Bernard Hopkins is one of the most interesting and fascinating fighters in the history of boxing. As a youth, he was a hardcore criminal in the mean streets of Philadelphia, resulting in an armed robbery conviction of up to 18 years when he was only 17. After serving five years, Hopkins was released on parole. He vowed never to go back to a life of crime and in turn, prison. While incarcerated, he began boxing. Like many before him, boxing was his ticket to freedom and prosperity. It was that hunger and determination that helped make him the 17th greatest fighter of the last 45 years.
After losing his pro debut in 1988, Hopkins won his next 22 fights and earned a shot at the vacant IBF middleweight title. Unfortunately, he ran into the most talented and gifted fighter of his generation; Roy Jones, Jr. On May 22, 1993, Jones thoroughly outboxed Hopkins to win an easy 12-round decision to win the vacant title. That loss, like the earlier setbacks in Hopkins’ life, only made him stronger and that much more determined to one day become champion. After a few tuneup fights, Hopkins traveled to Ecuador to fight their native son Segundo Mercado on December 17, 1994 in another attempt to win the IBF title, which was once again vacant. Jones vacated the belt the month before after thoroughly outclassing James Toney to win the IBF Super Middleweight crown. Despite being knocked down twice, Hopkins dominated the majority of the fight, yet the fight was scored a draw. Once again, Hopkins failed in his quest to become champion. The third time would be the charm.
On April 7, 1995, Hopkins put on the first of many virtuoso performances as a middleweight. He outboxed and battered Mercado in the rematch, causing the referee to stop the fight. At the age of 30, Hopkins was finally the middleweight champion. It would be a division that he would dominate for 10 years and set a record with 20 defenses. It was one of the most incredible title reigns in the history of boxing, as Hopkins defeated one great fighter after another thoroughly and convincingly. Not one time was he given a gift decision.
On March 16, 1996, Hopkins defended against the IBF number one contender, Joe Lipsey. Despite beating several tomato cans, many so called experts picked Lipsey to defeat Hopkins. In the fourth round, Hopkins landed an incredible five-punch combination, culminating with his signature right cross that put the undefeated Lipsey to sleep. Despite being only 29 at the time, the beating was such that Lipsey never fought again. It wouldn’t be the last time Hopkins ruined a man’s career.
In 2001, Don King, in conjunction with Madison Square Garden, held a tournament to crown an undisputed middleweight champion of the world. King was holding this tournament as a showcase for the number one star of his stable, Puerto Rican legend Félix Trinidad. Trindad was 28 and in his prime. He was undefeated and one of the most explosive fighters in boxing history. In his fight against WBA champion William Joppy, Trinidad destroyed him inside five rounds. This beating, coupled with Hopkins’ workmanlike decision decision over WBC champion Keith Holmes and him being 36, made Trinidad the favorite in their historic middleweight unification fight held in September of 2001.
The fight was originally scheduled for September 15, 2001 but the events of 9/11 postponed the fight until September 29. My father had died a year before this fight occurred. My father was a proud Puerto Rican and Trinidad was one of his favorite fighters of all-time. The last fight we saw together on television before he died was Trinidad’s destruction of Mamadou Thiam. I attended the September 29, 2001 fight at MSG. It was the first fight I ever attended without the presence of my father. While he would’ve rooted hard for Trinidad, he would’ve known what I knew: Trinidad was tailor made for Hopkins.
Hopkins was a master boxer/counter puncher. The only fighters that gave Hopkins problems in his career were slick and quick boxers. Trinidad was a deadly boxer/puncher, but as displayed in his fight against Oscar De La Hoya, he had a very difficult time dealing with a fighter who moved and gave him angles. I told everyone I knew that Trinidad didn’t have a shot in the world to beat Hopkins. That night, Hopkins put on the performance of a lifetime. He knew what Trinidad was going to do before Trinidad did. It was a master display of counter punching and defense. Trinidad took a terrible beating for 12 rounds. Finally, in the 12th round, after going down from a booming right cross, Trinidad laid on the canvas a battered and beaten man. Trinidad was never the same after this fight. Hopkins, at the age of 36, was on top of the world and held the title for another four years until losing a close decision to Jermain Taylor on July 16, 2005. He would lose the subsequent rematch five months later. At the age of 40, Hopkins looked all but done. Shockingly, he began a second run at 175 pounds.
On June 10, 2006, the 41 year old Hopkins faced the reigning 175 pound light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver. Tarver was the best 175-pound fighter in the world and was coming off two dominating wins over the legendary Roy Jones. Tarver was a huge 3-1 favorite and rightfully so. That night in Atlantic City, Hopkins turned back the clock as he gave Tarver a similar boxing lesson and beating he had administered to Trinidad. Hopkins battered Tarver for the entire 12 rounds in winning a lopsided decision en route to becoming a two division champion. It wouldn’t be the last time Hopkins shocked the boxing world.
On April 19, 2008, Hopkins was thoroughly outboxed by Joe Calzhage, losing his 175-pound title in the process. At 43-years-old, the entire boxing world was clamoring for the self proclaimed “Executioner” to retire. Instead, Hopkins signed to face the 160-pound king and power puncher, Kelly Pavlik. The 26-year-old Pavlik was coming off two convincing victories over Taylor, the same man who had ended Hopkins’ legendary middleweight reign. Pavlik was an overwhelming 4-1 favorite and many were afraid for Hopkins’ well being, including myself. On the night of October 18, 2008, Hopkins once again defeated Father Time as he gave Pavlik a one-sided beating in winning another lopsided decision. I was amazed that evening watching Hopkins do what he wanted to against a highly skilled puncher 17 years younger. Pavlik never looked the same that night and would eventually retire four years later.
In one of the saddest fights of all-time, Hopkins faced his long time nemesis in April 3, 2010. The 45-year-old Hopkins dominated the 41-year-old Roy Jones Jr. to finally capture his revenge 17 years after losing. Unfortunately, this win didn’t mean a hill of beans to boxing historians. Roy had no business fighting as he was coming off a first round knockout loss in his last fight. It was a sloppy and pathetic fight, a fight in which Bernard dominated despite looking very old himself. Once again the boxing world urged the 45-year-old Hopkins to retire. Unbeknownst to us, he still had some gas left in the tank.
On December 18, 2010, Hopkins campaigned against Haitian born WBC and Ring Magazine 175-pound champion Jean Pascal in the champion’s adoptive Quebec City hometown. Hopkins was dropped twice in the first three rounds by the very awkward and aggressive champion. Despite an early deficit due to the two knockdowns, Hopkins completely dominated the second half of the fight to secure a draw and immediate rematch five months later. On May 21, 2011, Hopkins, now a tender 46-year-old boxer, totally dominated Pascal over the entire 12 rounds to win a comfortable decision and once again become the lineal reigning light heavyweight champion of the world.
Hopkins’ second reign as 175-pound champion lasted less than 11 months after a pair of fights versus former champion Chad Dawson. After the first fight ended in a controversial no contest, Dawson completely outclassed the 47-year-old Hopkins on April 28, 2012. Once again the boxing world pronounced that B-Hop was finished. Once again, Hopkins sought to prove them wrong.
On March 9, 2013, the now 48-year-old Hopkins once again spat in the face of Father Time by totally dominating and bullying the 31-year-old IBF light heavyweight champion Tavoris Cloud over 12-rounds to regain a portion of the 175-pound title a third time. Then, on April 19, 2014, the 49-year-old defeated WBA 175-pound champion Beibut Shumenov to unify both versions of the light heavyweight title. Hopkins then signed to fight the boogeyman of the division, the WBO champion from Russia, Sergey Kovalev on November 8, 2014. Finally, two months short of his 50th birthday, Father Time finally caught up to the Philadelphia sage. Kovalev gave Hopkins a one-sided thudding over 12-rounds to unify all three alphabet titles. Hopkins, unwisely, tried his hand one last time before retiring for good.
On December 17, 2016, just a month short of his 52nd birthday, Hopkins fought 175-pound contender Joe Smith in what he hoped would be a triumphant end to his career. This was not to be as Hopkins suffered the same fate as the legends Sugar Ray Leonard, Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali did by taking a severe beating way past his prime. The end of Hopkins’ illustrious career came in the eighth round. Smith staggered Hopkins and landed five booming power shots that knocked Hopkins completely out the ring. Finally, the Hopkins’ unparalleled run past the age of 40 had come to a violent end.
Hopkins ended his career with a record of 55-8-2 with 32 knockouts. Hopkins overcame a childhood of poverty and criminal behavior to become the 17th greatest fighter of the last 45 years. He is the poster child that one can overcome their criminal past to become a both professional and financial success in life and is one of the most inspirational boxers in the history of the sport.