Bernard Hopkins (55-8-2, 32 KOs), came into Saturday night less than one month shy of his 52nd birthday, and while he fought pretty good for a guy that old, it wasn’t nearly enough. Sitting ringside on a cold Los Angeles night this past Saturday night at the Forum in Inglewood, I saw something that must have been similar to when Rocky Marciano knocked out Joe Louis through the ropes.
I saw a sad, but a climatic end. Yes, it was not a glorious end, and in the eyes of many it may have been pathetic, but not to this spectator. I saw a 51-year-old man that should have been snuggled up in a sweater by the fireplace getting ready for Christmas with his family take some heavy shots by a strong young bull.
I saw a man now almost completely stripped of his gifts, his speed, punching power, coordination, and most noticeably the ability to muster up the offense. Gone were many of the things that once made Hopkins great, but what wasn’t gone was his will to win.
We often say we would like a fighter to risk getting knocked out to try and win the fight, and while you have to credit Joe Smith Jr. (23-1, 19 KOs) for being tremendously poised and taking the old man out, part of why he was able to be because Hopkins was actually trying to win rounds, and the fight.
For many, this was really sad and made Hopkins look bad. I have loved watching Bernard his entire career, so maybe this is a positive spin. But I believe he went out like a warrior, you live by the sword and you die by the sword. That is not to say that exiting the sport like Lennox Lewis, Joe Calzaghe or Floyd Mayweather is not the smart or even right thing to do. All I’m saying is, barring any potential long-term health effects, it isn’t that bad of an ending.
Part of it is ego, but a big part of it is the heart of a champion, something many of us, I’m sure even professional athletes, will never feel the way a truly great prize fighter that can’t help himself but continue like a Shane Mosley or a Roberto Duran or a Bernard Hopkins.
Another man like that right now is Roy Jones, who has die a thousand deaths in the ring in the past decade, surely Roy has indeed taken it too far, and any warrior code has far been surpassed into dangerous foolishness. I talked to Roy after the fight and asked him if this is the way it has to end for a lot of the time for fighters like him and Bernard. “That’s what we do, and there is nothing wrong with that” Roy said. “That’s the best way for us. Because we are born fighters…we are born winners.”
What I’m saying is, this is how it probably had to end for Hopkins. I know what you’re saying: no it didn’t. He has the legacy, he has the money, all he’s doing is risking getting his old-ass kicked. Guys like him ain’t gonna stop fighting until they can’t anymore. Hopkins was cut from that cloth, like Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Sugary Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Joe Louis, Roberto Duran, James Toney, and much more. Yes, money was involved in a lot of these guys continuing on, but in Bernard’s case fighting at this point had to do with a lot more than money. It is who he was, it is who all of those men I listed were and are, they are fighters. They wanted to fight until they couldn’t fight anymore.
There is honor in that, there is something special in that, and if you can understand that, then you can understand that there was a sense of honor and even something special in a 51-year old Hopkins getting knocked out through the ring. Life isn’t always about raising our arms in triumph, we take the good with the bad.
After getting knocked out through the ropes by a man who wasn’t even born a year before Hopkins’ first professional fight, and having the back of his head bashed onto the concrete outside the ring, Hopkins licked his wounds and will hold his head high. He showed up to the post-fight press conference, signed Smith’s gloves (at the request of the very respectful and soft spoken 27 years old), and raised the young man’s arm in victory to the press.
Of course, Hopkins made the excuse that he was pushed through the ring, that is what many great fighters do. They can’t accept defeat, they praise the fighters they beat the most and down the ones that defeated them. It is called pride, and I don’t hold that against him, at least not at 51 years old after all that he has proved.
So in the end, I could genuinely see the beauty in a climatic, very tough ending for Bernard Hopkins. It is the stuff that constructs a dramatic scene in a movie: a man that started his life in poverty, went to prison as a youth, and came out and turned his life around to be respected and wealthy. In the end, it didn’t end pretty, but in the big picture, he is nothing but a winner. Hopkins has had a great story, and a great career, one that maybe will make it into a movie one day. Maybe it wasn’t a great ending, maybe it was a bad one, but it is one that we will never forget, and Bernard Hopkins is a fighter that we will never forget.