Throughout his boxing career, the determined pugilist from the gritty streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has proven time and again that age is nothing but a number and certainly not a detriment to a boxing legacy that will be honored and celebrated as one of the best in the sport’s history.
The story of Bernard Hopkins began 46 years ago in North Philadelphia, where a young man did what he felt he needed to do survive in the face of daily life in the rough neighborhood. Unfortunately, the decisions the young Hopkins made led him to Graterford State Penitentiary at the age of 17. Determined to not let this setback define him, Hopkins boxed while in prison, hoping to get his chance to turn his life around. That chance came in 1988, when Hopkins, then 23, was released after 56 months.
He turned pro later that year, but lost a four round decision to Clinton Mitchell on October 11, 1988. Discouraged, Hopkins went back to his day job working at a local hotel and didn’t fight again until February 22, 1990 when he scored his first professional win, a four round decision against Greg Paige. In his corner that night was a new trainer, Bouie Fisher, a man who would play a pivotal role in the career of this young fighter.
From 1990 to 1992, Bernard Hopkins put his heart and soul into his work with Fisher in the gym, and the results were visible when he stepped into the ring, with Hopkins scoring 19 consecutive victories over that period.
With the boxing world starting to take notice of this hard-nosed warrior from Philly, Hopkins got his chance at a big fight when he signed to fight veteran Wayne Powell for the USBA middleweight title on December 4, 1992. Powell didn’t stay around long, with Hopkins knocking him out in a mere 21 seconds.
Hopkinswould defend his USBA title once, with a decision win over Gilbert Baptist, before a world title shot presented itself on May 22, 1993, when Hopkins squared off against Roy Jones Jr. for the vacant IBF middleweight crown. At the time of the HBO televised co-feature bout to the Riddick Bowe vs. Jesse Ferguson heavyweight title fight, Jones was undefeated and Hopkins had one loss to his 22 wins. After 12 hard fought rounds, Jones won a unanimous decision over Hopkins, who suffered the second loss of his career. He didn’t lose again for over 12 years.
“I made a vow to myself which I’ve held up for 11 years now, that I’ll never lose on my feet again,” Hopkins told a reporter in 2004. “I train that way, I think that way, and it’s been 11 years. Some people don’t think that’s important. I think it’s very important to make a statement and to work hard to live by it.”
Disappointed but not discouraged, Hopkins immediately went back into the gym and four months after losing to Jones, he defended his USBA crown with a TKO win over then-unbeaten Roy Ritchie. Two more defenses followed, and on December 17, 1994, Hopkins got a second shot at a world title against Segundo Mercado. Fighting in oppressive conditions in Ecuador, Hopkins was knocked down twice by Mercado but still was able to battle his way to a draw.
Five months later, on April 29, 1995, there would be no questions as Hopkins dispatched of Mercado in seven rounds. Finally, the dream had come true and Bernard Hopkins was a world champion.
For him, the real work was just beginning – not only in the ring, but also outside of it.
Becoming an outspoken advocate for fighters’ rights, Hopkins took every opportunity to try to right the wrongs committed against boxers, or at least make people aware of them. He even testified before Congress in support of the Muhammad Ali Act, making many enemies within the boxing industry in the process. But as long as Hopkins kept winning, no one could stop him from achieving his goals or speaking his mind on a world stage.
So he kept winning, and through the late 1990s and early 2000s, quality contender after quality contender fell at the hands of “The Executioner”. His list of vanquished foes is a who’s who of middleweight boxing in this era – John David Jackson, Glen Johnson, Simon Brown, Andrew Council, Robert Allen, Antwun Echols and Syd Vanderpool.
It wasn’t until 2001 though, that the mainstream sports fan started to really take notice of Bernard Hopkins. It was during this year that Hopkins threw his hat in the ring to compete in a four-man tournament to determine an undisputed middleweight world champion. Hopkins easily decisioned Keith Holmes in his opening match up on April 14, 2001 and would face Puerto Rican star Felix “Tito” Trinidad (who defeated William Joppy) on September 29 of that year.
What many expected to be a coronation for Trinidad that night at Madison Square Garden instead saw the ‘execution’ of an icon, as Hopkins systematically broke down Tito before stopping him in the 12th and final round. It was the defining moment of Hopkins’ career to that point and one no boxing fan would ever forget.
There were greater mountains to climb though, and after four more defenses of his crown, the super fight to end all super fights was announced, with Hopkins to face De La Hoya for all the middleweight marbles on September 18, 2004. It was a record-setting event and the talk of the entire sports world as “The Executioner” established himself as one of the greatest 160-pound champions of all-time. It was a win that not only brought the outspoken Philadelphian into the mainstream spotlight, but one that enabled him to notch his 19th successful title defense – an all-time record.
Ironically enough, a few months after their battle, Hopkins and De La Hoya would meet again - this time as businessmen - and the two superstars would ink a historic agreement that would place Hopkins at the helm of Golden Boy Promotions East, a branch of Golden Boy Promotions that specializes in the recruitment and education of east coast fighters, while also promoting events in the eastern part of the United States.
Yet while Hopkins is admirably preparing for life after boxing, Hopkins believed there was still work to be done inside the ring, and like a fine wine, the then 40-year old continued to show that he was one of the best boxers in the game, something he owed to his Spartan work ethic and clean living philosophy. To prove his point, Hopkins unfalteringly-decisioned hard-hitting British contender Howard Eastman before a packed house at Los Angeles’ STAPLES Center on February 19, 2005, to successfully defend his title for the 20th time.
Hopkins’ reign came to a controversial end on July 16, 2005, when he was upset via a 12round split decision against unbeaten former U.S. Olympian Jermain Taylor at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. With many the fans and much of the media believing he won the fight, ‘The Executioner’ became even more popular in defeat.
But to a great champion, a loss never sits easy, and on December 3, 2005, at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Hopkins looked to gain his revenge, only to drop another disputed decision to Taylor.
Never one to give up or be discouraged, Hopkins turned his attention to a new weight and told the world that he was ready to emulate his boxing hero Sugar Ray Robinson and move up two weight classes to challenge then World Champion Antonio Tarver for the light heavyweight crown. Although Robinson was unable to accomplish such a feat, Hopkins was not deterred and the fight was set for June 10, 2006 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
On fight night, Hopkins looked comfortable at the new weight and immediately established a clear advantage in movement and ring generalship. Working his game plan and methodically picking apart the bigger Tarver, it was clear by the sixth round of the fight that Hopkins would deliver another masterful performance. After one knockdown, a supreme domination and unanimous decision win, Hopkins again was the victor in the ring and put another exclamation point on his illustrious career.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Hopkins was back at it on July 21, 2007 in Las Vegas, when he went up against another “best of his era” candidate in Winky Wright. They fought for Hopkins’ Ring Magazine Light Heavyweight World Championship and once again, Hopkins delivered a dominate performance in defense of his crown, notching win 48 of his illustrious career.
Hopkins would fall short in his next bout on April 19, 2008, losing a controversial 12 round split decision to Joe Calzaghe, but there is no keeping ‘The Executioner’ down, and he shocked the world once again when he scored a lopsided 12 round decision win over then undefeated middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik on October 18, 2008, showing that if anything, Hopkins was better than ever.
Hopkins returned to the ring on December 2, 2009 when he faced another young gun in Enrique Ornelas in front of a hometown Philadelphia crowd, putting on yet another dominant performance on his way to victory.
In April, 2010, Hopkins avenged his 17-year long rivalry with Roy Jones Jr. when he went 12 hard fought rounds against his longtime nemesis. “The Executioner” accomplished what he set out to do, become victorious and settle the score against Jones.
In his most recent battle, Hopkins took on the young Light Heavyweight World Champion Jean Pascal on December 18, 2010 in Quebec City, Canada in a brawl that seemed to have put Hopkins in the winner’s circle. Hopkins, who once again showed that age is nothing but a number, was gunning to become the oldest fighter in boxing history to win a significant world title, but the dream was taken from him when the judges ruled the fight a majority draw.
Now at the age of 46, Hopkins looks for vindicationin the form of a victory in a WBC mandated rematch against Pascal taking place May 21 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada for the WBC, WBC Diamond and Ring Magazine light heavyweight titles on the line. With the goal of becoming the oldest fighter to win a world title still unaccomplished, Hopkins will fight to the finish to be crowned light heavyweight champion of the world and continue his history-making career.
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Bio Courtesy of Golden Boy Promotions