B-Hop: A Story of Perseverance
Today I would like to talk about a man’s life that should really be immortalized in film. So unbelievable in fact is this man’s life, that if you sent a script to a Hollywood film producer they might well have to tone it down for realism! A life that spilt violence from the onset, from rags to riches, breaking bodies and records as his longevity continued to etch his name into the hearts and minds of boxing fans for the better part of three decades.
Bernard Humphrey Hopkins Jr was born on January 15th, 1965. Growing up in the projects of Philadelphia, Hopkins life quickly turned into one of crime and violence and one that was nearly over before it had even begun. By the time he was thirteen he had already committed petty theft, took part in muggings and had been to the ER three times with stab wounds. Subsequently becoming involved in gang culture his rap sheet quickly began to grow longer than a young man’s bucket list. In 1982 he was sentenced to Graterford Prison for 18 years. He once recalled this time to the Philadelphia Daily News:
“I saw worse stuff inside prison than I ever saw in the streets. I saw guys raped, beaten and tortured. When I saw a guy murdered for a lousy pack of cigarettes, something in me snapped. I knew that I had to be responsible for turning my own life around.”
Hopkins discovered boxing whilst in prison, joining the boxing program set up by men that had boxed on the outside. Hopkins excelled, becoming a star pupil and state champion, pictures of the teenage Hopkins still hang from the walls of the prison. Although the program, like the star pupil have long since gone.
Hopkins began his boxing career in the worst possible way, losing his professional debut by majority decision. However, that loss would not affect Hopkins, it would take him 16 months, but he would get back in the ring again. He would go onto score 22 wins in just under 2 years, scoring 16 knockouts. 12 of which came in the very first round. He was well on the way to becoming ‘The Executioner’. A second loss would come at the hands of one Roy Jones Jr, losing by unanimous decision for the vacant IBF Middleweight champion. The IBF came knocking on Hopkins door again just 7 months later. This time his opponent Segundo Mercado of Ecuador. The fight ended in a draw, Hopkins rallied late after being dropped twice. An immediate rematch was called, this time Hopkins being declared the winner, stopping Mercado in the seventh round.
Hopkins would go to record 12 straight defences of his IBF title, leaving foes like Simon Brown, John David Jackson and an at the time undefeated Glen Johnson in his wake. A series of unification fights were then scheduled in a middleweight tournament. The tournament itself enough to leave a lasting place in boxing history for the Philadelphia man. Champions Hopkins, WBC Champion Keith Holmes, WBA Champion William Joppy and Felix Trinidad would all fight.
Hopkins beat Holmes to claim the WBC belt, while Trinidad stopped Joppy in 5. Hopkins went into the bout against Trinidad as the underdog in the betting stakes. Confident in his abilities Hopkins bet $100,000 on himself via a sponsorship with Goldenpalace.com. He caused huge controversy by throwing the national flag of Puerto Rico on the floor during the press conference in both New York and Puerto Rico, the latter causing him to have to run from an angry mob! The fight itself was almost straight forward. Leading on all of the cards going into the last round Hopkins dropped Trinidad and the fight stopped after Trinidad’s trainer (his father) entered the ring to stop it. Hopkins gave Trinidad his first loss and was awarded the Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year award.
Hopkins would hit the pinnacle of his career in Las Vegas, 2004. Knocking out Oscar De La Hoya in the 9th round. Ahead on two of three judges’ scorecards, he became the first boxer ever to unify the titles of all four major sanctioning bodies. By the age of 40, an age by which most professional boxers have hung up their gloves had amassed the middleweight record of 20 title defences with a win over European Middleweight Champion, Howard Eastman. Hopkins would lose his titles in his next fight to Jermaine Taylor, a fight in which most of the press scored the fight to Hopkins. A rematch would take place 7 months later, Hopkins again losing.
The Executioner becomes The Alien
Rather than hang up his gloves, Hopkins would fight on at the age of 41. Choosing to move up TWO weight divisions and campaign at Light Heavyweight. Here he would get the better of fighters like Antonio Tarver, Winky Wright, Kelly Pavlik, Former foe Roy Jones Jr, Jean Pascal and Tavoris Cloud, picking up The WBC, IBF and Ring Light Heavyweight titles. Losing them to Joe Calzaghe (The Ring), Chad Dawson (WBC) and Sergey Kovalev. The win against Pascal breaking George Foreman’s record making Hopkins the oldest man ever to claim a World Title, a record he would go onto break himself.
Hopkins would make one final appearance in the ring. Losing by stoppage in the eighth round to Joe Smith Jr.
Hopkins resume really highlights a who’s who of boxing royalty throughout three decades. Without a doubt in mind Bernard Hopkins will go down as one of the best middleweight boxers in history. His ability to compete at the top level despite his advancing age is nothing short of remarkable. A strategic boxer with fantastic defensive skills. Hopkins was able to adopt a different approach as his age wore on and his power no longer what it was, in Bernard Hopkins case, Aliens do exist!
Happy Birthday Champ!
By: Aaron Cooper