Jobu reacts to Bernard’s stunning title win last Saturday.
I hate posts that speculate on who the best ever is at a sport. Frankly, it’s all relative. It’s also impossible to compare athletes from different eras. Rules and training methods simply change too much from era to era for anyone to make an accurate comparison on how good one athlete is to the other. The “best ever” argument is one designed to end in a stalemate. However, you can probably accurately report on an athlete being among the best ever. I think I have to cast my vote here for Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins, at 48 years old, beat Tavoris Cloud this weekend to become the IBF’s light heavyweight champion of the world.
I remember the first time I ever saw Bernard Hopkins fight. I can’t remember when it was, or who it was against, but I remember that he had painted the name of an online bookmaker on his body (oddly enough, I don’t remember which one). After the fight, a win, he announced that he had been paid $100K to do this, and had used the money to bet on himself. I thought it was tremendously ballsy. The thing about Bernard Hopkins is that you probably either love him, or you think he should go back to jail. Some guys just kind of have that polarizing effect on the public. If you like brash, confident fighters that go out and just win, you love Hopkins. If you don’t like him, you probably think he’s just an over the hill cocky prick who talks loud and beats hand-picked opponents. I think he’s awesome in the ring, and his story outside the ring isn’t half bad either.
Like many inner city kids, the Philadelphia native had a pretty tumultuous upbringing. You could say he followed the wrong crowd, or maybe he made some mistakes along the way growing up, but whatever it was, it ended with him being sentenced to 18 years in prison when he was just 17 years old. If you’ve ever been in prison (I have not), or seen HBO’s Oz (I have), you can probably imagine prison isn’t the greatest thing ever. It was in prison that Hopkins gained his love for the sport which would, one day, make him famous. Now, had Hopkins served his full sentence, he would have gotten out at 35. To show how amazing his career has been, he would still have about 13 years of boxing experience under his belt. Ridiculous. Hopkins made it out in five years though, and hasn’t been back since. Boxing, with some help from a strong will and character, is why.
He had his first professional fight the same year he got out of jail, in 1988. It was a loss to someone named Clinton Mitchell. Yeah, I don’t know him either. Hopkins wouldn’t lose again for five years, when he lost a fight for the vacant IBF Middleweight championship to Roy Jones, Jr. If you know boxing, you know that there was no shame in losing to Roy Jones, Jr. in 1993. Hopkins wouldn’t lose again until 2005. That’s 12 years and 26 fights. He beat all comers too, including guys like Félix Trinidad and Oscar de la Hoya. At one point, he held the IBF, WBC, WBA, The Ring, and WBO middleweight championships at the same time. If that didn’t make him the undisputed king of the middleweights, I don’t know what does.
In 2005, at the age of 40, he lost all of his titles in one fell swoop to another great middleweight, Jermaine Taylor. When he lost to Taylor again in an immediate rematch, I think a lot of people thought Hopkins would (or maybe should) call it a career. Instead, B-Hop moved up to Light Heavyweight and beat Antonio Tarver (of Mason “The Line” Dixon fame) for the IBO and The Ring Light Heavyweight Championships. Just like that, Hopkins was champion again. This time, however, it would only take him two years to lose again, when he was bested in a decision by Joe Calzaghe, a tough boxer from Whales that would go on to also beat Roy Jones, Jr.
At 43, Hopkins still didn’t retire. He came back to beat Kelly Pavlik in a decision and finally got his revenge on Roy Jones, Jr. (although a watered down version of the legendary boxer) with a 12-round decision in 2010. In 2011, at the age of 46 years and 4 months, he became the oldest professional boxer to ever win a major championship, when he beat Canadian puncher Jean Pascal in their rematch (the first fight had ended in a draw) for the IBO, WBC and The Ring Light Heavyweight titles. You may be eating a burger cooked on a grill endorsed by the former record holder, former Heavyweight slugger George Foreman (45 years, 299 days).
After losing two of those belts to Chad Dawson in 2012, Hopkins was still not ready to retire. That brings us to this past Saturday night, when he made history again with his win over Cloud. He broke his own record for being the oldest boxer to win a professional title bout. Will this finally be Hopkin’s swan song fight? Will he walk off into the sunset and end his legendary career? Well, the old man looked pretty good against Cloud, who, like most of the guys “The Executioner” comes up against these days, is young enough to be his son. He didn’t just squeak by. He used his skill and strategy to win the fight in pretty dominant fashion. He even hurt cloud once or twice. There might be no stopping B-Hop at all.
Hopkins has previously said he would not fight past 50, but he brashly boasted after the fight with Cloud that he didn’t think anyone in the 175-pound and maybe even the 168-pound weight class could beat him (espn.com). After watching him approach his “golden years” with the vigor and in-ring skill he has displayed, can anyone really argue with that? Yes, he’s been beaten, but can you ever really count the old man out of any fight he goes into these days? Jean Pascal has already challenged him to a third fight. We’ll have to check in again with Hopkins in two years. He’ll be 50, the age he said he’d be done by. We’ll see how many more fights he has in him when that time comes. Until then, let’s just celebrate the career of “The Executioner” with the respect and admiration it deserves.
Hopkins During the Post-Fight Presser:
Featured image courtesy of: Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports
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