Friday, February 9, 2007


Bernard Hopkins continues to drink from his own, ever-trickling fountain of youth and demonstrated to the world yet again tonight that he can turn back the hands of father time as defiantly as he does the fists of middleweight title challengers.

"The Executioner", at age 40, wielded a swift and precise axe this evening while showing he is still in top form despite nearly 17 years as a practitioner of prizefighting. Hopkins showed little sign of wear and sent Guyanese born Howard Eastman down to the guillotine while chopping up his 20th consecutive middleweight title defense with an economical twelve round unanimous decision.

Hailing from the alleys of Philadelphia, Hopkins has always been the embodiment of a street fighter, and tonight was no different. Inside the cavernous Staples Center arena at the corner of South Figueroa Street and Chick Hearn Court in Los Angeles, Hopkins showed the large crowd on hand that whether it be in the street or the ring he is the master of unarmed combat at 160 pounds.

The champion, a taut 159 ½, ran his fighting record to a brilliant 46-2-1 (32)KO while putting on a masterful display of adept, calculating pugilism to overcome the challenge of Eastman, a glistening specimen also at 159 ½, who fights out of Battersea, England, a suburb of London. With the defeat, Eastman’s record dips to a still respectable 40-2 (35)KO, with his only other loss coming at the hands of William Joppy in 2001. "The Battersea Bomber" traveled 5500 miles from his home base to Los Angeles and boldly proclaimed before the contest that he was going take the aging Hopkins out within five rounds. For all of his talk, Eastman might well have saved the trip and dreamt on as the end result couldn’t have been more different from his prediction.

The fight itself was a cautious affair, especially in the early going. There was little sustained action, virtually no punching, and both men were so cautious that boos and catcalls rained down in the direction of the ring from all corners of the arena. The restless crowd paid as little as fifty dollars and as much as three hundred and fifty dollars to see the ageless Hopkins confound time, and in the early going they felt they were not getting the bang for their buck. Both men started out slowly, like two fencers not wanting to get too close to one another lest a fatal stabbing blow be struck. Hopkins shuffled around the ring like a man wearing ankle chains while Eastman dutifully followed in an effort to size up his prey and land his big right hand punch. It was a whole lot of nothing, and as Larry Merchant aptly quipped from ringside, "There is nothing as real as nothing."

The focus of the entire evening was the fact that this would be the twentieth successive time that Bernard Hopkins had defended his middleweight title. No other middleweight champion in history has really ever come close to that mark. While not in the finely tuned physical condition that he was for Oscar De La Hoya only five months ago, Hopkins was still enough of his usual self and had enough energy in between the sixth and seventh rounds to confidently proclaim to his trainer Bouie Fischer, "Ray Robinson, Bouie! Number twenty baby!"

As the rounds ticked on, it was apparent that Bernard Hopkins was simply in another class altogether. Howard Eastman could never mount a sustained offensive attack and he was never able to establish any sort of momentum. Eastman found out the hard way that Hopkins has a knack for fighting when he wants to fight, dictating the pace and controlling the frequency of the exchanges.

In the eighth round, Eastman sensed the fight was slipping hopelessly away from him and to his credit he tried to catch Hopkins with his educated right hand punch. Eastman did succeed from time-to-time, but nothing he did was ever enough and his offensive attempts were usually met with a snicker or a grin from Hopkins. Perhaps the most successful punch for the champion was his left hook to the head. As Eastman would wade in like a man peering through thick bushes, Hopkins would clock him with single left hooks to the face. The left hook landed so flush and square that it was like a Marx Brothers pie-throwing contest for Hopkins.

During the break before the eleventh round Bouie Fischer told Hopkins, "He’s hangin’ around too long, son. You gotta’ put somethin’ together." Hopkins did step up the pace and pasted Eastman with lefts and rights and did have him in trouble during the round. By the middle of the eleventh, Hopkins had sufficiently imposed his will upon Eastman and it was clear that there would be no upset in the City of Angels.

The decision was announced as unanimous after twelve rounds with one-sided scores of 119-110, 117-111 and a closer 116-112. There is still no question surrounding the superiority of Bernard Hopkins in the squared circle. While Hopkins admitted afterwards that the fight was neither a shoot-out nor the crowd pleaser the fans may have wanted, he added, "I’m pretty sure nobody is going to be asking for their money back."

With twenty title defenses, five championship belts strapped around his waist, a decade as middleweight champion and twelve years unbeaten it would seem that Bernard Hopkins is like fine Bordeaux wine locked away in a fistic wine cellar. As Hopkins ages he becomes more refined, less bitter and he is a splendid blend of mastery that cannot ever be rushed.

For the rest of us, time marches on.

February 2005

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