Why Hopkins (And His Act) Will Never Get Old

By Cheekay Brandon on March 8, 2013
Why Hopkins (And His Act) Will Never Get Old
Hopkins is boxing’s decorated war veteran who also happens to be our grumpy uncle.

He’s allowed to talk as much as he wants at the dinner table, is allowed to break the standard rules of etiquette, allowed to speak with political incorrectness…

Bill James, sports nerd emeritus and credited inventor of sports analytics once gushed at the greatness of Ricky Henderson by saying:

“If you could split him in two, you’d have two Hall of Famers.”

Like all things Bill James, his comments can be translated into statistical terms—he meant that Ricky Henderson’s skill set and accomplishments were broad enough that splitting his accolades would yield two Hall of Fame caliber careers.1

Athletes like that are rare. 

To be in this class, your accomplishments generally must span several decades or include different kinds of great accomplishments. Bo Jackson, of course, qualifies.2

Prizefighters who fit this bill are astonishingly rare, the violent nature of boxing the culprit—it’s hard to be an elite fighter for a long time.

Muhammad Ali’s career, for example, can be cut directly in half: 1960-1970 (pre-suspension) and 1970-1980 (post-suspension). Fighters with the accomplishments in either window would be shoe-in all-time great heavyweights.  That a single man authored them both is the true anatomy of his legend. 

Floyd Mayweather Jr is a candidate. He is going on 17 years as a pro, so far unbeaten. But he isn’t a shoe-in. The only other boxer who definitely qualifies is Bernard “The Excecutioner” Hopkins. On Saturday, March 9, Bernard Hopkins takes on IBF light heavyweight champion Tavoris “Thunder” Cloud at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. 

In the days leading up to the fight, the boxing world is whispering the same set of predictions and speculations that we have for the last decade:

“Will this be Bernard Hopkins’ last fight? How will he handle the youth and athleticism of [Blank]?”

And Hopkins’ pre-fight verbiage is mostly the same: Everyone has counted him out, nobody gives him a chance, that he heard this same talk from a prison warden when he was incarcerated as a young man, that he’ll shock the world once again.

To be fair, Hopkins trash talk has evolved over the past five years. Golden Boy Promotions-businessman Bernard Hopkins (from the mid to late 2000s onward) doesn’t quite discredit his opponents the way he used to. In fact, the latest rendition of Bernard Hopkins has found the opposite strategy more effective—criticize more diplomatically, praise your opponent subtly and you make beating him seem even less likely, inflating his own legend even further if he’s successful (as he often is).

And so the story of Hopkins-Cloud is the same: Old man Hopkins might hang them up. Young man Cloud is strong, athletic and hungry. 

We’re hearing the same brain vs. brawn dichotomy we heard a decade ago. Variations on Larry Merchant’s “Geriatric Wonder” nickname from the 2001 fight with Felix Trinidad.

We’re hearing about the 18-year sentence, and five-year term prison term in Graterford. 

The same exact stories, and magically, none of it sounds the least bit old. 

Just like Bernard Hopkins seems to never quite get old.

And why?

My explanation involves the “split him in two…” theory on athletes: the ones that we can split in two almost never grow irrelevant, because they’ve kept us occupied with multiple narratives.

If Hopkins had retired in 2005, after his second loss to Jermain Taylor (at age 40), he would be among the three best middleweights to ever lace up the gloves. 

If Hopkins were now (as in, March 2013), 33 years old and had the fought in the light heavyweight division since 2006, he’d probably be the second best light heavyweight of the 2000s, ahead of Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson, not quite as good as Chad Dawson.3

If Hopkins were currently a 40-year-old light heavyweight contender losing convincingly but not embarrassingly, to young contenders, he’d be a legend.

If Hopkins had been incarcerated for five years in his physical prime, been released, lost his first professional fight, and then gone on to have a mediocre middleweight career, we’d call him a legend for his resiliency and persistence.

Hopkins, of course, combines all of these, and much more, into one.4 And keeps adding to them: it wasn’t enough for him to be a “geriatric wonder”—he has become the greatest 40+ boxer in history, by far. 

And apparently boxer wasn’t enough: his victory over Jean Pascal (May 2011) staked his claim as perhaps the greatest 40+ athlete ever.

Hopkins has become boxing’s decorated war veteran who also happens to be our grumpy uncle—he’s allowed to talk as much as he wants at the dinner table, is allowed to break the standard rules of etiquette, allowed to speak with political incorrectness.

I don’t know what will happen the night of March 9th, 2012. 

All indications say that Hopkins should lose convincingly.

And given the multiple narratives and decades of excellence, I can say with confidence that he’s earned the right to. 

But we can’t forget that this is Bernard Hopkins—many marvels in one. 

Don’t be surprised if he defies us yet again.

(Follow Cheekay Brandon on twitter: @Cheekay98)


1 For example, one Henderson career would be about stolen bases and defense. The other: on base percentage and hitting. There are other ways to divide it, and at least one permutation yields you two Hall of Famers. And obviously, this isn’t quite valid, since a lot of these statistics aren’t mutually exclusive.

2 Bo Jackson was great at two major sports, an athletic marvel and still isn’t sniffing the Hall of Fame or all-time great status in either. Goes to show you how rare that “two Hall of Fame careers” thing is to accomplish.

3 I’m diminishing Roy Jones Jr. because of the spectacular nature of his decline.

4 I’ve left out his technical mastery and his legendary work ethic. Those are obviously related to his boxing accomplishments, but also stand on their own on the list of things to be impressed by.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Bernard Hopkins vs Kelly Pavlik (UK version) 1/4

Bernard Hopkins vs Kelly Pavlik (UK version) 2/4

Bernard Hopkins vs Kelly Pavlik (UK version) 3/4

Bernard Hopkins vs Kelly Pavlik (UK version) 4/4

Bernard Hopkins Vs Jean Pascal II - HBO : HD 720p

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  1. Jai Leezy 03:37pm, 03/13/2013

    Very insightful piece brother.  B Hop always fights 2 people when he gets into the ring, his opponent and Father Time.  He certainly is one of the best to have put the gloves on.

  2. Jim Crue 06:08am, 03/09/2013

    thanks for a wonderful piece of satire. i love tongue in cheek humor. At first read early this morning I though it was April 1. You know April fool!
    “One of the 3 best middleweights to ever lace up the gloves”. This is Comedy Central or Saturday night Live stuff at it’s best.

  3. the thresher 07:07pm, 03/08/2013

    He is not an easy guy to like.

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