by David P. Greisman
Perhaps Bernard Hopkins never truly cared what we thought of him, this rebel who had defied a system stacked against him. He lived by his own standards, thrived through his own principles, acted as his own judge, jury and, appropriately, executioner.
There he was, a free man decades after a prison warden told him he’d soon be back.
There he was, a rich man in a business where few fulfill the promise of financial rewards.
There he was, a healthy man in a sport where most experience the harsh premise of physical repercussions.
There he was, first a titleholder, then a champion, finally a future Hall of Famer, all after losing his first pro fight.
Except Hopkins couldn’t hide that he cared. The criticism compelled him, driving him to defy those who expected him to fail.
There he was, glaring at the boxing media at ringside after proving wrong those who overwhelmingly predicted he would lose against Kelly Pavlik in 2008.
There he was, going off on a boxing writer who had compiled predictions from writers and fighters, nearly all of whom predicted he would lose against Chad Dawson this past weekend.
That Bernard Hopkins both cares and doesn’t care what we think of him is why we will think of him in more than one way.
What we remember depends on how we remember it. Our worst memories of ourselves stick with us, haunting us with past moments and embarrassments. Our best memories of others remain, embellishing their features, whitewashing their flaws.
We tend to appreciate performers — athletes, actors and artists — more when they are gone, whether by dying or simply disappearing from the spotlight. Larry Holmes is praised more now that he is deep into retirement than he was while he was dominant in the ring.
That won’t be the case with Hopkins — not completely.
That’s because for all the great he has given, all those exceptional masterpieces he put forth, there were far too many excruciating messes.
The criticism used to be just that he was becoming boring to watch, that he didn’t throw enough punches, that his two losses to Jermain Taylor came because he became frugal as a fighter, doing so much to make sure his opponents would do so little, but doing too little to win enough rounds.
But he got even better at negating his opponents’ positive attributes, and suddenly he wasn’t just boring to watch, but brutal —bouts against Winky Wright, Joe Calzaghe, Roy Jones Jr. and Chad Dawson.
He didn’t care what we thought of him, so long as he won — or so long as he thought he won and that the system, once again, sought to work against him.
Except he cared what we thought of him. He knew he could still be great, and he knew when he had to prove himself right and us wrong.
He could perform under that pressure, rising from middleweight and upsetting Antonio Tarver to win the light heavyweight championship at age 41, putting on a clinic against Pavlik at age 43, battling Jean Pascal to a draw at age 45 and then, at 46, beating Pascal to become the oldest fighter ever to become a true world champion.
We will remember him for what he did in his older days, defying his disadvantages and defeating those who were younger, stronger and faster. We will also remember him for what he did while younger himself, winning a world title, defending it for a decade, unifying the belts and dismantling Felix Trinidad in a tournament designed for Trinidad to win and in an arena of fans rooting for Trinidad to do so.
His skills and strategies in the ring could create evenings of beauty. That will be one of his legacies.
His skills and strategies could contribute to evenings of agony. That will be another.
As much as we might embellish Hopkins’ features once he retires, whenever he retires, we will not be able to whitewash his flaws. He wasn’t just stifling his opponents with movement, but with even more clutching and mauling and fouling than he’d done even before, back when his dirty tricks still garnered smiles and winks, back when we still saw them as veteran moves and saw him as but an experienced executioner.
Exhibitions like those against Tarver, Pavlik and Pascal became exceptions, though. The rest were the rules, fights where clean punching happened on occasion but the dirty tricks happened more often.
He had summoned up the will to work more of each round against Tarver, Pavlik and Pascal. He returned to the wrong side of “old form” against Dawson this past Saturday, doing lots to make sure Dawson did little, while his own offense opened up even less.
Dawson landed 151 of 431 punches, according to CompuBox statistics, hitting Hopkins with fewer than 13 punches per round. Hopkins, however, was 106 of 400, landing less than nine shots for every three minutes.
Dawson’s punches were easier to see. Hopkins had moments, though nowhere near enough of them.
Two of the scorecards reflected reality, a 117-111 decision for Dawson. The third tally, a 114-114 draw, was rightly overruled.
At first Hopkins spoke little afterward. The system had always been against him, and in his mind this seemed to be the case again. Yet he became cordial in defeat, complimentary of his conqueror, even if he felt neither conquered nor defeated.
He had put up a fight, done more and better at 47 than any fighter his age should be able to do. That, to him, was a victory in and of itself, at least until he could find another challenge to motivate him, another set of odds to overcome.
Perhaps he didn’t care what we thought of him. He wasn’t going to retire yet, he said. He had no reason to, he believed. Except he does care, which is why he is searching for one more chance to show us what he still can do.
He also mentioned mentoring young fighters someday, teaching them the tools and tricks of the trade.
That would be his third legacy. Memories can fade, but knowledge can be passed down.
The 10 Count
1. Meanwhile, Chad Dawson is once again the lineal light heavyweight champion, regaining the throne he lost to Jean Pascal back in August 2010.
He’s gone from being a young titleholder in a division full of older, more recognizable names (few of whom were initially eager to fight him) to being a two-time champion who has now faced Glen Johnson twice, Antonio Tarver twice and Bernard Hopkins twice.
“I’m ready to take on some of these young guys,” Dawson said at this past weekend’s post-fight press conference.
That’s refreshing to hear, considering the stranglehold the aging veterans seemingly had on television dates and fans’ attention for so many years. But now the 29-year-old Dawson is on top in a division with Tavoris Cloud, Gabriel Campillo, Nathan Cleverly, Pascal and Beibut Shumenov, among others.
The biggest fight among those is a Pascal rematch, though Pascal is on his way to facing Cloud next. There’s also the possibility of an eventual bout with Lucian Bute, though Bute is still at super middleweight and is set to face Carl Froch this May.
There’s one other name, though, a guy Dawson mentioned immediately after topping Hopkins: Andre Ward. (If Ward didn’t want to jump to 175, Dawson has said he’s open to dropping to 168.)
Though Ward has been fighting for years on Showtime and is coming off that network’s extended “Super Six” tournament, he has been negotiating with HBO, according to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.
“Showtime has the right to match any offer Ward gets,” Mannix wrote a couple of weeks ago, “though HBO with its big budget could price them out.”
Ward’s schedule appears to be free for a Dawson clash. One imagines there’d need to be a “set-up” fight beforehand, however, to help build the buzz for their bout, and also to give Ward a comeback bout coming off the tournament’s level of opposition (and the hand injury he suffered in December’s finale).
2. The last time the true super middleweight champion took on the true light heavyweight champion?
April 19, 2008, when Joe Calzaghe challenged and defeated Bernard Hopkins.
It’s stylistically possible that Dawson vs. Ward could also be ugly, though doubtfully as bad as was Hopkins vs. Calzaghe.
3. I admit to being disappointed after seeing this headline: “Juan Manuel Marquez is Not Interested in Brandon Rios.”
The story, by Jose Luis Camarillo of notifight.com (and syndicated on this website), said that Marquez would prefer to face a southpaw.
“I don’t like the Rios [fight]. He doesn’t make weight,” Camarillo quoted Marquez as saying. “In addition, he doesn’t fit our plans because he is a right-[handed fighter].”
That’s a shame. I’ve yearned for a Marquez-Rios action fight for what feels like forever, first at lightweight, now at junior welterweight. While Rios could be a tough out for Marquez, it seems like one of the best possible matches for both guys. Mike Alvarado belongs, too.
Aggressive fighters bring out the best in Marquez, who often battles through some very tough moments before pulling out the impressive victory. He did it with Juan Diaz. He did it with Michael Katsidis. I’d love to see if he could do it with Rios.
4. I admit to being happy that Paulie Malignaggi did exactly what he should’ve done. Unable to get a big fight and a good payday in the United States, he got over his aversion of traveling overseas and facing an opponent who is anonymous in America.
He took the money that was available rather than hold out in hopes of something even better. And he took his fate into his own hands, scoring a technical-knockout victory over Vyacheslav Senchenko and winning a welterweight world title.
(Full disclosure: I was traveling on Sunday and haven’t seen the fight yet.)
Sorry to beat this example into the ground, but it’s the kind of move that Zab Judah had to make years ago, and made the best of, going into hostile territory in St. Louis for his rematch with Cory Spinks, stopping Spinks and regaining the lineal welterweight championship.
5. Yes, Malignaggi added a knockout to his record, his seventh in 31 wins.
Is this one more sign of the apocalypse?
6. It makes sense that ESPN2 would want to make up for losing a “Friday Night Fights” broadcast by adding another airing on another day, compensating for the loss of a May 4 card that Golden Boy Promotions moved to the Fox Sports family of networks (per Dan Rafael of ESPN.com).
But it makes no sense that the make-up card is one headlined by Demetrius Andrade that will be shown on May 5 at 10 p.m….
…at the same time as the boxing pay-per-view featuring Miguel Cotto and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
7. Correction: A very early version of last week’s column misremembered Amir Khan’s fight with Marcos Maidana, erroneously recalling Khan being knocked down against Maidana when, of course, Khan was reeling around the ring in that dramatic 10th round but never actually went to the canvas. I whiffed, and I regret the error.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Former 130-pound titleholder Jorge Barrios is out of prison despite being sentenced to four years behind bars for a hit-and-run crash in Argentina that killed a pregnant woman and her unborn child, according to the Buenos Aires Herald.
Barrios paid $200,000 last week to secure his release, the terms of which have him “not allowed to leave his house for periods of over 24 hours and [he] cannot exit the country without a court authorization,” the newspaper reported. “He is, however, allowed to drive and is required to report to a police station every week.”
He was sentenced to prison just this April on charges stemming from a January 2010 incident in which Barrios struck one car, then ran over a group of pedestrians, then hit another car, according to the article.
Barrios, 35, last fought in October 2010, a win that brought his record to 50-4-1 with 35 knockouts and 1 no contest.
9. Boxers Behaving Badly: Marvin Cordova Jr., a former junior welterweight and welterweight prospect who appeared on “Friday Night Fights” and “ShoBox,” has been arrested in Colorado after allegedly taking part in a robbery, according to television station KRDO.
Cordova and another man allegedly robbed a man who was buying stereo equipment from them on April 27. Cordova, 27, had not actually been charged in the robbery yet as of Saturday, the report said, but is instead being held on multiple active warrants that had landed him on the local police department’s “Most Wanted” list.
He last fought in August 2010, losing an entertaining eight-round decision to Josesito Lopez on “Friday Night Fights” that dropped his record to 21-2-1 with 11 KOs (the one draw was a technical draw against Victor Ortiz).
He was arrested nine days after that following a traffic stop when police found out that — you guessed it — there were warrants out for his arrest.
10. So, I went to a Bernard Hopkins bout, and a Bernard Hopkins bout broke out…
…do any of the people who were booing Saturday night in Boardwalk Hall want to tell me what they expected to happen?
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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