Derek Bonnett documents the legendary career of Bernard Hopkins, who will enter the IBHOF next year, six years after old foe Joe Calzaghe
With a career that spanned four decades, Bernard Hopkins punched his ticket as a first ballot Hall of Famer. Hopkins, along with Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley and a handful of other gifted contributors, is a key name among the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s class of 2020. Hopkins and company will be enshrined in Canastota, New York this coming June.
Hopkins, dubbed “The Executioner” for the majority of his career, was never a feared opponent in terms of power or speed. His nickname, whatever its intention, was perhaps misunderstood even amid the black hoods and axes. Most of the time, Hopkins was not a seek-and-destroy type, although Joe Lipsey and Oscar De La Hoya may rebuke this. Hopkins was more of a figurative executioner, because he executed a plan and used guile in lieu of crunching fists or blazing gloves to ‘murder’ his opponents. Late in his career, Hopkins called himself “The Alien” because his very presence at the top of the game at an advanced age defined human nature and suggested he just might be out of this world.
Hopkins’ seat among the 2020 inductees was almost guaranteed as the Philadelphia boxer paid homage to the wily greats of yesterday, such as Bennie Briscoe, Archie Moore, George Benton and a host of earlier Murderers’ Row outcasts.
Unlike those fighters of the same ilk, Hopkins got his shot early and was not ignored. Perhaps it was a lack of iron in his fists or the fact that Hopkins lost his professional debut that made him seem mortal. Maybe it was due to that fact that Hopkins mostly won, but wasn’t always the fighter to most convincingly defeat a foe as was the case against Gilbert Baptiste. After winning a calm decision over Baptiste, Hopkins found himself in his first middleweight world title bout against Roy Jones Jr, in 1993. Their names would become two of the biggest in the sport in years to come, but at this point both stepped up in class. The fight was cautious and neither man looked as though he would ever rule the sport for as long as they did. Jones won a just decision when they each had experienced just over 20 bouts.
Hopkins would not lose again for nearly 12 years.
In that time frame, Hopkins rebuilt as a regional title holder with four more victories and earned a second title shot a year later. In his first bout with Segundo Mercado, Hopkins was twice floored and hung on for a draw. That was in Mercado’s native Ecuador, at high altitude. The rematch in 1995 saw Hopkins dominating Mercado for a seventh-round stoppage in the United States to pick up a vacant world title, a belt he would hold onto for over a decade. In defences, Hopkins took the unbeaten records of Lipsey and Glen Johnson. He also administered stern educations to veterans such as John David Jackson and Simon Brown.
In 2001, Hopkins unified three of the middleweight belts with career-strong victories over Keith Holmes and Felix Trinidad. Trinidad was unbeaten and favoured by many to win. However, Hopkins ‘executed’ his plan and completely befuddled the Puerto Rican puncher for a last-round stoppage. The well ran a little dry afterward, but Hopkins remained busy and added victories over William Joppy and brought his middleweight title triumphs to 19 before meeting Oscar De La Hoya for full unification of the division. The body shot which ended Oscar’s night and sent him back down in weight was one of Hopkins’ finest.
In 2005, Hopkins lost back-to-back bouts to the busier Jermain Taylor. Yet, those verdicts are still hotly debated. Seemingly at the end of the road, Hopkins climbed 15lbs to the light-heavyweight division and bested, Roy Jones Jr. conqueror, Antonio Tarver with an historic win past the age of 40. Hopkins then defeated Winky Wright before dropping a decision to Joe Calzaghe. However, Hopkins rebounded with a bang and dominated Taylor’s conqueror Kelly Pavlik over 12 rounds. This fight holds a special memory for me as it was my second bout covered as a writer for Seconds Out.
Hopkins pressed on and added a long-awaited rematch victory over a faded Jones Jr, before moving into ‘alien’ territory as he continued to best younger world-class foes such as Jean Pascal to regain control of the light-heavyweight division. Hopkins would not dominate everyone as shown in his two bouts with Chad Dawson, but he was hardly done and kept winning over top foes such as Tavoris Cloud and Beibut Shumenov. In doing so, Hopkins became the oldest alien, er, man to win a world championship and unify championship titles. Hopkins remained a champion until two months before reaching the age of 50. In his last two bouts, he lost to Sergey Kovalev and Joe Smith Jr.
Hopkins amassed a brilliant 55-8-2 (32) record. He fought in 33 world title bouts and 24 times shared the ring with a world champion, past, present, or future. His record of 20 title defenses surpassed that of Carlos Monzon. He edged Sugar Ray Robinson and Archie Moore to become the eldest statesman to win middleweight and light-heavyweight titles. He even usurped George Foreman as the oldest man to win a belt period.
Come June, Hopkins will fit right in with the legends in Canastota.