Monday, January 12, 2009

Bernard Hopkins: Eight is Enough? (Part 1 of 3)

by Jeff Pryor

Photo © Marty Rosengarten /

Eight years is a long time. It was eight years ago that Bernard Hopkins annihilated Felix Trinidad. At the time, Trinidad was on top of the sport both as a financial draw and among a handful of fighters discussed as the preeminent pound for pound fighter of the day. As he stepped down from the squared circle that September evening, having proven his critics wrong and silenced the partisan crowd on his way to knocking out the Puerto Rican icon, Hopkins was thirty six years old, already past his prime and had just finished his forty third fight in an eleven year career.

He'd defended his middleweight title a record tying fourteen times and with that surprising and dominating performance had unequivocally stamped his ticket to Canastota and gotten his name into the conversation of mythical middleweight match-up's along with the Hagler's and the Monzon's. Had he called it a career that night, few would argue he had more to prove and the vast majority of pugilists to don gloves at any point after would not get within sniffing distance of his accomplishments.

As the undisputed, unified, Middleweight champion, Hopkins went on to defend his titles an additional five times, bringing the tally to a record setting twenty defenses. Had he retired then, their would have been no qualms. Instead, he decided to take on the middleweight heir apparent, thirteen years his junior, Jermain Taylor and lost a highly controversial split decision. The rematch was equally disputed, and following the two losses the time for retirement seemed nigh.

Tempting the fates Hopkins dared for one last grasp at greatness. He moved north fifteen pounds to challenge the Ring Champion and consensus best Light Heavyweight fighter in the world, Antonio Tarver. After a domination recalling the Trinidad performance five years earlier, Hopkins was on top of a new division. Had he retired (in fact he did briefly) his legacy was secure. The short lived retirement by the way side, he then took on top three pound for pound player Winky Wright and became the first man to decisively defeat the defensive specialist in over a decade.

Despite the victory, active calls for retirement were gaining steam and in response Hopkins took on another top three pound for pound fighter in the undefeated Joe Calzaghe. Scoring a knockdown, but losing another disputed split decision. Even the Hopkins faithful could not fail to see the way the old master began to fade the second half of the fight.

His stature having already been solidified for eight years now, Hopkins went back to the Pound for Pound list and found the only man around his weight there he had yet to face, the undefeated, undisputed middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik. In as an underdog for the fourth fight in a row, once more Hopkins, now forty three, turned in a clinical dismantling of yet another elite prize fighter.

And if he retires now, a forty four year old on January 15th, he goes down as one of the all time greatest fighters to ever compete. But if he doesn't... what is left for the Philly Legend?

The options and challenges still available to "The Executioner" are relatively few. I'll run them down for you, keeping in mind the simple fact that Bernard Hopkins does not need to fight. Not for money, not even just to win. The only thing left is to add to his cadre of achievements and push his name further towards the very top of the all time list.

And so I will profile a few options as I believe Hopkins himself looks at any prospective bouts now, with historical relevance the dominant factor. As Bernard told me on the phone several weeks after his crowning victory over Pavlik, there isn't anything left out there for him and without an opponent by early 2009 he may just finally call it a career. In part two, tomorrow, we'll take a look at the few names that may yet grace "The Executioner's" ledger.