By Jake Donovan
Ask any fighter heading into a major bout what the future holds in store and the answer you’re most likely to get is that they’re focus is squarely on their next fight and nothing else.
Bernard Hopkins refuses to speak on anything beyond Saturday night’s HBO-televised light heavyweight championship rematch with Chad Dawson in Atlantic City. The 47-year old history-making two-division world champion no longer speculates on the future, but for different reasons than for most of his peers.
“Who knows what the future holds after I beat Chad Dawson,” Hopkins (52-5-2, 32KO) wonders, speaking from past experience. “If you remember when I beat Kelly Pavlik, they blackballed me and sat me down for 16 months [Note: it was actually 14 months]. It’s not up to me where I go when I win. That’s up to the establishment.”
Pavlik was unbeaten at the time and some 20 years younger than Hopkins, but looked slow and confused as he was thoroughly embarrassed in their Oct. ’08 catchweight fight.
The achievement was to mark the rebirth of Hopkins, who came in on the heels of a narrow points loss to Joe Calzaghe and was assumed to be done, given his showing and his advanced age. As he instead learned after beating Pavlik, it’s not whether you win or lose but which rules you choose to follow.
“Something that happened in Oct. ’08 – the rules are different for Bernard Hopkins,” insists the future first ballot Hall of Famer. “The rules should be different for Bernard Hopkins because I made them that way in and out of the ring. Winning doesn’t mean that you might see me fight on HBO or Showtime. You know why? Because if you remember as Richard eloquently reminded y’all, after the Pavlik fight – which any fighter if he wasn’t a star would’ve been a triple star – I wound up going fishing.”
Hopkins’ return to the ring in Dec. ’09 didn’t with HBO or Showtime rolling out the red carpet. He was treated to a hometown showcase, fighting in Philadelphia for the first time in nearly seven years when he faced Enrique Ornelas.
Network coverage, however, was limited to Versus (now NBC Sports Network). HBO and Showtime came correct soon thereafter. HBO provided the distribution for his Apr. ‘10 rematch with Roy Jones. Showtime picked up the tab for Hopkins’ first fight with Jean Pascal in Dec. ’10 and HBO will now be involved for his third straight fight come Saturday.
It took for the first fight with Pascal for HBO to realize that Hopkins belongs on its flagship network. The aforementioned fight did huge ratings for rival network Showtime, but its controversial ending – the bout ending in a draw where most believe Hopkins won – denied the cable giant of a history making event.
HBO caught lightning in a bottle, picking up the tab for the May ’11 rematch. The ratings were favorable and Hopkins this time left no doubt, topping Pascal to become the oldest fighter in boxing history to win a world championship.
The lone defense of Hopkins’ latest reign was a letdown on every level. Fans have demanded a showdown with Dawson (30-1, 17KO) for three years, but everything about the actual fight was a disaster.
The fight was misplaced in Los Angeles – close to promoter Golden Boy Promotions’ home office but more than 3,000 miles from the hometown of both main event fighters as well as co-promoter Gary Shaw. A poorly attended crowd only meant fewer disappointed people; the fight lasted less than two rounds, ending with Hopkins on the canvas claiming an injured shoulder.
For nearly two months, Hopkins was declared a TKO victim, but a Dec. ’11 California State Athletic Commission hearing resulted in the bout being changed to a no contest. The ruling in part leads to Saturday’s rematch, taking place about an hour and change from Hopkins’ Philly stomping grounds.
Just don’t expect the aged veteran to get too comfortable in familiar surroundings.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m fighting in his backyard,” Hopkins states, continuing to find ways to motivate himself. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m fighting in enemy territory because you can’t expect me to think that anyone will ever do Bernard Hopkins a damn favor. You can look when I fought in Los Angeles. Golden Boy is based out of L.A. Oscar (de la Hoya, president of Golden Boy) is from L.A. You saw what they did to me in that fight before I stood there with my lawyers and promotional team and came across justice.
“It’s a game in the ring and out of the ring. That’s why on April 28, I’ll win the game in the ring, but it’s out of the ring that’s vicious. That’s where you don’t see the punches coming.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]