by David P. Greisman
He’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. And that’s probably the way Bernard Hopkins prefers it. He needs doubters and haters. They fuel him, giving him the motivation of proving them wrong.
Michael Jordan would find the slightest of slights and view it as the greatest of insults, taking it out on his opposition. Marvin Hagler has been quoted as saying those sleeping in silk pajamas (or, alternatively, in silk sheets) get too comfortable to wake up to do roadwork before dawn.
Hopkins never wants to consider his work done. There is no other way to explain a 48-year-old man, nearly 49 now, still competing at a high level despite his age, still participating in a hurt sport despite the fact that his famous frugality means he long ago could’ve retired worry-free.
Hopkins has always had something to prove.
He proved wrong those who expected the young felon to return to prison.
He kept fighting after losing his first pro bout, came back in better shape and worked his way toward a world title shot.
He continued to improve after losing that title fight to Roy Jones, earning another opportunity, winning a belt of his own and then defending it for years.
He kept a chip on his shoulder as fame and fortune eluded him. He wasn’t intended to win Don King’s middleweight tournament, yet there was Hopkins in front of a hostile crowd at Madison Square Garden in New York City, celebrating his knockout win over Felix Trinidad and his ascent to undisputed champion.
He rejected millions of dollars for a rematch with Jones because he felt he deserved a better split of the money.
He battled promoters and burned bridges. Lou DiBella sued him for defamation and won. Hopkins looked at his fights with Jermain Taylor as a way to get back at DiBella, Taylor’s promoter.
He was thought to be on the decline after two decision losses to Taylor, and so he went up to light heavyweight and beat Antonio Tarver.
Hopkins was considered an underdog against Kelly Pavlik following a loss to Joe Calzaghe. After Hopkins beat Pavlik, he stared down at the ringside media who had predicted defeat.
His legacy has long been secure, and yet he’s kept on. He challenged light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal, rose from a pair of early knockdowns, and fought to a draw. He won the rematch and became the oldest fighter to become a champion. He lost to Chad Dawson last year and nevertheless returned earlier this year, beating Tavoris Cloud to win a world title — to show that he still belonged, still mattered, still deserved to be recognized and reckoned with.
Less than two weeks before his Oct. 26 fight with Karo Murat, Hopkins spoke about fan-friendly action fighters setting a bad example, and he claimed that boxing fans would consider Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard boring if they were fighting today. And yet Hopkins — the same man who had been in numerous ugly fights in recent years — decided to entertain against Murat, to seek his first knockout in nine years.
“They told me I have to be a crowd-pleaser,” Hopkins said after his unanimous decision win over Murat, a performance that brought those in attendance to their feet. “Sure, I took a little bit of blood, but that’s what they want to see.”
Murat was a straightforward opponent, a challenger not expected to present too difficult a challenge. Hopkins’ longevity had been based on his ability to negate his foes; they would only be able to do little, and so he could win by doing a little bit more.
Hopkins did noticeably more than Murat, outworking and out-landing him, throwing 79 more punches and landing 100 more shots, according to CompuBox. Hopkins has a tendency to be as frugal in the ring as he is in life, and yet he averaged about 47 punches thrown per round, including more than 30 power punches sent out every three minutes.
It was beautiful to behold, even considering the quality of his opponent. It wasn’t without some of Hopkins’ usual ugliness; in fact, both men had their share of fouls and filthy tactics, with Murat getting docked a point for his infractions.
There have been Hopkins fights with little worthy of remembering. That wasn’t the case on Saturday, on a night where the lead and counter right hands were landing cleanly, as were the left hooks and the body shots. Hopkins in his late 40s isn’t too old for antics, either. Against Pascal, he once performed push-ups between rounds. Against Murat, he turned his back in the middle of the eighth, talked to Murat’s team, then turned back to duck punches and return fire.
He’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. He’s acknowledged as much, unapologetically so, walking to the ring in the past to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”
But those in attendance Saturday cheered when he showboated and roared when he landed. Then he spoke afterward about having one of the best chins in boxing, but wanting to adjust before his next fight to make sure that his chin gets hit less.
He keeps returning, keeps retooling. Twenty-five years after his pro debut, Bernard Hopkins still finds motivation, still finds success. Love him or loathe him, he’s still here until he has nothing left to prove, or until it’s proven that he no longer belongs.
The 10 Count
1. Last week brought another sobering reminder of the potential consequences of this beautiful yet brutal sport.
Frankie Leal was a boxer who fought between junior featherweight and junior lightweight. He was knocked out on Oct. 19 in a fight with Raul Hirales. He died three days later, three days short of his 27th birthday.
He had been suspended indefinitely by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, pending a neurological clearance after he was hospitalized following a March 2012 stoppage loss to Evgeny Gradovich, according to BoxRec.com.
But the sad reality is that fighters are only suspended for as long as they are licensed, and then it’s up to other commissions to decide whether to allow a boxer to compete. Leal fought five times this year, all in Mexico. I don’t know what questions were asked, if any, or what precautions were taken.
All I know is that another young man is dead, and it’s clear that those surrounding Leal — and employing him — apparently didn’t have any qualms with putting him back in the ring.
2. Bernard Hopkins’ decision win over Karo Murat this past weekend brought another entry in the record books.
He was already the record holder for oldest person to win a lineal championship, having dethroned Jean Pascal in May 2011 at the age of 46 years, 4 months and 6 days.
He was also the record-holder for oldest person to win a major world title, having beaten Tavoris Cloud earlier this year at the age of 48 years, 1 month and 22 days.
He is now the oldest person to successfully defend a world title, doing so at the age of 48 years, 9 months and 11 days old.
3. Some perspective on George Foreman’s places in history:
Foreman won the lineal heavyweight championship by knocking out Michael Moorer in 1994; Foreman was 45 years, 9 months and 26 days old at the time.
Foreman no longer held a major world title for the final two years of his career. The International Boxing Federation had stripped him in 1995 after he declined to face Axel Schulz in a rematch. He was still the lineal champion, though.
Foreman’s last successful defense of that championship came against Lou Savarese in 1997. He was 48 years, 3 months and 16 days old.
On his last day of being champion, he was 48 years, 10 months and 12 days old when he stepped into the ring against Shannon Briggs. (Briggs was awarded the victory in that bout.)
Hopkins has a world title, but the lineal championship at light heavyweight belongs to Adonis Stevenson.
4. Speaking of records, Gabriel Rosado is 0-2 with 1 no contest in 2013, and yet this year very well could have even more of a positive impact on his career than his 2012. Last year, he went 3-0 in a trio of junior middleweight fights televised on NBC Sports Network, victories that landed him his January fight with middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin.
Rosado lost to Golovkin by seventh-round technical knockout. Then, in May, he dropped a disputed split decision to 160-pound prospect J’Leon Love on the undercard to the Floyd Mayweather-Robert Guerrero pay-per-view. That result was overturned when Love tested positive for a banned diuretic.
Rosado suffered a stoppage loss to another middleweight titleholder, Peter Quillin, this past Saturday. The end came due to a cut over Rosado’s left eye. The scorecards at the time had Quillin widely ahead, tallies that seemed to differ with how some of us other observers saw the action.
Rosado will likely end up with another major opportunity despite not having won a fight this year, though obviously he’d prefer to have been the victor in any and all of those bouts.
And he’ll absolutely need to win his next time out. Otherwise he’ll become the boxing version of the old cliché: Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
5. Boxers Behaving Badly: British lightweight Derry Mathews was arrested this past weekend after allegedly punching a woman who had been arguing with his “female partner,” according to the Liverpool Echo.
Mathews, 30, is out on bail. He last fought in September, stopping Curtis Woodhouse and improving to 34-8-2 with 19 knockouts. His next bout is scheduled for Dec. 7 against Stephen Ormond.
(Thanks to Jeremy Foley of the Pound4Pound Ireland blog for passing this story my way. He also inspired the entries of Hopkins and Foreman.)
In 2010, Mathews was found not guilty of criminal damage in a trial that came about after he was accused of breaking a side mirror on his ex-girlfriend’s car, according to the newspaper. Matthews was also given a six-month conditional discharge (basically probation before judgment) on a charge of using threatening words or behavior. Police said he’d gotten angry after seeing his former flame driving around with another man.
6. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Former heavyweight titleholder Herbie Hide pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to supply cocaine, according to BBC News.
His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Nov. 29.
Hide’s record as a fighter was 49-4 with 43 knockouts. He held a heavyweight world title twice during the ‘90s and had continued to box at or around cruiserweight over his final several years in the sport. His last bout was in April 2010.
7. I finally caught up on the enjoyable “Legendary Nights” documentary that HBO put together on the famed trilogy between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward.
The documentary fulfilled several purposes. It recalled the memorable action Gatti and Ward provided in back-to-back-to-back bouts. It served as a memorial to Gatti, who died in 2009, without giving short shrift to Ward, who was just as key to the trilogy being what it was.
Because of Gatti’s death, we could only hear about him through the voices of others (and see and hear him in archival footage). That brought back the pain of his loss, but it also brought back the joy that he had given us while he was alive.
8. Returning to Bernard Hopkins in a roundabout manner, let’s talk about the return of Beibut Shumenov, who somehow is still the World Boxing Association’s titleholder at 175 pounds.
Shumenov picked up the WBA belt in January 2010 with a controversial split decision in his rematch with Gabriel Campillo. He defended it in July 2010 against Vyacheslav Uzelkov; in January 2011 against the far past-his-prime and past his weight class William Joppy; in July 2011 against the lower-tier Danny Santiago; and then in June 2012 against the lower-tier Enrique Ornelas.
It’s been an underwhelming reign, though some of that was out of his control; a unification bout with Juergen Braehmer was canceled, and he wasn’t getting bouts against other top 175-pounders.
I get the feeling that might be about to change.
Shumenov recently signed with Golden Boy Promotions. He’ll be fighting on the Dec. 14 undercard to Adrien Broner vs. Marcos Maidana, once again against a lower-ranked opponent, WBA No. 15 guy Tamas Kovacs.
It’ll be his first fight in 18 months, and somehow the WBA has elevated him to its “super” champion status despite his inactivity. That he’s still a world titleholder is no surprise, given how long the WBA allowed a horribly inactive Guillermo Jones to keep his cruiserweight belt.
That Shumenov’s still a world titleholder means he might end up facing Bernard Hopkins, who said this past weekend that he’s interested in unifying titles at 175.
9. Between its “super,” “regular” and “interim” beltholders, the WBA has 35 titles in 17 weight classes, and it had even more prior to Canelo Alvarez’s loss to Floyd Mayweather and Alexander Povetkin’s loss to Wladimir Klitschko. It’s even expected to add at least two more beltholders before the end of the year.
10. At this rate, the WBA will have more titles than Dr. Seuss…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]