PHILADELPHIA — The TV lights still seem attracted to him each time Bernard Hopkins speaks or holds an open workout. To the media horde in Philadelphia, he’s still the eye of boxing in this fighting city.
They swallowed everything up at Joe Hand’s Gym on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. The winter teams — the 76ers and Flyers — are floundering. The Phillies are in Florida for spring training trying to rebound from last year’s 81-81 season, and the Eagles are rebuilding after a disastrous 4-12 season. The only sports show in town — at the moment — is future Hall of Famer Hopkins.
The former middleweight champ hasn’t scored a knockout since he downed his Golden Boy partner, Oscar De La Hoya, back on Sept. 18, 2004. Since then, “The Executioner” has gone 7-4-1, with 1 no-decision, a rather tarnished looking recent record, but it should be noted that the Philly native twice won the light heavyweight championship during that time (first against Antonio Tarver in 2006 and then against Jean Pascal in 2011.)
Hopkins (52-6-2, 32 knockouts) was a 3-to-1 underdog against Tarver and against Pascal the first time he fought the Quebec star. He was also a 3-to-1 underdog against Kelly Pavlik, who he upset in 2008. Hopkins had plenty to say to and about his doubters then, and time hasn’t softened his opinion of his perceived detractors.
To the educated, informed fight fan, Tuesday afternoon was more of the same old, same old. Just a different day. Hopkins held court while getting his hands taped in preparation for his fight against IBF light heavyweight beltholder Tavoris Cloud at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on March 9.
Hopkins railed against the doubters. He railed against those who don’t think he has a chance, at 48 years old, to beat the 31-year-old Cloud (24-0, 19 KOs). He railed for the “forty-and-up club,” for “his generation of fighters.” But mostly, he just railed.
And all the pointed tape recorders, TV cameras and oblivious ogling producers ate it up.
“I’m defending more than just a fight, and winning a title and being on HBO again, this is my legacy I’m defending and I’m not going to have my legacy tarnished,” Hopkins vowed in a measured tone. “That’s why this fight is more important to me than the last couple of fights that I’ve fought, because my legacy is on the line. Most people here understand how much I’m a proud guy and what I’ve achieved. I don’t put myself on the line to have someone who didn’t do one-third of the work that I’ve done through all of these years to be a win on somebody’s record and embarrassing myself. I refuse to surrender to that type of mentality.”
“Anyone that stops, embarrassing Bernard Hopkins, which hasn’t been physically done in boxing, they become an instant star. I have no problem with them reaching their dreams, but not on my dime. I’m determined to take care of my business. I believe [Cloud’s] aggressiveness will make a great fight. But someone who approaches me being reckless, that will work against them.”
During the press conference announcing the Cloud-Hopkins fight in Brooklyn a month ago, Cloud sat back and laughed. To his credit, he said then that he wants to stop Hopkins, which has never been done.
Hopkins already holds the all-time mark for consecutive middleweight title defenses (20). Hopkins also broke George Foreman’s record by becoming the oldest fighter to win a world title when, at 46, he beat Pascal for the WBC and RING world championship. He is headed to Canastota, New York, as a future first-ballot Hall of Famer—when, and if, he ever retires.
What’s left for him to do?
“You can never do everything in boxing,” Hopkins said. “Boxing is about being relevant. If you’re not relevant, why keep going? I’m still relevant. I know that I can still win and compete on this level. I love what I do, and I know love sometimes can hurt. And this business does hurt—it hurts. I’m so competitive, just like Michael Jordan was so competitive, and the great athletes that came before were so competitive, and if I know I have the body and the skills to still do it, there’s no denial. Why not keep doing something you’re passionate about and can keep doing.”
Hopkins also has another, possibly more powerful motivating tool—Don King, Cloud’s promoter who had a very acrimonious split with Hopkins when the two were together in the early-2000s.
“I always said there are two people that will never see me get beat up and they are Don King and Larry Merchant,” Hopkins said. “I’ve outlasted Larry Merchant. I know that after March 9, I’m going to retire Don King. I won a lot of things in my life, and I’m going to have Don King’s jacket. I don’t like Don King. We have a history together. Don King, by not purposely helping me, helped me by trying to dethrone me.”
Naazim Richardson, The Executioner’s trainer, views Cloud as a rugged fighter, a slightly better version than Pascal. Cloud, Richardson said, won’t fade like Pascal did against Hopkins in May 2011.
In the meantime, the old-school trainer is staying by his old-school fighter.
“Cloud will re-invent himself to beat Bernard Hopkins,” Richardson said. “He’s going to have to be the best Tavoris Cloud we’ve ever seen. He has to be. We’ll keep on going. Bernard’s lifestyle is a world champion. Bernard is still getting it done in the gym. He’s still holding up to the pressure. He’ll tell you, I told him to retire after the [Antonio] Tarver [in June 2006] fight. Only because I felt he did it all. That focus he has is ridiculous. He’s the exception to the rule. We got out of dictating when the end is. We’re going to be the best we can be while we’re here.”
Photo / Rich Kane-Golden Boy Promotions-Hoganphotos