It doesn’t matter what you call Bernard Hopkins — The Executioner, The Alien, The Old Man, The Living Legend. He’s been called those names and plenty of others. However, there’s one nickname that best describes him — The Champion.
Hopkins, the pride and joy of the school of hard knocks by way of Graterford Prison, is scheduled to fight Sergey Kovalev Nov. 8 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City N.J. On the line will be Hopkins’ reputation as a showman, his status as the world’s oldest boxing champion and his pride. With a record of 55-6-2, the 49-year-old Hopkins will be defending his IBF, WBA and IBA light-heavyweight titles against the hard-hitting Kovalev, a Russian who is the WBO champion with a 25-0-1 mark. Kovalev, 31, has 23 knockouts.
Now there’s no doubt B-Hop, who has 32 career knockouts, isn’t the pound for pound fighting machine he once was. There was a time when he would stand toe-to-toe and trade punches. Back then, he was young and his body could absorb an opponent’s punch like a sponge.
Today, he uses his ring knowledge to get the most out of his aging body. His defensive style doesn’t allow opponents to get many hard shots at him.
Currently, Hopkins is enjoying a three-bout winning streak but it should be noted he hasn’t recorded a knockout in slightly more than a decade. His last KO victim, Oscar De La Hoya, became a business partner after their Sept. 18, 2004 bout.
Win or lose against Kovalev, no one should ever accuse Hopkins of ducking opponents. Veteran boxing writer Tim Smith marvels at Hopkins’ body of work.
“He’s taken on all comers,” said Smith. “You have to go back into history to see someone who did that. Muhammad Ali took on all comers. Archie Moore took on all comers. Joe Louis took on all comers. The greats never ducked anybody. It’s part of being a professional boxer.
“Bernard has been around for so long, there’s nothing new that [opponents] can bring to the table. He’s fought all types of fighters. Everyone is waiting for Father Time to catch up to him but he’s staying ahead of Father Time.”
Smith, whose work has appeared in numerous publications and has been called on to lend his boxing expertise on internationally televised bouts, believes Kovalev could present problems for Hopkins.
“He’s a guy who can do it but then again, everyone thought that Felix Trinidad was going to do it. They thought that Jermain Taylor was going do it. [Taylor beat Hopkins twice in 2005] Everyone thought that Antonio Tarver was going to send him into retirement. He lost to [Joe] Calzaghe [but] he wasn’t hurt in that fight. He’s been going well ever since.”
Hopkins has gone 7-1-1 with one no contest since losing to Calzaghe on April 19, 2008.
“Everyone thinks the next guy is going to be the one to send B-Hop into retirement. Kovalev could be that guy, but the key is he has to remain patient and stick to his game plan and not be frustrated. Bernard is crafty and he’s got a few tricks that Kovalev has never seen. That’s what makes him so great because he can continue to do what he does at his age. It’s amazing.”
Smith pointed out a key behind Hopkins’ success is his criminal past. Hopkins is a success story in so many ways. A product of the Raymond Rosen housing project, as a youth, Hopkins didn’t care for law and order. By the time he was 13, he’d been stabbed three times and had committed numerous muggings.
When he was 17, Hopkins was sentenced to an 18-year bid at Graterford for nine felonies. It was there where he witnessed the murder of another inmate and sexual assaults. He also learned how to box and when he was released in 1988, he made a promise never to return. He remembers the warden telling him he’d be back.
“That’s where his desire to succeed was developed,” said Smith. “He vowed to never go back to that environment and to prove people wrong. I remember he once told me that he had nine years of probation and he couldn’t make any mistakes or he’d be sent back. That’s when he ordered his life. He disciplined himself. He changed his diet. He changed completely and he knew he needed to do that if he wanted to stay out of prison.
“And to his credit, it has worked.”