Bernard Hopkins has had a truly unique career. 23 years is a long time for anyone, in any profession, to hone their craft. But that’s how long Bernard Hopkins was considered one of the best in the world at what he does.
Up until this past Saturday, Hopkins had been at the top of his profession since 1993. With a record of 21-0 the young(er) Hopkins took on one of the soon-to-be-great legends of the sport, Roy Jones Jr. Suffering his first defeat, and one of the few one-sided losses of his career, Hopkins pushed onward, blazing through another 20 opponents before taking on no less than Felix Trinidad. Winning his first signature fight gave Hopkins the momentum to blot out 4 more never-weres on the way to his greatest accomplishment of all. In 2004, Hopkins had his first of what would turn out to be many opportunities to play the role of the hopeless underdog. Hopkins’ defeat of Oscar de la Hoya was a passing of the torch. While Hopkins never possessed any of Oscar’s flash in the ring or his irresistible charisma outside the ring, he was consistently showing the skills to take on the best in the business.
Hopkins won a few more at middleweight after De la Hoya, but eventually ran into a roadblock. Whether the real problem was weight or not, we’ll never know, but the roadblock made itself evident in the form of Jermain Taylor. After moving up a full two weight classes to light heavyweight, Hopkins resumed his crusade to the top in 2006, when he took the title from Antonio Tarver. He defeated feared fighters like Winky Wright, completely battered Kelly Pavlik, and even avenged his loss to the great Roy Jones. During this time at light heavyweight the only fight in which he was outmatched in skill was against Calzaghe, another titan of the industry. He was an “old man” during all of these fights, having passed what would be considered prime boxing years before he even went to light heavy.
Two years ago I watched live as Hopkins knocked down Beibut Shumenov while the crowd filed out the door. Everyone there expected to see an old man falter against a lesser opponent, so they packed up prematurely. Instead, he won just about every round, and physically dominated the younger, larger fighter. That kind of transcendent greatness doesn’t often show itself more than a few times in an athlete’s life, and for Hopkins, the Shumenov fight was the last time. What we saw when B-Hop fought Kovalev, who is now considered by many number 1 or 2 in the world, and when he fought Joe Smith this past weekend, wasn’t pretty. But it wasn’t a travesty. Hopkins made history. This past weekend, he did it one last time, he just didn’t come away with a win to show for it. I salute Bernard Hopkins for being one of the most meticulous athletes in the history of any sport, and I’m grateful to have witnessed his ability. Like with most fighters, it will serve us better to remember the achievements of his better years than to reflect on the conclusion to one chapter in the story of this great athlete.