Bernard Hopkins is Human, After All
By Kevin Pasquale – Just how long could Bernard Hopkins stare boxing mortality in the face, and continually laugh at it? When would the inconceivable story of an almost 50-year old man, (50 years old!) still one of the elite athletes in his game, finally come to an end? Time after time, fight after fight, starting way back in 2005, before B-Hop’s FIRST fight with a then young and spry Jermain Taylor, when he was already a wily 40 years old, I would pronounce that it was finally time for Bernard to answer the final bell, and retire, because he just could not continue at the highest level any more. It just made no sense. And, oh, did he defy me, and soooo many others who believed this. Again. And again. And, well, you get it.
Since the questionable loss to Taylor that night in July, a remarkable fight where Hopkins was the fresher, stronger fighter as it progressed, a fight where he hurt Taylor twice late (a foreshadowing for Jermain’s future against other opponents), Bernard proceeded to get older, at least on paper. And time stood still for him. And only him.
As fight fans know, boxing can be the cruelest sport—it can, and will, expose and humiliate a once great warrior in a manner that is ruthless beyond compare. Whether it be Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Evander Holyfield, Roy Jones Jr., or countless others (a list too long to count), boxing has eaten it’s young, it’s greatest performers, out of habit. Out of necessity. The moral of the story has always been: get out while you’re on top, or at least while you are near the top of your game. Heck, even while you’re still reasonably competent. Otherwise, your demise will most probably be unkind. And tragic.
But fighters, as we also know, with rare exception (Hagler, Marciano, Calzaghe, precious few others come to mind) have a too-predictable inclination to continue fighting past the final bell. And it’s never pretty. It’s often times just plain sad to see them in their final fights. But that one man, Bernard Hopkins, has fought on, and on, and has refused to give a measly inch to Father Time. Cruising through his 40’s without regard to the typical ravages of aging, Hopkins stepped into the ring with the likes of Calzaghe, Tarver, Pavlik, Pascal (twice), Cloud, WInky Wright, and others, and never came out the worse for wear. The years kept passing, yet Bernard’s performances in the ring demonstrated a refusal to acknowledge that his skills should diminish accordingly. It became an outright phenomenon that boxing fans actually got used to. The mantra became: NEVER bet against Bernard, regardless of his age, or the age (or youth) of his opponent.
His clean lifestyle is well documented, his perfect diet, his impeccably strict work ethic, all of that is well known at this point. All of that, and his peerless achievements in ring generalship, intelligence, and masterful defense (“hit and don’t get hit”), has made him the Peyton Manning of the squared circle, a master of execution, a man whose “in-fight” intelligence and adjustment-making is rivaled by only Floyd Mayweather. (I’ve always thought that Bernard’s nickname “The Executioner” was such a brilliant nickname for all of the wrong reasons: he could never seem to knock a dude out, but would execute his game plan to a master-class level every time. In the end, “The Executioner” was perfect).
So, a couple weeks back, just 2 months shy of 50 years old, Hopkins, predictably, did what no other light-heavyweight in the world would do: step in the ring with Sergey Kovalev, the 31-year old lion out of Russia. We all know what went down that night in Atlantic City: Bernard, who by now had re-named himself “The Alien” for his achievements that were not of this earth, finally became human.
It was bound to happen. Hopkins, for the first time in his career, was thoroughly dominated, battered, hit the canvas once, and could have (should have) went down a couple more times. The last 90 seconds of the fight became a question of whether he would end the bout on his feet, as he ate shot after shot from the attacking Kovalev, without much of a response at all. It had never gone down like this before for B-Hop, and was hard to watch, but he made it.
And, in the end, you knew that Bernard, even in defeat, would survive Kovalev, perhaps the most feared puncher on the planet, because he had just enough stuff left, not of this world, in the tank.
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