Listening to Bernard Hopkins is like taking a trip into a vast spectacular unknown. You stand in line, pay your money, get a ticket, grab a seat, and hope the airbags don’t fail. The former middleweight champ enters a room and words gush forth in a cascade of coherent paragraphs. You can either stop, look and listen or you can duck and cover, but when Hopkins has the floor he owns the house.
Hopkins’ tough guy business, from which he’ll soon retire, and his tough guy history, which will tail him forever, have morphed over time into a thing of grace. Hopkins is no longer a pug or prizefighter, no longer a gladiator or mere champ. Hopkins is now a genus of genius, a hole in one, a grand slam, this thing unto himself.
In the buildup to the rematch between the current reigning undisputed middleweight champion Jermain Taylor and the challenger and former champ Bernard Hopkins, the fighters and their handlers hit New York– and Gotham is still reeling.
Jermain Taylor has the belts. He’s a good fighter, nice guy, country kid, church going; plus he’s middleweight king of the world. But Taylor, for all his gifts, is a pup in the word department – especially against a wordslinger like Hopkins. Taylor’s learned to play to the crowd to some effect – and for which Hopkins, to his credit, takes the credit – but Jermain goes belly-up against the master showman, the press conference virtuoso, that cat with the bag of tricks named Bernard Hopkins.
Hopkins, looking relaxed in a dark sport coat and white shirt open at the collar, sat at one of the circular tables on the dance floor at the Copa in midtown Manhattan. With the smell of catered food wafting through the air, he fielded questions with deft certainty, always one step ahead of the writers, able to silence the already silenced majority with words followed by words followed by more words.
Sometime later Hopkins sat on the dais with Jermain Taylor and Oscar De La Hoya, patiently waiting his turn to speak. When his name was called and he took to the podium, Bernard was in his element. He was like a king in his court, like a preacher exhorting his flock, like a politician finessing votes, like a shaman come to the big city to heal the sick of body and mind. He was all-knowing, all-seeing, all-talking all Bernard Hopkins all the time.
“I’m not here to say I’m gonna do this earlier, I’m gonna do that earlier,” Hopkins said. “The only thing I can say is that, knowing the circumstances, the only thing that I didn’t do was finish Jermain Taylor when I had him on Queer Street, as least two to three times, whether it was the seventh round, whether it was the eighth round, whether it was the ninth round, or whether it was one of those rounds where it could have easily been a 10-8 or 10-9 round. That’s the only thing that I say to myself that I need to work on.
“Everything from round 1 through 12 was perfectly executed by Bernard Hopkins.”
It’s not surprising that Hopkins thinks he got a raw deal when he fought Taylor last summer. It’s in keeping with Hopkins’ character. It’s in keeping with boxing’s character.
“The only thing I want to say clear to everybody is that Jermain Taylor got the victory, but Jermain Taylor didn’t actually beat Bernard Hopkins. It was the system – it could be a judge, it could be a particular person, but it was always something – that I always told everyone that cared to listen to always watch out for.”
Some people insist Hopkins is delusional, that he lost the first fight with Taylor as emphatically as Al Gore lost to George W. Bush in 2000, but The Executioner knows better, and does his darnedest to set the record straight
“It’s because of what I established,” he said, alluding to the fact that he’s self-managed and never sold his soul to a promoter, “which I never regret and won’t regret, that it gets to the point where you’ve got an industry champion, or a future industry champion, heir apparent, I must understand that there’ a lot at stake, a lot involved, with who shoulda won and who shouldn’t have won. And that will ultimately reflect July 16. If you just deal with the last round, that could easily have made it a draw. But that to me would have been a robbery. A rape was given to Jermain Taylor.”
Hopkins is as gifted with words as he is with his fists – it’s hard to make rape allusions poetic – but bitterness doesn’t eat at his being.
“It’s over,” Hopkins said about the loss to Taylor in fight one. “I’m at peace. This is something, if you’ve been following Bernard Hopkins, you will understand: that I’m at my very best when it comes to proving a point, not only to show that I’m the better fighter and the better athlete at 40 and a half years old, that I’m at my best, but I know I gotta beat the system again. If you followed my history, you gotta clue what I’m saying.”
There’s little more satisfying than playing by the rules and beating the system at its own game, and that’s a fight Hopkins took on and scored big. (Hopkins fought the law and Hopkins won.) But does he have what it takes at the tail end of his career to decisively beat Jermain Taylor?
“I [took] a chance to expose the system of what I was accused of being paranoid of; and now that I’m on my way out I get to destroy their heir apparent … And my history shows that everybody that got into the ring with me twice, either their careers went south or they retired out of boxing: Antoine Echols, Robert Allen, Segundo Mercado, Joe Lipsey. Must I say more? It’s not always the best thing in life to go through the minefields with B-Hop the second time around.”
Despite Hopkins’ bluster, he respects the man he faces Saturday night.
“You respect competition to be respected,” The Executioner said. “To not respect someone is like to say a person don’t have the ability to take you out. I mean, even in the streets you gotta respect a guy that he could possibly have a gun hidden under his jacket or tucked in his pants.”
Living in the tranquil (and tax-friendly) environs of Delaware hasn’t inured Hopkins to the dangers of the street, the dangers of the life, the dangers of the boxing.
“I think that part of this system is Duane Ford – who I believe made a mistake on the 12th round alone – voting … But I believe he exposed what was already being done, and that was his way of showing what was being done. I thank Duane Ford for showing the subterfuge and deceit that was laid out prior to my getting into the ring. It’s like a body, a corpse, so to speak, and the people try to find this smell and this stench, that sometimes even a dead person can speak. I think Duane Ford being a live person spoke through the vote, that people can understand why they didn’t give me the 12th round. I think Duane Ford was secretly, or indirectly, exposing what was already made out prior to my getting in the ring. So I thank Duane Ford. I thank Duane Ford for the second opportunity hopefully to make a substantial amount of money to go to my 401K. I thank Duane Ford for exposing that Bernard Hopkins wasn’t this radical, paranoid guy that think somebody’s out trying to get him.”
The fight called “No Respect” will be broadcast this Saturday, December 3, on HBO pay-per-view, live from the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.