Friday, February 9, 2007


And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I’ll say it clear,
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain.
I’ve lived a life that’s full.

I’ve traveled each and every highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

When the final bell rang last night in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, Bernard Hopkins threw up his hands, a smile broke through his lips as he knew he had done it. More importantly, like Frank Sinatra, he had done it his way. His life, his boxing career and this last fight – this was the culmination - and it ended where it began, right here on the boardwalk. After eighteen long hard years of sacrifice and pain Bernard Hopkins capped off a hall of fame career and a hall of fame life, with perhaps his most complete performance in his final fight against recognized Light Heavyweight Champion Antonio Tarver.

Never mind that Hopkins came into the bout as a 3-1 underdog at 41 years of age riding a two-fight losing streak. Never mind that few gave him a chance to defeat the younger and supposedly stronger Tarver. Bernard Hopkins has made a career, no make that a life, of overcoming the odds and last night, in what he says will be his final fight, he did it one last time just to make sure that we remember him when the record books are written. How could we forget him now?

Regrets, I’ve had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

I planned each charted course;

Each careful step along the byway,
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Bernard Hopkins, otherwise known as prisoner number Y4145 spent 56 months in Graterford State Penitentiary as a guest of the Pennsylvania correctional system. When they unlocked the bars and let him out, Hopkins got a job washing dishes in a Philadelphia hotel.

He and his wife Jeanette, who has stood by him in thick and thin for all of these years, slept on the floor of their apartment because they didn’t have a bed. That was twenty years ago and in that time Bernard Hopkins has accomplished more than many men will in several lifetimes. Bernard Hopkins has gone on to become a millionaire more than twenty five times over. He defended the World’s Middleweight championship twenty times which is a record that quite possibly may never be broken. Hopkins remained unbeaten for twelve years until he ran into some Las Vegas judges that didn’t know what they were looking at and an opponent named Jermain Taylor that was fourteen years his junior.

Throughout his eighteen year odyssey Bernard Hopkins was a virtual boxing activist. He spoke out against a system in boxing that he saw as corrupt and that he was always suspicious of. If Hopkins was not ranting and raving about boxing managers, promoters and television networks then he had them in court or was testifying in front of a group of United States senators looking into the injustices that only he seemed to have the courage to rail against.

During his career, Hopkins was involved in no less than four costly legal proceedings against the biggest promotional names in boxing. For all of his cantankerous ways he paid monetarily and he was seen as an albatross that was tangled around the necks of boxing’s television executives and the promoters that control boxing. Bernard Hopkins would never go away, nobody could beat him in the ring and as long as he could keep his championships they couldn’t make him leave.

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall; And did it my way.

I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried.
I’ve had my fill; my share of losing.
And now, as tears subside,
I find it all so amusing.

Bernard Hopkins used the anger. There was the anger that was built up inside of him for the promoters that he said stole from him. There was the anger for the boxing writers that characterized him as an ex-con, dishwasher that couldn’t beat Roy Jones, Jr. There was the anger for his hometown of Philadelphia that put up a statue for a fictional character named Rocky Balboa, celebrated the Flyers, the 76’ers and the Phillies, but they couldn’t find the time to give him a key to the city.

There was the anger for those that said that he would never be as good as Carlos Monzon and Marvin Hagler, former middleweight champions that came before him. There was the anger for the television networks that didn’t want to show his fights on their airwaves because they said nobody knew who he was. There was the anger for the fans that didn’t recognize his greatness and the time that only 300 people showed up to watch him defend his title.

Through it all, Bernard Hopkins fought on and he saved his money by living conservatively. Those closest to him saw a good man, a man that had nine years of probation to serve when he was released from prison and never even had so much as a ticket for jaywalking while waiting for that probation to be over. Hopkins doted on his wife and daughter. He loved his mother deeply and always had lived with the regret that she had to be searched by the guards when she would come to visit him in prison. He hated that they put their hands on her and it was all because of him.

Hopkins would later drive his mother back and forth to her cancer treatments and he watched in torment as she succumbed to the ravages of the disease. All of his money, all of his championships, all of his prayers and all of his anger could do nothing to save her.

To think I did all that;
And may I say - not in a shy way,
No, oh no not me,
I did it my way.

In the end things have changed. Bernard Hopkins has seemed to finally receive everything that he wanted. He became a partner in Oscar De La Hoya’s promotional company and is now guiding the careers of several young prospects including that of his nephew Demetrius. In his last half a dozen fights he has made millions upon millions of dollars. The anger he once wore like a badge from the streets and the prison cell is gone now.

He went back to visit Graterford State Penitentiary recently and in the gym there was a 40-foot tall mural of him with his championship belts. Hopkins nearly crumpled as he stood in front of it and cried with tears running down his cheeks. The critics have finally recognized just what it was that he was trying to tell them for all these years. He went out last night and did something that his idol, Sugar Ray Robinson could not accomplish, and he won the Light Heavyweight title.

Bernard Hopkins is a good man. The anger has subsided and it’s been replaced with a smile. It took him, and us, eighteen years to realize it all. We finally learned to say hello to each other - just when it’s time to say goodbye.

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows,
And did it my way!

June 2006

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