By Jake Donovan
Very little is known about Bernard Hopkins’ loss to Clinton Mitchell, other than what is provided by its line result, a majority loss for the Philadelphia boxer.
We know that it served as the pro debut for both fighters nearly 24 years ago in Atlantic City. We know that both fighters disappeared soon after. Mitchell wouldn’t fight again for another seven years, returning shortly after the start of Hopkins’ middleweight title reign way back in 1995.
The 16 month gap in between Hopkins’ first and second fight always remained a bit of a mystery as well. The 47-year old – who prepares for his next lineal light heavyweight title defense in a rematch with Chad Dawson on April 28 – provided some insight as to what went through his mind after ending that Oct. ’88 night as an 0-1 fighter.
“I had to tell myself that night whether I wanted to do this, or I wanted to return to the streets of Philadelphia,” said Hopkins, whose boxing career came after serving time in Graterford State Prison for armed robbery while as a teenager. “If you look at my record, you'll see that from 1989 and half of 1990, I was inactive. I had to ask myself if I was ready to live, eat, breathe and sleep boxing.”
“The discipline wasn't as full blown as it has been for the past two decades. So when I made the decision and told myself this is what I want to do, I don't want to go to prison, don't want to go to the graveyard. I made that choice. I made that real clear. I came back with a terror. I reeled off 22 straight wins and became the #1 contender.”
Hopkins’ championship dreams were temporarily delayed after falling short to Roy Jones Jr. in their vacant middleweight title fight in May ’93. The title run officially began two years later, dominating Segundo Mercado in their April ’95 rematch to acquire the belt he would defend a middleweight record 20 times before conceding the crown to Jermain Taylor ten years later.
A new chapter began when Hopkins soundly outpointed Antonio Tarver in June ‘06 to gain recognition as the best light heavyweight in the world. There was debate over whether his reign boasted true lineage, so Hopkins settled all disputes once and for all. A turn-back-the clock performance in last year’s rematch with Jean Pascal netted the future Hall of Famer the light heavyweight crown.
In a strange way, it’s suggested that none of his accomplishments would have come about if not for the lessons learned in losing his pro debut.
“The legacy began when I made that choice, whether I'd dedicate my life to the sport and live that lifestyle. Once you paid that price and physically survived that, it doesn’t kill you. That's why I'm so obsessed with staying in shape whether I'm fighting or not. Some people have to detox - they eat junk food and then they go to camp. It's a discipline to stay the course. It's the biggest, biggest, biggest challenge there is.”
For more than two decades, Hopkins has stayed true to the advice, ‘stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.’ Some have obtained all they need from their chosen profession and bask in the afterglow. Hopkins remains one of the few able to go to bed in silk pajamas and still wake up in the wee hours of the morning to do roadwork.
That level of dedication has allowed the two-division champ to outlast an entire generation of fighters and wreak havoc on the next wave of stars. He proved it against younger guns such as Felix Trinidad, Oscar de la Hoya, Kelly Pavlik and most recently Pascal.
The next – and perhaps last – challenge in queue is proving that he has enough in the tank to survive his upcoming rematch with Dawson, regarded by many as the future of the light heavyweight division.
“How do you reap the benefits and still maintain that intensity? I understand that, and it gives me the upper hand,” Hopkins believes as he returns to the city that saw his pro debut. “Stay the course and learn to roll with the punches, whether you're here that day or gone the next.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]