Like him or not, you can’t help but admire Bernard Hopkins.
‘The Executioner’ is one of those fighters who divides the opinions of fight fans and journalists alike, his confrontational personality and often dirty, grappling fighting style not always popular with boxing purists.
And B-Hop’s behaviour outside the ring when promoting fights or trash talking opponents has sometimes gone beyond the pale, most notably before his mega-fight with Joe Calzaghe, when complaints of reverse-racism were not entirely unjustified. And prior to his fight with Felix Trinidad in September 2001, Hopkins infamously sparked a riot in his opponent’s native country when he threw the Puerto Rican flag to floor and had to evade the clutches of an angry mob.
But though there are a number of veteran fighters defying calls to quit the sport and not add sorry bookends to otherwise great careers, (Evander Holyfield and Roy Jones Jr. are prime candidates for this category), Hopkins cannot be written off in such a way.
At 46, the Philadelphia born fighter is almost as strong a contender as he has ever been in his distinguished 59-fight career. Since his middleweight reign came to an end in 2005 against Jermain Taylor after a record-breaking 20 defences, Hopkins has recovered from numerous set-backs, including back to back defeats to Taylor and the bitter 2008 loss to the aforementioned Calzaghe, with aplomb, schooling the then undefeated Kelly Pavlik in a one-sided non-title bout just six months later.
His 2010 win against nemesis Jones was admittedly an awful spectacle, but the fighter who had carried a higher level of fitness and strength into his twilight years was there for all to see on the night.
And since then Hopkins has produced what was arguably one of the finest performances of his glittering career. The wily old veteran performed heroically against Jean Pascal, the WBC light-heavyweight champion, in a fight where he was a significant underdog, recovering from two knockdowns to earn a very debatable draw in the Haitian-born fighter’s adopted country of Canada.
It almost seemed as if the fitness, hunger and power of the man almost 20 years his senior took Pascal by surprise. The 12th round was one of the rounds of the year, with Hopkins somewhat uncharacteristically going for broke and stalking his shellshocked opponent around the ring, landing shots at will. The resigned look on Pascal’s face after the final bell said it all – deep down, he knew he had been outfoxed and outgunned by a man old enough to be his father, but unfortunately the judges didn’t see it the same way, denying Hopkins the chance to make history as the oldest world titleholder in the sport’s history.
Hopkins has certainly looked after his body and physical condition magnificently, and in that regard he is a credit to the sport and an example to any young aspiring boxer. His trainer Naazim Richardson also deserves great credit for his work with the veteran fighter during the latter part of his career.
The rematch against Pascal promises to be a fascinating duel, particularly with the two pugilists regularly going for it verbally on Twitter, and a widespread feeling that Hopkins was robbed in the first fight. One thing is for sure – Pascal better bring his ‘A’ Game this time, or B-Hop will be taking home a little slice of history.