that sometimes makes cruel sport of it.
Shortly before Christmas in 2003, I spent $500 on two tickets to watch Bernard Hopkins fight William Joppy in historic Boardwalk Hall. The Executioner had promised his late mother to retire from boxing at forty, so I figured the opportunities to watch one of the all-time great middleweights in person–and catch Hasim Rahman, John Ruiz, Ricardo Mayorga, Corey Spinks, and Zab Judah on the undercard in the process–were fleeting. Along with an oversized-chalice imbibing Mike Tyson, an Eagles-entouraged Donovan McNabb, a larger-than-life Allen Iverson, and various other luminaries, I watched Hopkins put on a boxing clinic–and put the packed hall to sleep–in a one-sided, twelve-round beatdown of William Joppy.
An Oscar de la Hoya, Winky Wright, Kelly Pavlik, and two Jean Pascals later, Bernard Hopkins remains where he has always been: in the main event. Resilience takes discipline, a quality overflowing in Hopkins. Characteristically, BHop lost his debut fight. As with incarceration, the tough Philadelphian adapted and overcame. Whether he loses tonight’s fight in the nation’s capital, and whether it’s his last, seems irrelevant. The salient fact is that Hopkins remains relevant. At 49, he not only fights but he does so for a belt.
The Executioner has morphed into the Alien. He’s a little heavier, and a few crow’s feet have left their imprints around the eyes. But he’s still that hard-to-hit boxer who can hurt you with a few hits. Those punches occasionally come in bunches. The old man now picks his spots to fight–and his spots for restful flight. Then as now, Hopkins fights as a most cerebral practitioner of the sweet science.
When Bernard Hopkins began his boxing career, Ronald Reagan served as president, Mike Tyson reigned as heavyweight champion, the Berlin Wall still stood, and Def Leppard’s “Love Bites” played as the number-one song in America. Today’s world is different–we listen to iPods where we once listened to Walkmans and kids text in class instead of send notes–but it’s not all that different. Bernard Hopkins fighting to unify titles on Showtime says as much.