As he swaggers off into the sunset this weekend, Glynn Evans canvassed the BoxNation family for their abiding memories from the 28 year old ring career of the incomparable Bernard Humphrey Hopkins.
Frank Warren (Promoter)
I’ll just remember an absolutely phenomenal athlete who provided the blueprint for how every professional boxer should conduct their life. His condition was just incredible. He respected the game.
He could be a miserable f***er but I liked him and to come out of the nick and achieve what he has in the sport is very special.
He ducked absolutely nobody across three divisions. After losing to Calzaghe, he dived straight back in against Kelly Pavlik, who everybody else was swerving, took Pavlik to school and suddenly, at 44, he’s right back in the game.
Francis Warren (Promoter)
I’ll go with the body shot that knocked out De La Hoya. Oscar was a great fighter in his own right but Hopkins marched him down and wiped him out. Different class. That was 12 years ago and I believe it was Hopkins’ last win by stoppage.
Ironically, he later went into business with Golden Boy and, when we went over to Vegas for the Calzaghe fight, the casinos were showing the highlights of Joe and Bernard’s fights on a loop. Every couple of minutes poor old Oscar, who was promoting the event, was shown grimacing on the canvas in a crumpled heap!
George Warren (CEO)
For me it’s the Calzaghe match, my first experience of a big fight in Vegas when I was just 21 or 22. Bernard was considered an old man (43), even then, but started far quicker than anyone expected and had Joe on the floor in the opening minutes. Even after that, he gave Joe so much trouble.
Though Joe had scares early on against Byron Mitchell and Mikkel Kessler, I’d never considered him in danger of losing....but I did against Hopkins. Bernard had the elusiveness, ring craft and game plan to really trouble Joe who, at the time, was one of the most exciting and dangerous fighters on the planet. It wasn’t Joe’s toughest fight but it was definitely his hardest tactically.
Whenever a Hopkins fight gets signed, I make it my business to ensure that BoxNation secures it. He’s such a quality operator; a pound-for-pound great, a future Hall of Fame legend.
Glynn Evans (Journalist)
Mine has to be the bang-up with ‘Tito’ Trinidad for all the middleweight marbles in 2001. Twice Hopkins committed the ultimate diss by throwing the Puerto Rican flag to the ground at pre-fight pressers; firstly in NYC, then again before 5000 over in San Juan. Can’t condone it but it showed Hopkins owned a huge set of cojones!
‘Tito’ had won 40 straight (33 stopped) and was ostensibly performing on home turf given the huge Rican faction inside the Garden that night. But underdog Hopkins out psyched him, out thought him then out fought him for eleven and a half rounds, completely ruining the 28 year old Trinidad as a world grade fighter.
Laura Norton (Presenter)
When I was boxing, we trained at the same gym in Miami and I got to witness Bernard train and spar up close. The overriding memory was how he lived the life, how his head was always right on it.
He was always ready. He’d arrive at the start of camp fit, strong and in control of his weight so all he needed to focus on was the opponent’s style and his tactics. One time, after I’d sparred, he asked what I’d been trying to do. I just shrugged. He said: ‘Never just spar. Always have something specific in mind, whether it’s avoiding right hands, foot work, whatever.’ It was an invaluable lesson that gave me an insight into his mindset.
I’m very surprised he’s still fighting because he always promised his mum he’d retire at 40. I hope this is his last one. I’d hate him to ruin his legacy as others have. He was very intense and could come across as rude but I always liked and respected him.....even if he did steal the Boxing News magazine that was sent to me from the UK every week!
Jim Bentley (Producer)
Shortly after signing to fight Joe Calzaghe, Hopkins came over to the UK for a promotional shoot for Setanta in late winter.
It was absolutely freezing but the Setanta promo guy insisted that he do the shoot in just his trunks. When Bernard complained the smart Alec from Setanta quipped: ‘You’re from Phillie. You’re supposed to be tough!’ It didn’t improve his mood!
Hopkins then moaned that his feet were frozen. Promo guy taunts: ‘Well put some woolly socks on!’ Next they wanted to grease Bernard up. He storms off into his changing area, a motor home in a cold warehouse that’s fuelled by a two bar heater.
Me and Bunce follow, in woolly hats and coats, mind, and Bernard’s definitely not happy. He goes into an absolute tirade about respect, mother effing this, mother effing that: ‘You pushing me and now I’m ready to push back.’ Kelly Swanson, his publicist, demanded we stopped filming.
Bunce just cowered and kept repeating: ‘You’re so right, Bernard, you’re so right!’ It’s comical looking back but for two or three minutes he was absolutely livid!’
Dev Sahni (Head of Digital)
If you’ll allow me two. Firstly, Sergey Kovalev was an absolute monster, charging roughshod through the light-heavyweight division, petrifying everybody. Some fighters would even switch TV networks so they didn’t have to fight him! Yet many boxing experts were tipping this 49 ¾ year old man to beat him. That shows exactly how highly Hopkins was regarded.
Secondly, after he’d absolutely schooled Kelly Pavlik - this beast who’d knocked out two-time Hopkins’ conqueror Jermain Taylor - he stood mid ring and stared down each and every journalist on press row who’d written him off. Quality!
Andy Ayling (Promoter)
I don’t have one specific incident but I’ll remember Hopkins as an unbelievably articulate bloke – especially given the background that he’d come from – and he really ‘got’ how to hold court and sell a fight.
He’s the proof to every fighter that you can enjoy longevity if you live right. Roy Jones damaged his legacy but, provided all goes to plan Saturday, Bernard will depart the sport incredibly clean and incredibly rich. The way he turned his life around from the ghetto and prison is truly inspirational.
Jim McMunn (Managing Director)
For me, it has to be the win over Kelly Pavlik. Conventional wisdom suggested it was all finished for Hopkins following his defeat to Joe Calzaghe six months earlier. And he didn’t just defeat Pavlik, he toyed with him, destroyed him. Great performance. You also have to give a special mention of when he squared up to Buncey!
Steve Bunce (Presenter)
Outside the ring; When he confronted me in the caravan in East London. Check it out on Youtube and read Jim Bentley’s account. In the ring: Being front row at Madison Square Garden for the Trinidad masterclass. The Garden was really emotional that night because of the 9/11 delay. I sat with (acclaimed US screen writer and boxing scribe) Budd Schulberg and he considered it one of the finest performances he had ever seen.
Steve Lillis (Presenter)
It’d have to be that sensational TKO over Steve Bunce (laughs)!
For me, it’s the whole Trinidad fight and promotion, from him throwing the flag to winning by twelfth round stoppage. If you remember, it was just two and a half weeks after 9/11 and there was global sympathy for the US at the time. Bernard entered the ring to ‘America the Beautiful’ by Ray Charles but there wasn’t much love for American Hopkins inside Madison Square Garden that night, after the incident with the flag. There’s a huge Puerto Rican population in New York and it was a fiercely partisan Trinidad crowd. Horrible atmosphere.
At the time, Trinidad was slaughtering everybody but, by half way, the booing had stopped. The Latinos knew their hero was getting licked. Hopkins silenced a Puerto Rican crowd and that never happens. His greatest win, special night.
Has any sportsman globally shown the longevity of Hopkins? Phil Taylor has shown great mental toughness and you have to admire Nick Skelton but Hopkins surpasses them. He’s been right at the top of the hardest of all sports since rebounding from his loss to Roy Jones in 1993.
Barry Jones (Analyst)
For me, it has to be his masterclass against Kelly Pavlik. Hopkins was almost 44 at the time and, six months earlier, he’d been convincingly beaten by Joe Calzaghe. But there were no thoughts of easing back. Pavlik was unified middleweight champion, unbeaten in 34 with 30 knockouts and all the ‘names’ were avoiding him. Yet Hopkins literally played with him, humiliated him. He’s been written off so many times, before and since.
He didn’t give a sh** about selling himself in the ring because he knew he could sell his fights outside the ring with his mouth. He was very patient and the master at frustrating opponents. He was happy to win rounds by landing one jab without reply; a master psychologist. He’d have been the world’s greatest poker player!
John Rawling (Commentator)
I’ll remember Hopkins as a fearless, exceptionally hard man who was technically proficient, hard to hit and lived the life. He was a perfect role model to every other fighter and those qualities enabled him to enjoy exceptional longevity.
His best win was probably when he stopped Felix Trinidad when ‘Tito’ was right at the top of his game. There was massive Hispanic support for the Puerto Rican in New York that night but Hopkins clearly got to Trinidad psychologically then boxed his ears off; too strong, too good.
To be honest, I’ve always been more interested in the person than the fighter. There weren’t that many Hollywood moments but he had that chilling ‘look’ and would never back down against anybody. Some said he had a screw loose and he seemed happy to have you believe that was the case.
Jim Rosenthal (Presenter)
I’m not a great lover of boxers fighting on until their 40s but Hopkins is the exception and, at nearly 52, I see little deterioration. I fear for fighters in their 40s but I’ve never feared for Hopkins.
My favourite memory came in the rematch with Jean Pascal, the fight when he became the oldest world champion in ring history. Most fighters regardless of age would be looking to conserve their energy but, just before the seventh round began, he dropped to the canvas and knocked out five perfect press-ups. It was a message to the world that, at 46, he still had a lot of petrol in the tank.
He’s a fantastic physical specimen who in no way matches the number (age) alongside him. I hope he enjoys a wonderful finale.
Charlie Webster (Presenter)
My immediate thought was the fantastic liver shot that knocked out Oscar De La Hoya. There was no way Oscar was getting up......and to execute it against such a great fighter made it extra special. Now they’re on the same promotional team.
Hopkins has been a legendary name within the sport since I started watching him on tele as a kid. He’d definitely be in my top five pound-for-pound over the last 20 years. His physique is still ridiculous and I find him a very interesting athlete and character. He never ducked any opponent, even as he got older. A super human being.
Alex Steedman (Presenter)
Bernard Hopkins was The Executioner who became The Alien but for one night only in 2008 was A Ghostbuster. Trading around 3/1 to beat Kelly Pavlik (how ridiculous that seems now) Hopkins dismantled, beat up and completely outclassed the unbeaten, reigning middleweight champion. And I backed him to do it. Pavlik only lost to Sergio Martinez besides; Hopkins made and shaped boxing history just about every time he entered the ring. A unique and extraordinary individual.
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