by Paul Magno
Bernard Hopkins rubs people the wrong way. He is the converted street thug who will do anything to stay on top and, worst of all, when things don’t go his way, he will make sure that you can’t enjoy your good fortune. He is the type of guy who may lose the tug-of-war, but will surely push you in the mud pit before you claim your trophy.
Hopkins is accused of being dirty and of overstaying his welcome in the sport. Some will even stretch so far as to doubt B-Hop’s legacy, but his resume doesn’t lie and history certainly bares out the fact that Hopkins’ career has been something truly special.
He was the last fighter to hold all four recognized world titles in his division; 21 successful title defenses; He cleaned out a solid Middleweight division and faced all worthy challengers; He moved up to Light Heavyweight and handed the linear and true 175 lb. champ at the time, Antonio Tarver, a one-sided loss; 23-4-1 in world title fights over a 20-year career; Never blown away, never outclassed and 4 of his 5 losses were close fights that produced controversy.
All of the previous achievements would be outstanding on their own, but they are truly amazing when you take into consideration that Hopkins did most of that while being a free agent maverick who expressed open disdain for the press, the promotional companies and the sanctioning organizations. Hopkins was the visitor most of the time, even when he was a defending champion.
Now that Hopkins has entered the final stages of his career, people have just characterized him as a bum who cheats his way to dubious victories. However, what they fail to realize is that Hopkins’ last three opponents have been awkward southpaws. Few fighters can look graceful fighting a frenetic guy like Joe Calzaghe and a defensive whiz like Winky Wright. Hopkins was text book against his last three southpaw foes: Smothering the lefties’ power right hands and giving his clumsy opponents a taste of their own medicine by keeping them off-balance. Even a guy like Jermain Taylor, who was technically an orthodox fighter, was an odd, clumsy fighter to go up against. If anything, Hopkins has fallen victim to the fact that he is willing to fight anyone and everyone, even those who are more than likely to make his path to victory an ugly one.
This Saturday, Hopkins faces the 26 year old Middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik in what many are considering his last hurrah. After his uncharacteristically flat performance against Calzaghe, most of his critics are confidently declaring the era of “The Executioner” to be over. When a 43 year old prize fighter has a flat performance and is about to step into the ring with a prime, world-class fighter in his mid-20’s, the writing should most definitely be on the wall. But Bernard Hopkins has never been one to live down to his critics’ low expectations. He has made it his lifetime duty to do things he wasn’t supposed to be able to do. He wasn’t supposed to be able to make it off the streets and out of prison; He wasn’t supposed to be able to enjoy a long career by being the outsider in the sport; He wasn’t supposed to be able to make the move to Light Heavy; He wasn’t supposed to be able to be a relevant fighter well into his mid-40’s.
It would be a big mistake to doubt Bernard Hopkins’ ability to shock us all.
Right Makes Might: As mentioned earlier, Hopkins’ last three opponents were awkward southpaws- especially Calzaghe and Wright. Even Jermain Taylor, despite being an orthodox opponent, was a clumsy fighter to deal with as well.
In comparison, Pavlik is almost painfully orthodox and boxes straight up and down. After dealing with strange, clumsy fighters in his last several bouts, fighting Pavlik will be a much more comfortable chore.
The “Wizard of Oz Syndrome:” As noted above, Kelly Pavlik is a straight up and down, “1-2” type fighter. He’s been able to get by his opponents so far using raw power and dogged determination. Against Hopkins, his “Jab, Right Hand, Walk” routine simply won’t be enough. Hopkins plays the game on a completely different level and will make Pavlik miss and essentially doubt his entire game plan.
For Kelly, to step up and fight a guy like Hopkins is like stepping out of a black and white world of predictable outcomes into a universe of vivid color where he will have to rely on his brain even more than his brawn.
Like in the Wizard of Oz, when he goes from black and white to color, he will need to find a heart, a brain and tons of courage.
Reading His Own Clippings: It’s very common for a power puncher to start reading his own press and become enamored with his ability to knock opponents flat. This often turns guys into even cruder brawlers who are now only looking to land that big shot to satisfy their reputation and reinforce the hype that they’ve already bought into.
This is not to say that Pavlik falls into that category yet, but there’s no doubt that he feels he should be able to KO a 43 year old fighter who looked winded and weak against a less-than-intense fighter like Calzaghe. He should be able to make Hopkins wince in pain with the same fists that leveled guys like Jermain Taylor and Edison Miranda. This is a no-brainer for a guy like Pavlik- the old man should be taken out.
However, Hopkins is a tough cookie to crack and has never been seriously hurt in a fight. He’s tough to pin down and even tougher to target with a massive power shot. Ask Felix Trinidad, Antonio Tarver, Glen Johnson and Antwun Echols how easy it is to get a clean shot at B-Hop’s chin. All of these power punchers were kept off-balance the whole night by Hopkins’ genius-level defense. All were looking for a chance to land their one shot that could end the fight, but their chance never came and Hopkins cruised to easy victories against them all. What’s to say that Pavlik, who is probably a lesser technical fighter than many of Hopkins’ stronger opponents, won’t be put into the same situation- Left waiting for his chance to load up against the middle-aged ex-champ while losing round after round in the process?
(Part 2: Making the case for The Ghost on Thursday)