Bernard Hopkins: Still Tempting Fate

By Patrick Kehoe

With most champions of the boxing ring, experience tends to tame some of the more rabid impulses. More and more takes place below the surface of a calmed persona smiling into cameras, much left to merely drift off as inconsequential dustings of a passing moment.

Being older and constantly in the world of ‘inter action’, as sporting figures necessarily are, increasingly brings human experience looping back as partly known, as ritual, routines, replayed elements of ‘the known’ repeating facets for our senses, our perceptual reckoning. Yes, we all say it: been there and done that.

And near the summation of a sporting life time tends to slow time as well, with pre-recognition and repetition encroaching as perspective, the limiting or editing down of our reflex to take in ‘the moment’ and ALL of the sensory data about us. As well, fatigue begins to overtake exuberance. They too readily make assumptions of comprehension and understanding. We think we know what’s about us, near us, about to happen to us, almost!

That which we have experienced or seem to partly know, as it’s unfolding, appears to slow down, transpiring with something we mistake as predictability.

Yet, no one knows what’s going to happen next, not always, no matter how long ones travelled familiar ground. So veteran boxing champions move along, perceiving, judging, experience ever at the ready, expectation on hold, fear and euphoria in check, alerted to variability, for acting out who they must be, who they have become over time, for good or ill.

Wearing a symbolically ironic pink v-neck pullover and tie, Haitian-Canadian Jean Pascal finally landed follow-up rhetorical volleys against legendary middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins, demanding that the aged Philadelphia ring wonder, now 46, take a performance enhancing drugs screening test.

“Take a test! Take a test! Just take the test! Take the test!” The accusatory refrain echoed, the inflamed words raining down on a shocked, flat on his feet “Mr. Street Cred” Hopkins. Hopkins buttressed by performance drug regiments, calling into question the work ethic of Bernard Hopkins equates to a death sentence, given the inner workings of the mind of an “Executioner.”

And to think this kind of brutish behaviour ‘went down’ in Montreal, Quebec, Canada’s most aesthetically charming city. Of course, when Hopkins comes to town to work, manners tend to give way to invective laced mayhem; just ask Felix Trinidad or Joe Calzaghe, to name but two former Hopkins smack-talk victims. This time however, it was Hopkins who was made to take the blunt force muck-raking, and consequentially – for once – the higher road, for all the good it did either man.

But the press conference to launch (the rematch of the year) of duelling light-heavyweight kings – present and past – was thus nearly complete. On lookers had been subjected to the expected sermon-on-the-podium from Nazim Richardson, Hopkins trainer and pugilistic pop philosopher-guru, followed thereafter by the ubiquitous (and right on cue) post-presser shoving match. All veteran watchers of Canadian boxing had, of course, kept their eyes on Yvon Michel, Francophone manager-promoter extraordinaire. The designs of Pascal’s verbal torrents having the ‘ear’-marks of Michel; and no one north of the 49th parallel raises the stakes while levelling the playing field for ambitious Canucks quite like the brilliant and likeable Yvon Michel.

Before leaving the scene of “the ambush” as Hopkins called it, he allowed himself to be ‘scrummed’ by reporters, sensing rightly that he’d lost control of the event’s ‘messaging spin’ and needed to get in his edgy rebuttals.

Score round thirteen for Team Pascal.

Seldom does Hopkins get caught off guard; he’s made a legend out of preparedness and being on point, ever at the ready for one and all, his vigilance being his surest armour. Had it really happened, Jean Pascal brazenly besting B-Hop with mere frothing refrains and screeching accusations?

Sporting his retro-Ben Hogan cap, the ex-con, senior citizen ring master of fistic fortitude and defensive self-styled megalomania gave humorous context to what he and “you all” had just been put through.  Predictably, Hopkins in full recriminatory vent ticketed Pascal, the hometown champion, with being “classless” and “disrespectful.”
“He just loose and don’t know where he’s at and don’t have nottin’ to say. So, what do you expect from a guy whose young. That thinks he’s what he’s not. They don’t think before they talk.” Indeed.

To utter a word or sentence against the ingrained sensitivities of Bernard Hopkins means one has become reprobated, effectively banished to the demonic flames of ignoble oblivion. For that matter anyone holding a ‘title’ being contested by Hopkins automatically becomes an imposter, a man scheduled for Hopkins’ proscriptive carnage; and to a man, they never understand Hopkins remains indomitable. Jermain Taylor couldn’t see him coming, nor Joe Calzaghe, along with all his other ‘officially accredited’ victims! Nevertheless, in his own way, Hopkins holds in place the eternal law of damnable consequences for daring to turn the proverbial mirror upon the man Bernard Hopkins, himself.

In “The Executioners” universe of either where reality frames itself in absolutes, with himself as the only arbitrating rational entity and light source, ‘respect’ exists as the operating principle between all conscious beings. You can take Bernard out off the street of dire consequences, yet never will he willingly go straight. And all boxing fans remember Hopkins himself has used defamation, insult, hyper-mitigation and intimidation throughout his entire boxing career, when face to face with opponents, rival promoters and sundry others within the larger boxing community.

And for two decades he’s been loved and often lauded for having acted upon his more base and manipulative impulses.

He has also been reviled.

Today, near to the close of his career, Hopkins often seems trapped within a labyrinth of self-justifying codes attempting to rationalize away the merits, ramblings and justifications of men who are no longer intimidated by the presence of Bernard Hopkins. The executioner, though still a defensive genius of timely trap and counter hitting maximization, doesn’t overwhelm foes any longer. He messes opponents up mentally, exposes their doubting fragility at the great unknown of Hopkins’ template for making opponents into lesser men, technically and morally. Hopkins has always been all about Fear Factor and reducing the ambitions of men into mere hope. But somehow, it’s all become more legend than reality.

So far, light-heavyweight champion Jean Pascal has tried to ‘go onto offense’, by being offensive and abrasive and hitting Hopkins in the body of his work, the base elements of Being Hopkins. The former champion has taken to channelling George Foreman and the pithy historicism of taking aim at being the oldest man ever to win a world boxing championship. Foreman has graced boxing scribes with his homespun reflections upon being ancient and large and in charge in a championship boxing ring. Hopkins and Foreman: now there is a yin and yang of ancient fighting men.

Of course, the surest way to bruise Hopkins’ stoicism is to chip away at the rock of his sense of entitlements – understandably posited – each and every time he shows up to promote himself, his legacy having been hard won over a truly Hall of Fame boxing career. But it’s the innocence – yes, innocence as blindness – that Hopkins now manifests about himself that makes us take pause... because Hopkins simply doesn’t see, nor understand, the veracity of his own hypocrisy.

“That there, at his end, wasn’t promotion. To me that was slander. To me that was accusations. To me that was plantin’ the seed, just not to talk about what we here for.” And Hopkins has a point. Pascal was broaching upon slander and defamation. Jean Pascal was certainly planting a seed of doubt, by salting whatever wounds he felt he could inflict deep into the heart of a champion. Make the old man feel his age, while you are throwing stones. Note: Casting aspersion reduces itself to a paltry art.
Then again, why would one attempt even a conditional defence of Hopkins being hounded? Didn’t Bernard Hopkins feel Pascal’s wounding precisely because he knows from experience, all too well, exactly from where such animus comes, all of its intended malevolence? Are all of Hopkins’ bitter projections coming back to haunt him, returning spectres reflected back inward? One has to wonder at what point we all succumb to the Fates.

Upon sober reflection, Hopkins chose contentiousness and retort; as we, who were waiting, all knew he would. Taking the WBC Light Heavyweight Champions’ insinuations of being a PED-oholic, Hopkins venomously declared: “Don’t be surprised if he dies in May in that ring! Don’t be surprised if I kill him!”

When it comes to a war of words, Hopkins will always up the ante.

What was astounding was how little resonance the statement made beyond being re-transcribed for general dissemination all over the web, mainly. Hardly a critical editorial line was inked, typed or spoken on the full extent of what Hopkins has decreed as a more than likely outcome of his fighting a rematch with Jean Pascal. With Hopkins on the rant, don’t look to mere ‘exaggeration’ or ‘hype’ as the back door to justifiable malice.

We might sense, here stands a desperate man were it not Bernard Hopkins.
Since his boxing maturity, he’s always claimed his defeats to be victories. All other men aligned to impinge upon his unique standing, his potential earnings, his claims to fame, his place among the ranks of champions are abominations and must be treated as such. Only Oscar De La Hoya, corporate entity supreme and economic port key, was allowed dispensation.

Hopkins’ strategic dismantling of Kelly Pavlik has become a flash point memory for Hopkins in his ring dotage. In that fight, the older pro clearly defanged the younger champion’s power boxing, with precise counter hitting and superlative distance control, translating into disciplined ring positioning as ever evolving punching advantages. And Hopkins produced a masterpiece of a rare kind; the limitations of Pavlik for enthusiasts to debate.

What lingers for Hopkins is his continued ability to enact his will against the threats of younger champions. All of Hopkins’ yesterdays ARE his today’s; his transformative ambition takes the measure of fate as mere folly.

No wonder, as he approaches the unleashed furry of Jean Pascal in defence of his pride and crown and athletic purpose, Bernard Hopkins channels the spirit of Archie Moore.
Hopkins has even announced he’d love to take on Chad Dawson next, the other 28 year-old, calling him names. All Dawson has to do is get past Adrian Diaconu. Correct?
So, yes Hopkins has big plans for a boxer his age. Then again, this Pascal kid should know by now he’s merely a flea on the IMAX screen of Bernard Hopkins’ legendary HD ring career.

Isn’t he?

Don’t let Hopkins fool you Jean; talk is cheap!

Patrick Kehoe may be reached at [email protected]

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