The Executioner’s Song of Songs

By Robert Ecksel on April 24, 2012
The Executioner’s Song of Songs
Hopkins uses language the way a marauding horde uses a battering ram. (Robert Ecksel)

No one had an answer to Hopkins’ hypothetical questions, as least an answer they were willing to share, so he continued talking…

“Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson

There’s not much that compares to sitting across from Bernard Hopkins. When one is that close to The Executioner, one gets the impression that he doesn’t own the room so much as own the world. I’ve grown used to the self-important. But Hopkins turns that deficit into performance art. 

Hopkins is less egotistical than he is monomaniacal. He’s the sun around which all planets revolve. He’s the black hole at the center of our galaxy whose gravitational pull sucks everything into its maw. Hopkins’ way with words is nothing new and is the stuff of legend. And at this point in his career, his verbosity may be more interesting than what’s he’s able and/or chooses to do in the ring.

If we’re honest and know anything about boxing’s past we know that Hopkins, whatever his accomplishments, at middleweight would have been no match for Carlos Monzon, Sugar Ray Robinson, Marvin Hagler, Mickey Walker, Harry Greb or Jake LaMotta. At light heavy it’s fair to assume that Archie Moore and Bob Foster would have chased him out of the ring. Hopkins is an intelligent boxer, a clever boxer who learned the tricks of the trade, but he fought in an exceptionally weak era. That’s not to knock his achievements. It’s simply a fact to put hyperbole in its place.

Yet Hopkins greatness, such as it is, would be that much greater if he would stop reminding everyone how great he is. But that’s not Hopkins’ way. Always referring to himself in the third person, it’s Bernard Hopkins this and Bernard Hopkins that until one’s head throbs from the intensity.

Hopkins was at Planet Hollywood in Times Square in New York City not long ago to announce his return bout with Chad Dawson. Crammed into a too small room, the press was treated to sandwiches and soda with a side of claustrophobia. The size of the room, or lack thereof, and the quality of the food, or lack thereof, was a fair indication of the excitement being generated, or lack thereof, for the upcoming rematch in Atlantic City.

Hopkins’ and Dawson’s first fight, the so-called Staples Center Stinker, was about as lame as a championship bout can be. It was the ultimate nonstarter that ended after two rounds with Hopkins sprawled on the canvas wincing in pain. The referee Pat Russell was forced to think fast and concluded, not without some forethought and under duress, to award the victory to Dawson by TKO. His verdict was overturned, first by the WBC while the ring was being dismantled, and shortly thereafter by the California State Athletic Commission, with Russell’s connivance, which set up the return match between the two men.

However serious Hopkins’ injury appeared as the time—he looked like he was dying—he didn’t need surgery on his damaged left shoulder, and by the look and sound of it, he is raring to go.

The world according to Bernard Hopkins is a world like no other. Sitting a leather banquette with his back to the wall, Hopkins has PRESENCE. He uses language the way a marauding horde uses a battering ram. His flow of words was torrential, a raging storm of proper nouns, exuberant verbs, and dangling participles. It was a far cry from a conventional Q & A, because Hopkins, who has all the A’s, has no more need for the Q’s than a glutton needs a third helping.

Hopkins is, however self-absorbed, an amazing flesh and blood character. If I could write with the fluency with which he speaks I’d have libraries full to overflowing with my canonical works. There are those who disparage his style. They look upon Hopkins as a bully, an overgrown thug, proof that the old adage, “You can take the man out of the ghetto, but you cannot take the ghetto out of the man,” is as true today as when those words were first spoken. I however am not convinced. Hopkins is a black man, and a proud black man at that. Without making generalities or intending offense, my African-American brothers and sisters as often as not possess the gift of gab, a fluency which puts our halting white cadences to shame. That’s not to say Hopkins is easy to be around—on the contrary—or that most of what he says isn’t self-justification to the nth power. But Hopkins is sui generis, one of a kind, the ultimate pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of guy, even though the late Bowie Fisher and the occasionally on time Lou DiBella might disagree.

However talkative Hopkins was after the press conference, at the formal presser he didn’t say a word. After Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer suggested that everyone “bring your families, bring your children, bring your friends” to Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, he said, “Please welcome Bernard ‘The Executioner’ Hopkins.” Rather than step up to the dais, Bernard stared in into the distance and didn’t move. A murmur went through the crowd. He was immobile and silent, like a Sphinx without a riddle. Those who have listened to Hopkins’ raging stream of consciousness over years were stunned. After an uneasy moment, Schaefer said “Short and sweet.” When the time came for the traditional face-off, Hopkins refused to stand and look Dawson in the eye. Instead, he stalked off the stage.

Was this the same Bernard Hopkins we’d grown to either love or hate? Where was the machismo? Where was the chatterbox? Where was the motormouth? Where was the outspoken, outrageous, often out of line light heavyweight champion who used to fill reporters’ notebooks to overflowing?

THAT Bernard Hopkins came to life sitting at the banquette. Away from the lights, camera, and action, surrounded by journalists as scared of Hopkins of their own shadows, the Hopkins of yore sprang to life.

“First time you never heard me not say anything at a press conference,” he said in acknowledgement of the obvious. “I was pretty quiet. Sometime the best thing to say is nothing, especially from a guy that people know is so vocal. But even being so vocal, I’m just as powerful I realize when I don’t say anything. So I’m still winning even if I don’t speak. What I mean by winning, they’re going to question why I didn’t say anything. That means I’m in control. That means I don’t have to get into a whole bunch of debate about something y’all read about. I don’t have to get into a debate on something that was already ruled about by people I never known from one commission to another commission. ”
Hopkins was referring to the about-face by the WBC, Cali Commission, and referee Pat Russell. Whether or not Hopkins has “never known” any of the people responsible for returning his title to him is as open to speculation as it is to doubt. But he said he didn’t want to debate or discuss it. He didn’t even want to utter Dawson’s name. As far as Hopkins is concerned, what happened in the first fight is old news. That was then and this is now. What’s done is done. A new day has dawned.

“So the landscape,” Hopkins continued, “was set up as I was listening very, very diligently to the speakers, Richard Schaefer, then Kery Davis, then Gary Shaw. And only Gary Shaw started talking about THE PAST. He started talking about something that has nothing to do with now and April 28.”

One wouldn’t have expected Richard Schaefer to talk about the first fight with Dawson, since he was instrumental in having the verdict overturned. Nor would one expect HBO’s Kery Davis to discuss the first fight with Dawson, which was a bust on all fronts. But it’s just like that rascal Gary Shaw, Dawson’s promoter, to spoil the party by bringing up the past, especially when everyone else was focused on the future.

Hopkins went on. “I don’t want to talk about previous victories or last victories or history-making events that I’ve been privileged to be into, because that’s yesterday. You reflect—but don’t reflect too long, because now is really more important than yesterday. It’s what you’ve done lately. So I use all those comments from the first two or three speakers to set up what I was NOT going to say and play into that game of yesterday. Everybody here has audio, iPhone, video. It’s still there. It don’t go nowhere. That means you believe this or believe that what happened happened: doctor report, MRI report, AC report. When you have documentation, when you have film, you can’t fake what’s in front of you.”

Hopkins, who had just professed to not want to talk about the past, was talking about the past.

“We know in history, Rodney King got beat down like a dog, and they said it didn’t happen,” said Hopkins, comparing himself, I gather, to the man who made the words “Why can’t we all just get along?” famous. “So understand we’ve got some minds in the world that think even though you see it, it really didn’t happen, you shouldn’t act like it happened, you should somehow think it was different. Well you all knew who got his ass kicked—handcuffed. I’m just bringing that out to let you know that there are people amongst us in life—I’m not saying they’re bad people—but they don’t see other than what others see. So why go back to talk about stuff that happened then.”

Hopkins of all people should know why people “talk about stuff that happened then.” Because if what happened then hadn’t happened as it did, there would be no need for a rematch, nor any need for this “discussion.”

“That’s why we’re at this table,” Hopkins said. “It wasn’t no use for me to get up on the podium and feed into his game. I shut him down by not saying nothing. It was no sense for me to get up there and debate. Y’all ain’t come for that. Y’all came for two things. You came to eat for free, and you came to get some interview. I’ve been doing this for 24 years, man. I ain’t no rookie. Most of y’all guys here in front of me are not rookies to this business y’all do. I’m no rookie either. I see it coming before it even comes my way. So they set it up nicely for me.”

The Executioner smiled.

“Look man, everything said was said, from their side, from my side, it was said. I’m looking to make history. I’m six and one in Atlantic City, and that was in 1988 to Clinton Mitchell. I lost a four-round decision, my first fight out of the penitentiary. I’ll be seven and one April 29th, that Sunday, the day after, or hours later. That’s where my head is at and that’s what I believe.”

One thing Hopkins doesn’t lack is confidence. Hopkins could meet the Pope or God or Meryl Streep and he’d be in their face before they knew what hit them.

Despite expressly stating that he didn’t want to talk about the first fight, it was a subject too rich to ignore. But Hopkins approached it from an odd angle.

“It’s just like going on a date,” he said. “You don’t know anything about a girl because she kissed you. Was the sex good? I don’t know. You gotta speculate. Would it have been?” Another smile appeared on Hopkins’ face. “That’s the perfect concept I can give you. Is that, ‘You kissed her? She said goodnight?’ ‘Yes, goodnight.’ Okay, if you get a chance to do it again you’ll come with a different way ‘cause you know that the first time you got a goodnight. So you’re gonna make sure the second time that you invite her to your house, where she gotta use you to go home. And all of a sudden—you get a stomach-ache.”

Everybody laughed. It didn’t break the ice, but it was indicative of a thaw. A reporter tentatively told Hopkins that Dawson said he was afraid he wouldn’t show up, that Bernard would fake an injury to get out of the rematch.

Hopkins was incredulous. “Look,” he said heatedly. “I’ve been called a lot of things, and I’ve been a lot of things, but not show up? Show up for what? Listen, why would I not show up when I go to the hometown of another man, win his title in front of 30,000 Canadians? Why would I not show up when go to Quito, Ecuador to fight Segundo Mercado, where I got knocked down on my ass twice and came back and fought him to a draw? So now my heart is being tested by a rookie?”

No one had an answer to those hypothetical questions, as least an answer they were willing to share, so Hopkins continued talking.

“I’m the talk Ali of this era,” he said, “and for me to feed into and get emotional about what a guy says about questioning me? That’s just something to feed your paper with. He told this reporter that he’s afraid I’m not going to show up, that I’m going to get injured. Listen, I don’t tell nobody how to do their job, but I’ll be Bernard the reporter now. You mean to tell me that Bernard Hopkins with his long legacy is that scared of you that he would not show up for a fight? That’s be as a reporter. Anything I put my hand on I’ll be the best and maybe the great at it. You mean to tell me you really think in your heart Bernard Hopkins WON’T SHOW UP because he would NOT WANT TO FIGHT YOU? So you’re telling me it’s a possibility. So what are you going to do? You going to train for a possibility that he might get hurt or train that I’m going to show up. If you train that I won’t show up you be in trouble. You’ll go home early, baby. Do you understand the unsettle in is thinking? So how’s he gonna train? He can’t mess with this. This is strong. How’s he gonna train? Well, I hope he trains that I won’t show up. If you listen to a person long enough, they tell you how smart they are. If you listen to a person, he will give you his plan. He will tell you what he is thinking. He’s thinking too far into it, whether you show or not. That’s his excuse. ‘Bernard fought a good fight. I underestimated his ability.’ He already bringing it up.”

Hopkins knows psychology almost as well as he knows boxing. He may be able to read Dawson’s mind. I’m not sure he could read the minds of those sitting across from him.

“I’m going in there, no matter what he says, to do what Bernard do. That is to create the best plan in camp and at fight night. There’s really no more conversation. I’ve been talking for two and a half decades.”

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Bernard Hopkins vs Segundo Mercado I part 1/7

Bernard Hopkins vs Segundo Mercado I part 2/7

Bernard Hopkins vs Segundo Mercado I part 3/7

Bernard Hopkins vs Segundo Mercado I part 4/7

Bernard Hopkins vs Segundo Mercado I part 5/7

Bernard Hopkins vs Segundo Mercado I part 6/7

Bernard Hopkins vs Segundo Mercado I part 7/7

Jean Pascal Vs Bernard Hopkins II -- Parte 1 de 4

Jean Pascal Vs Bernard Hopkins II -- Parte 2 de 4

Jean Pascal Vs Bernard Hopkins II-- Parte 3 de 4

Jean Pascal Vs Bernard Hopkins II-- Parte 4 de 4

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  1. the thresher 04:48am, 04/25/2012

    I hope not. The ref is a close friend of mine and a great guy to boot, not that all close friends of mine aren’t great guys.

  2. mikecasey 04:45am, 04/25/2012

    Chad will attempt to throw BHop again, but the old fox will sidestep him and kick him in the kneecap. Chad will respond by stamping on BHop’s foot. Their cornermen will open fire and engage in a furious gunfight in which the referee will be accidentally shot. A third and deciding fight will be announced when the grieving have achieved closure.

  3. the thresher 04:58pm, 04/24/2012

    I would have used mouse but that’s too close to a rat

  4. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 04:47pm, 04/24/2012

    Dang! Someone just killed my disingenuous hamster with a cannon!

  5. the thresher 04:23pm, 04/24/2012


  6. Cheekay Atomic 02:27pm, 04/24/2012


    Fair enough, sorry if I sounded out of line. I’m sensitive about Bernard Hopkins (odd, considering I’m probably rooting for Chad Dawson on Saturday and am myself highly critical of some Hopkins-isms).


  7. the thresher 01:35pm, 04/24/2012

    Cheekay, holy moley, don’t kIll a hamster with a cannon. I just don’t care for race baiting in sports. It is not MY cup of tea.

    I respect Hopkins greatly for his ring accomplishments, but I don’t have to like him outside of the ring.

    In many ways, B-hop sets a great example, but he messes it up with stupid statements that he doesn’t need to make.  I am Old School in that regard and respect your points of difference.

  8. mikecasey 01:18pm, 04/24/2012

    Spot on, Ted.

  9. Cheekay Atomic 01:15pm, 04/24/2012

    Wow, lots of negativity towards Hopkins that I’m having a hard time understanding. It’s a little bit surprising and disappointing to read, quite honestly.

    Thresher—There might be several reasons to dislike Hopkins, but to use the “no white boy…”  quote is hardly a reason.  Not only is it not among the top 10 offensive things Hopkins has said, it’s not even his worst exercise in race-baiting.  He’s race-baited fellow African-Americans (see: the Donovan McNabb situation) faaaar worse. 

    And if you’ll use the “no white boy….” comment against him, then you have to use his embrace of Kelly Pavlik after their fight in his favor: I haven’t seen a warmer, kinder, classier embrace after a decisive victory…..maybe ever.  And My gut tells me that the real Hopkins is the one we see right after the Pavlik fight, not the one who baits and chides and disrespects opponents. He had little to gain by being kind to Pavlik after that demolition; he probably did it because that’s how he actually is.

    And in regards to his life story and him complaining about it—I don’t understand that criticism.  He toiled in obscurity for far longer than he deserved, didn’t sign with blood-sucking promoters out of sheer integrity for much of his physical prime, stayed loyal to his personal circle and kept his body in better shape, longer, than any fighter most of us have ever seen.  If anything, he’s probably earned the right to complain *more* than he does. 

    Hate or love his personality, but he is quite simply one of the most interesting stories in all of sports. 

    Unless you can find me another guy with a photo from inside prison, signed by his trainer, that read ‘one day you will be middleweight champion’....only to get out of prison and not only achieve it, but break the division record for consecutive defenses….you literally can’t make stories up better than those.

    Irish Crawford-

    Regarding the Pavlik victory—I’m sorry; there is simply no way to excuse it and no appeal to weight class renders that victory any less impressive.  Pavlik was relieved to fight above 160 lbs, as he was a very big middleweight (and almost certainly was moving to Super Middle soon anyway).

    Time has actually performed this experiment for us:  Pavlik returned to 160 after Hopkins and looked awful; he’s since moved back up to 169 and looks very good.

    The reason he got beaten so badly is because he is an inferior boxer to Hopkins.  Plain and simple.

    Under no circumstances should a 26 y/o young guy in his physical prime be deconstructed by a man 43 years old. 

    There’s no excuse for it.  It was 100% Hopkins brilliance and any appeal to any other explanation is disingenuous.

  10. the thresher 10:03am, 04/24/2012

    Frankly, I’m sick of his guy and his whining about how life has treated him so unfairly. Man up Hopkins. It could have been a lot worse.

    Ever since hs “no white boy will ever beat me” comment, I have not been one of his big supporters. Just stfu for once and fight and then stfu some more. People will respect you more for what you don’t say than what you say because when you say something, you seem to put your foot in your rather large mouth.

  11. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 06:04am, 04/24/2012

    Robert-His “Glibness” is in his jaw flapping glory because of one match that was made and one that wasn’t…..(1) The God awful decision of Pavlik’s “team” to fight him at an agreed weight limit that in reality enabled him to show up fight night in the vicinity 185 lbs. (2) If there had been a re-match with Calzaghe in the UK Joe would have made him quit once and for all and saved us all a lot of irritation into the bargain.

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