By Thomas Gerbasi
Part Two of a Two Part series, Click Here To Read Part 1.
History has shown that Bernard Hopkins is probably not the guy you want to get angry. You only need to look at the face of William Joppy after their world middleweight championship bout in 2003 for proof of that.
Bruised and misshapen beyond recognition, Joppy’s face showed the effects of 12 rounds with a fighter intent on nothing more than punishment. A $50,000 bet between the two that Hopkins would knock Joppy out was the catalyst between the two rivals, and “The Executioner” did everything in his power to earn that bounty. He didn’t, but he did leave a message for those who tried to engage with him on a level beyond a mere sporting event.
Few, if any, did after that night in Atlantic City. Sure, there was the usual gamesmanship and trash talking that has become a staple of Hopkins’ pre-fight schtick, but no one crossed the line until Jean Pascal did earlier this year when, at a press conference announcing their bout tomorrow night in Montreal, he called on Hopkins to take a pre-fight drug test, insinuating that the 46 year old wonder was making boxing history in a less than legit manner.
Hopkins, usually in control of his emotions, erupted, blurting to the media “Don’t be surprised if I kill him.”
To most, a championship fight took on a wholly different, more ominous air. Did Hopkins cross his own line into the realm of bad taste?
“I’ve worked so hard in and out of the ring, and I took so much s**t that I don’t mind, because without struggle, who would Bernard be?” Hopkins told BoxingScene. “Without struggle, I think I wouldn’t be here. So when a guy says something about my legacy and my history of what I’ve come from, I can walk in my home and catch a guy in my bedroom with my wife, and that won’t be the worst thing that happened to me. The things that were said were deeper than having a guy in my bedroom, in my house, with my wife, butt naked. I can forgive that before I can forgive what he said, based on the history that got me here. So when a guy says something to me to discredit me and have people thinking ‘oh, this thing that he’s done all these years is now under question,’ yes, the ambulance will be right by any fight that happens in the world, there will be one there, and don’t be surprised if he’s in it.”
A pause. A long, uncomfortable pause. After a second or two that feels like 100, a new question is asked, but Hopkins continues, just to make sure you didn’t misunderstand him the first time.
“And I mean that,” he continues. “And to get hurt, you gotta fight hurt, and that means that I have to be in the line of fire too. So at the end of the day, it is what it is, but that’s what’s gonna happen, and I’m comin’ for him. And he better be ready. I’m telling you, chin down, bite down on the mouthpiece, and we’re going to war. Emile Griffith and Benny “Kid” Paret.
It’s not the first time Hopkins has referenced the tragic 1962 bout in which Paret died after injuries sustained against Griffith. The last was when he faced Joppy.
“And you seen the way Joppy looked when it was over with, right?” blurts Hopkins. “And the only reason they didn’t stop it was because we had that $50,000 bet.”
It’s a stark reminder that for all the pomp and circumstance surrounding a world championship bout, and despite it being a regulated sporting event, it is also a fight, and sometimes people get hurt in a fight. If Pascal thought he was going to play patty cake with Hopkins for 12 rounds, this was his reality check.
Of course, there will be those that point to many of Hopkins’ past bouts and say that they resembled chess matches and not bloodbaths, making a comparison to Griffith-Paret mere talk. Hopkins is no fool though. He knows his history, he knows how his fights are perceived, and he knows himself. He’s also aware that when he rose from two knockdowns in his first fight against Pascal and fought like a starving 24 year old for the remaining rounds to get a disputed draw verdict that most believed belonged to him, he showed a side of himself that few had seen – at least not in a long time. And he’s willing to go down that road again tomorrow night. That doesn’t mean he regrets the way he’s fought for most of his career.
“There’s a possibility I might go down again because I’m gonna be the aggressor,” he said. “I’m gonna show the world that the Bernard Hopkins that they’ve seen for many fights was a great Bernard Hopkins. Some would argue that it was kinda boring and that he’s a defensive fighter. Well, I had to buy some time to get where I’m at. I didn’t fight like Arturo Gatti, and I love him. I didn’t fight like Micky Ward, and I love him. I didn’t fight like the people who had short careers but great fights. I love these people. I don’t fight like Joe Frazier. I love these people and maybe that’s why I still can speak and talk and be understood by my 11 year old daughter, because I had enough wisdom from the old school boxers. They said blame it on the old school – hit, but not get hit Bernard. Hit, but not get hit Bernard. What happened to that? What happened to the sweet science of boxing? What happened that we’ve seen that blood and guts shows that you got heart? But what about common sense and the ability to be able to show heart but also show intelligence? Man cannot replace a brain – yet.”
And more than anyone of this era, Hopkins’ smarts have placed him on the automatic list of inductees into the Hall of Fame as soon as he hangs up the gloves. He never delivered an epic war that you’ll pop into the DVD player when friends come over, or sacrificed his blood for entertainment’s sake. But when it comes to making the tough decisions in and out of the ring, no one compares. And you can’t argue with a decade atop the middleweight division or his ability to compete with and beat the best in the world well past his 40th birthday. But with such excellence comes the inevitable sacrifices, and Hopkins isn’t shy about admitting what he has had to give up in one way, shape, or form over the years.
“My family,” he said. “My daughter’s 11 and I missed six, seven years out of that. There were some years when I was around, but I didn’t see her walk. I got a call that she walked. I got a call that she took the first two steps and fell right back down. I don’t even know one of my daughter’s teachers. Anniversaries, birthdays, time. You can’t get back time. But it wasn’t wasted time. So that’s the thing that really helps me through this whole process.”
“And if this is what you want to do and you got the stomach for it, even through the clouds and the rain, then the rewards are great,” Hopkins continues. “Not just the personal rewards, but to have my daughter in the best school, to get the best teachers, to have my family being able to go and come when they want, and to be able to help my sisters when they need help, to be able to help the ones that really want to do something and not just be dependent and lazy because I’m their family member or whatever.
“Look, somebody’s got to go out and slay the lion, somebody has to go out and bring the beef home, and every red-blooded American – rich, poor, middle-class, if that even exists anymore – knows what I’m talking about. There are days when both people have to be out making the bread for the family. If you want the best things for your family or for yourself, and you want to be able to enjoy this short time on this Earth called life, then you know what, somebody has to sacrifice those events that we look forward to every year. I have no regrets.”
He never has, and if you know him and his career, you wouldn’t expect him to because everything seems to have worked out. He’s got a first class ticket to Canastota five years after he retires, a title defense record at middleweight that may never be touched, and the eternal gratitude of media members around the world for being the most quotable boxer since Muhammad Ali. Add in a stable family life, and it’s almost as if there’s nothing left for Bernard Hopkins to conquer.
But then you’ll just have to mention the name Jean Pascal, and that’s all it takes for the Philly tough guy to emerge again. There’s still fight left in that 46 year old body, and he knows it.
“I didn’t plan this,” he said. “I stayed around long enough for it to happen. I didn’t plan for none of this. I planned to not get in trouble again. I planned to be somebody that I wasn’t early in my career and in my life. But as far as planning to be in position to be the oldest champion of any sport that I’ve heard of, especially boxing, surpassing George Foreman, did I plan that? No. But I stayed around because there were other purposes, and it wasn’t money then and it isn’t money, per se, now. And I say ‘per se’ because I don’t mind making a buck or two, as long as you can make it with dignity. But I’ll continue to still fight hungry, and not for a check and not for the lights and the cameras. I fight for the history and the love of the game. And enjoy me while I’m here, for good or bad, because I’m gonna leave making a whole bunch of noise, and I’m destined to set a bar so high that it would take centuries to come close to breaking it.”