Listening to Philadelphia’s Bernard Hopkins you get the idea he likens himself to a modern day John L. Sullivan.
“I can lick any sonavabitch in the house,” crowed Sullivan during his heyday in the 19th century. Most times he did.
Of course Hopkins doesn’t frequent bars shouting those same words, but inside the boxing gym, as he rattles off punches, he’ll tell you words that more or less mean the same thing.
Even at 43 Hopkins shuts up for nobody.
“I am the new 33,” brags Hopkins (48-4-1, 32 KOs) of his ability to fight beyond the age of normal boxers with his Archie Moore-like longevity. “I’m the last 43-year-old still standing.”
He must have forgot about Randy Couture, but that’s OK.
The Ring Magazine light heavyweight champion Hopkins will not be able to overlook undefeated Welshman Joe Calzaghe (44-0, 32 KOs) at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas on Saturday April 19. The fight will be shown on HBO, not pay-per-view.
“It’s my last great challenge,” Hopkins said while in Pasadena, California last week.
The Hopkins aura smacks of Sullivan who fought 120 years ago.
Sullivan was the first American prizefighter to capture the heavyweight title with boxing gloves under the Marquis of Queensberry rules and the last bare-knuckle champion. He’d enter bars and restaurants shouting with supreme confidence that he could beat any man regardless of his whiskey intake in-between fights.
From 1878 to 1892 the burly Irish-American prizefighter with his handlebar mustache lost only one fight. That was in 1892 to San Francisco’s Gentleman Jim Corbett, the forerunner of modern boxing.
It’s written that “the Boston Strongboy” fell into the sport when he defeated a man in a traveling circus who had never been stopped. At age 19 Sullivan knocked out the fighter and took over that role as a traveling boxer who dared any man to beat him.
Eventually over time, age and alcohol consumption were the elements that dragged down the great John L. Sullivan. Forget about those elements entering light heavyweight champion Hopkins' life.
The man hasn’t touched a drop nor indulged in any drug ventures since he was 17. Heck, he doesn’t even eat dessert.
“Before that I would drink, smoke a joint, all the so-called cool things a teenager would do,” Hopkins said. “But the tempsters were definitely there.”
Once again Hopkins faces an undefeated fighter in British-born Calzaghe, a southpaw.
People expect the volume puncher Calzaghe to beat the thrifty Hopkins.
“It’s the volume of punches he throws,” said Freddie Roach of Calzaghe’s favorite status over Hopkins. “He overwhelms people.”
Calzaghe, a rather down-to-earth kind of guy, hardly resembles a prizefighter.
When he entered the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino last December before the Floyd Mayweather-Ricky Hatton fight, not a soul recognized him as he walked in wearing jeans. It wasn’t until a boxing publicist tapped a few shoulders and pointed him out that the media gathered around the slender innocuous looking boxer.
When Hopkins discovered Calzaghe was in attendance he immediately began the psyche war, claiming that he could not be beaten by the Welshman.
Calzaghe seemed greatly amused and playfully agitated the Philadelphia warrior with slight verbal patter.
Calzaghe never defeated
The Italian-Welshman dominated the super middleweight division for a decade and recently solidified his status with back-to-back sterling wins over Peter Manfredo and Mikkel Kessler.
Unlike Hopkins, the unified super middleweight champion Calzaghe has never been defeated, never experienced a bad decision and never abstained from alcohol or a full desert tray.
“Boxing is such a dedicated sport, but after a fight, I go to the pub, get pissed some times,” said Calzaghe, 36, speaking on Hopkins' Spartan lifestyle. “What’s the point of living if you’re just going to live in the gym?”
Though Calzaghe is a virgin to fighting in the United States, he’s not worried about judges, or the boxing mastery of Hopkins who dominated former champion Antonio Tarver, a recent winner of the IBF light heavyweight title over England’s Clinton Woods.
“He’s been beaten. I have never been beaten,” says Calzaghe, who visited Los Angeles a month ago. “There’s nothing he can do to beat me.”
Hopkins smiles whenever Calzaghe’s undefeated record is mentioned. Though he respects the accomplishments of his opponent, the Philadelphia boxer reminds everyone that he gave Felix Trinidad his first loss, defended his current title against the feared Winky Wright and was the only boxer to stop Oscar De La Hoya by knockout. Hopkins is almost giddy with anticipation.
“I’m the most under-rated defensive fighter in the last 15-20 years,” Hopkins says as reporters gather to hang on his every word. “Calzaghe’s an amateur. Who has he faced?”
Hopkins spins prison philosophy into the boxing game. He believes in it.
And why not? It saved his life.
“I was one of the few able to take that experience into their life. I transferred that to a lifestyle in society as first a roofer and landscaper,” Hopkins said. “So when I faced my adversity I survived the biggest test.”
It could be Hopkins' last fight if he loses. The president of Golden Boy Promotions East has no more tomorrows. Just like the great John L. Sullivan, the Philadelphia boxer relishes his role as the best fighter on the planet and master boxer of his generation.
And just like Sullivan, Philadelphia’s Hopkins believes he can lick any man in the house.
Who will win the Sergey Kovalev vs Andre Ward fight?