Friday, February 9, 2007


After fifty-six dark months, when they finally unlocked the bars at Graterford State Penitentiary and prisoner number Y4145, also known as Bernard Hopkins strode out the door, the guards were sure they'd be seeing him again. So sure in fact, they said through chuckles and grins, "See you when you get back."

You see, strong-arm robbers and street thugs typically don't walk the straight and narrow for very long. But Bernard Hopkins didn't look back then and he doesn't look back now and for sixteen years he's been walking the straight and narrow. So straight and narrow that he proudly boasts not so much as a ticket for jaywalking since his life got a second lease.

On September 18th he'll meet boxing's Golden Boy, Oscar De La Hoya, for all the marbles and a lot more when Hopkins' middleweight title belts go on the line at Las Vegas. The Executioner is unbeaten for nearly eleven and a half years he's been feeding the heads of those at 160 pounds into his middleweight guillotine since he knocked out somebody named Segundo Mercado for the vacant International Boxing Federation title in 1995.

In the nine years since then he's made eighteen successful title defenses - the most ever of any middleweight champion. Along the way there has been a plethora of hard times. There were no multi-fight television contracts awaiting Hopkins when he was released from the joint. He was staring nine long years of parole right in the face and his first job was washing dishes at The Colonial Penn Hotel in his hometown of Philadelphia. He and his wife Jeanette slept on the floor of their apartment because they didn't have enough money to buy a bed.

He lost his first fight, a four round decision to a pug named Clinton Mitchell. Through it all, Hopkins watched as other fighters around him became millionaires and watched as their titles and money all came and went. Most of the thieves he used to run with on the streets of Philadelphia are now dead or in prison. But Bernard Hopkins is still here, still waiting for all the money and all the glory that somehow never seems to find him unless he emerges from the shadows and takes it for himself.

There's a wall that Bernard Hopkins has constructed around himself now. Strangely it was walls that kept him in for almost five years and now it's another type of wall that he uses to keep others out. "I'm always paranoid in boxing. I learned that in the business not in the ring. In the ring, you know what, I'm so comfortable. I'm more paranoid in the suburbs where I live at than I am in the ghetto when I ride back to Philadelphia. That's just because I'm comfortable when I ride home and you can hear gun shots fifteen blocks away. You pay no attention to it because you're used to it."

It's not hard to tell when looking at Hopkins that he is a hardened man who has literally fought for everything he has. He can look at a normal man and scare him with his eyes alone. He once said about himself, "You have two kinds of people in this world, lambs and wolves; I'm a wolf ." The suffering, as anyone can tell by examining his 44-2-1 record, has been more mental than physical. Hopkins is black, street wise and is the captain of his own ship. Over the years he has had nearly every promoter he has ever been involved with hauled into courtrooms from Denver to New York. For that he has paid.

Despite his ring accomplishments the networks avoided him and refused to put him on the air because he was simply too tough a negotiator. Promoters relegated him to defending his title on undercards for short money in front of shorter crowds. But through it all, Bernard Hopkins saved his dollars, learned the dirty business of boxing perhaps better than any prizefighter and he continued to win. Eventually the big fights came in his way and in 2001, only two weeks after the terrorists felled the Twin Towers, Bernard Hopkins defeated the great Puerto Rican sensation Felix Trinidad in the heart of New York City with an exclamation point performance to become the world's undisputed middleweight champion.

For the bout with Oscar De La Hoya, which will go twelve rounds or less, they're going to pay Bernard Hopkins over $10 million, which is greater than three times the amount he has ever been paid for any other contest. Hopkins basically made the deal for the De La Hoya fight on his own only weeks after escaping the vice-like promotional contract he had with Don King. Hopkins secretly flew across the country to meet with promoter Bob Arum in the desert and a two-fight deal was chiseled out with the jackpot being the Golden Boy in Las Vegas. Never mind that De La Hoya will be paid $30 million for his efforts, it's the pelt of Oscar that Bernard wants to mount on his wall of the hunted. He has Trinidad's hide, who had never before lost a professional fight and who is arguably the best fighter to ever come out of Puerto Rico mounted proudly. Now it's De La Hoya and the establishment which he represents that Hopkins is really after.

At age thirty-nine and coming into the biggest fight of his fistic life it would seem that Bernard Hopkins would be in the September of his boxing years. However, he shows no signs of slowing down and he's done it all his way. He has survived and persevered to win a title held by the great names of boxing history and he's defeated boxing's most powerful promoters in courts of law. He's throttled Felix Trinidad in Madison Square Garden, become the longest reigning champion in boxing today, become a millionaire prizefighter and is recognized as the top pound-for-pound boxer on the planet. Bernard Hopkins has out-foxed and out-lived them all and he's still here emerging from the shadowy alley that is boxing, waiting to take what is his.

Bernard Hopkins isn't looking back.

September 2004

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