According to The Ring magazine and a few prominent boxing websites, Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins is the current pound for pound champion of the world. The 39 year old Philadelphian is ranked number1 in the world with a record of 44-2-1, 31 of his wins coming by way of knockout. Hopkins is also the longest reigning title holder in boxing, with 18 consecutive title defenses and counting. Bernard says he has his sights set on 20 title defenses. Then again, about a year ago what Bernard said put him on the front cover of The Ring magazine, with his sights, at that time, set on fighting James Toney at 190 lbs.
If Oscar De La Hoya’s performance against Felix Strum last June is any indication, I don’t doubt Bernard will be one win closer to his goal of 20 title defenses. Looking at “The Executioner’s” past 18 opponents, there’s no telling who number 20 will be. Be that as it may, I thought a matchup with a former middleweight champion would be a good way of finding out where Hopkins stands among the all-time greats. The middleweight I chose to match against Bernard Hopkins is Jake LaMotta.
There are only two similarities between the fighters. First, their backgrounds—both men grew up in rough environments and spent time incarcerated. And second, LaMotta was the first self-managed professional prizefighter, while Hopkins also manages his own career.
Their fighting styles and approach to managing their careers couldn’t be more different. Hopkins, as his own manager, chose to fight a tomato can like Morrade Hakkar to add one more title defense to his resume in March of 2003. Jake LaMotta chose to fight the P4P greatest fighter that ever lived, Sugar Ray Robison, in five non-title fights. After only one win in the five fights, LaMotta chose to put his title on the line against Robinson.
Bernard Hopkins managed his way into a deal that will land him $10 million-plus to fight The Golden Boy later this year on September 18th. As I mentioned earlier, Oscar’s fight in the main event last June convinced most fight fans Bernard has more than a slight edge to win the fight in September. If Hopkins wasn’t so sure of himself in the upcoming September fight, I doubt if he would have chanced De La Hoya as his next opponent.
In his fight with Trinidad, Hopkins proved to the boxing world he is mentally and physically tough in the ring. His TKO win over Felix “Tito” Trinidad in September of 2001 was not only a turning point in Bernard’s career, but a good example of his championship ability as a fighter. According to Compubox numbers, Hopkins landed on average 40% of the 55 total punches he threw per round. Mixing in 23 jabs per round to keep Trinidad at bay, he limited Tito to 27 punches per round, only 11 of which landed.
In LaMotta’s title fight with Sugar Ray Robinson in 1951, “The Bronx Bull” took a barrage of punches from Robinson, but stayed on his feet and kept pushing forward. Standing flat-footed in front of Robinson, Jake took a tremendous beating only to return bone breaking body punches of his own. The 15 round title fight was close. LaMotta won rounds in the middle of the bout, while the judges scored rounds close throughout fight. Robinson was quick on his feet and able to avoid a lot of LaMotta’s punches, only to have LaMotta wrestle Sugar Ray into several clinches. While in a clinch, Jake had no problem holding Robinson, landing open handed blows behind the neck.
It was not beyond LaMotta to do whatever was necessary to win a fight. As far as toughness, they didn’t come any tougher than Jake LaMotta. What he lacked in finesse and ring generalship, he more than made up for with his grit and toughness.
No amount of jabs or power punches Hopkins could throw would possibly intimidate LaMotta. Not only was LaMotta able to absorb a tremendous amount of punches, he could throw power punches with precision accuracy. He was an aggressive fighter with an incredible will to win.
LaMotta fought his first pro fight in 1941 at the age of 19. After approximately 88 fights, he fought his first title fight in June of 1949. Jake LaMotta admitted to taking a dive in desperation to get a title fight. On June 16th , 1949 Jake LaMotta won the middleweight title by beating Marcel Cerdan with a 10th round KO. A rematch with Cerdan was delayed when LaMotta was injured, and Cerdan returned to his home in Casablanca. Returning to the U.S. for his rematch with LaMotta, Cerdan was killed in a plane crash in October of 1949. With a career total of 106 bouts, LaMotta only defended his middleweight title twice.
Along with his six fight series with Robinson, LaMotta fought and beat several world-class fighters, including four fights in seven months against Hall of Famer Fritzie Zivic, with Jake LaMotta losing only once. All five of the LaMotta-Robinson non-title fights were very close, Sugar Ray being saved by the bell on more than one occasion. Jake also fought world class fighters such as Jose Basora, George Kochan and Tommy Bell. Win or lose, LaMotta was always ready and willing for a rematch.
Bernard Hopkins gave three of his opponents a rematch, none of whom held a major title—Antwun Echols, Segundo Mercado and Robert Allen, who Hopkins fought 3 times. The first Allen fight was ruled a no-contest after Hopkins sustained an injury in that bout. There was also a discrepancy in the first Mercado fight according to Hopkins. The fight was for the vacant IBF title and was held in Mercado’s homeland of Ecuador. The fight was scored a draw, and Hopkins was quick to sign for a rematch that was held four months later. Hopkins won the fight and the vacant IBF middleweight title. This was the second time Hopkins fought for a vacant IBF title. The first IBF vacant title bout also marked Bernard’s second loss in his 16 year career. The winner of that first IBF vacant title was Roy Jones Jr.
Historically speaking, rematches have usually defined a great fighter. Even today, we look forward to rematches and the greatest fights that are the second and third fights. Ward-Gatti, Hearns-Leonard, Barrera-Morales and the list goes on.
If a fighter’s greatness can be defined not only by the quality of his opposition, but by the opportunities he gives his opposition, Jake LaMotta defined greatness.