An Open Letter to Bernard Hopkins

Dawson Vs Hopkins (pic Harry Rosenbluth)
Dawson Vs Hopkins (pic Harry Rosenbluth)
By Dave McKee

Dear Champ,

What you should understand before you read any part of this missive is that boxing fans want to love you. We respect your unmatched ring intelligence. We are amazed at your twelve year domination of the middleweight division. You arrive every day, everywhere, in top physical shape. You have an uncanny ability to negate the best qualities of your opponents. When you have lost, you have lost close decisions. Setting aside your recent TKO, a result that was eventually reversed, you have never in twenty-two years condescended to be knocked out. You trumped Big George Foreman by taking a title at age forty-six. Your career is easily worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.

Yet, you surely noticed that thousands of seats remained unsold at your last fight. PPV sales were below already conservative expectations. If fans don’t find your style exciting, perhaps they are to blame for failing to appreciate the art in your science. Not every fighter engages in bloody warfare to win his fights. Just look at Mayweather. But even his haters, and there are many, buy his pay-per-views.

Champ, today you are an island. Your detractors and your fans alike are disgusted, churning in a sea of disappointment and a feeling of being cheated. They want their boxing champions to be heroic. They want them at the very least to show a willingness to do their job. The job description is simple: do more damage to the other guy that he does to you. Looking to the referee or any other person to intervene has no place in that. Pushing the limits of everyone’s patience by whining every time you get a boo-boo has no place in that.

Boxing hurts. A respected doctor tells us your shoulder was indeed damaged when Chad Dawson shoved you to the mat, and we accept that. Surely we will see the x-rays after litigation is concluded. No one but you knows how much that hurt. What should you have done in that situation? For most people, that kind of injury immediately ruins the entire day. But you are an elite boxer with just a few fights left. There is a truism in boxing that a fighter should “go out on his shield”. We want to love you, Bernard, but when have you shown us you are willing to do this?

Briefly, let’s look at a few names that evoke memories of heroic effort in the ring.

Jack Dempsey won the heavyweight title after knocking down Jess Willard seven times in the first round. His first heavy punch shattered Willard’s cheek. Willard forced Dempsey to administer more damage, losing teeth and enduring broken ribs and a broken jaw before his corner forced him to quit – in the fourth round!
Heavyweight champ Joe Frazier was bounced off the canvass six times by George Foreman before referee Arthur Mercante stopped the fight. Who doubts Frazier wanted one more go at the big guy?

Muhammad Ali forced a split decision loss against Ken Norton despite enduring a broken jaw in the fight.

After breaking his right hand, Tommy Hearns fought on against Marvelous Marvin Hagler. He arguably had little chance at all to win with this great weapon shattered, but he had the will to try.

Diego Corrales was knocked down twice times by Joel Casamayor. The fight was stopped when a broken mouth guard burst a hole through Corrales’ face. His most heated fighting of the night occurred when he begged Dr. Goodman to give him one more round – just one more round!

Mickey Ward and Arturo Gatti. If I have to explain these names we are wasting our time altogether.

And on the undercard of your non-fight with Chad Dawson, we saw a spectacular demonstration of championship caliber heart. Joge Lenares suffered a broken nose and ghastly cuts on his nose and eye. With blood streaming from his face he struggled against the brutal punches of Antonio DeMarco, winning most rounds on skill and heart. He lost by TKO, but he won over fans with his courage and refusal to quit. Did you not see the blood on the canvass when you entered the ring? Did you not appreciate the rare commitment shown that night before your tilt with Dawson began?

Finally, let us consider a champion who literally quit, with great impact on his reputation. Vitali Klitschko was dominating Chris Byrd when he refused to answer the bell. He was suffering from a torn rotator cuff. Fans wanted to love him, Bernard. He had won twenty-seven fights by knockout, yet this one decision threatened to destroy his reputation. Klitschko heard the criticism, and he earned fans’ respect in a war with Lennox Lewis. With one of the most horrifying cuts ever seen over a boxers’ eye he refused to quit, begging to fight, pleading for a rematch.

We want to love you, too, Bernard, but you look to the referee to give you a point for a foul, to interrupt the fight while you recover and to grant you a no-contest. Why? So you can get an extra payday? One diehard fan recently told me he loves Corrales, Morales, and Gatti, because they “have themselves measured for a coffin in the dressing room before they head out to the ring.” It is a grim bit of hyperbole, but it makes the point: these fighters demonstrate courage and heart and a willingness to endure suffering to achieve greatness.

We want to love you, B-Hop, but you refuse to give the same commitment to your profession. And your profession is, after all, fighting.

October 28, 2011
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