The most enduring of boxing champions, 48-year-old Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins, knows that controversy sells, even when he’s not intentionally trying to sell it. He has the sometimes unfortunate habit of saying what he thinks and doing what he feels like doing, even when it is politically incorrect to say or do it.
Think not? Consider just a few of the incidents that have garnered the most publicity for the Philadelphia ring legend in recent years.
*Throwing down the Puerto Rican flag at two public gatherings prior to his Sept. 29, 2001, middleweight unification showdown with Felix Trinidad. The second such incident, on Trinidad’s home turf in San Juan, nearly caused a riot.
*Pronouncing that “no white boy can beat me” during the lead-up to his April 18, 2008, light-heavyweight bout with undefeated Welshman Joe Calzaghe in Las Vegas. Calzaghe, his pale complexion not proving an insurmountable hindrance, won a 12-round split decision despite being knocked down in the first round.
*Voicing his displeasure with the seeming lack of urgency by Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb in the closing minutes of a 24-21 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX on Feb. 6, 2005. “I’m disappointed in Donovan McNabb,” Hopkins said. “I’m going to be straight up, I’m not holding back. I’ll say it to his face.”
But with a July 13 defense of his IBF 175-pound title against Germany’s Karo Murat (25-1-1, 15 KOs) coming up at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., Hopkins (53-6-2, 32 KOs) no longer seems capable of, or even that interested in, inciting frenzy with an imprudent word or deed. He wants to be appreciated for the uniqueness of his career, for the incredible longevity of it, and most of all for the unsullied manner, in a physical sense, in which he has achieved it.
The simple act of beating up on a 29-year-old German who is virtually anonymous in these United States isn’t apt to stop some fight fans from yawning at still another B-Hop victory on the path to eventual enshrinement in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Maybe extending his latest championship reign until he reaches the ridiculous age of 50 will gain him the recognition he believes he deserves. Then again, losing to mystery man Murat might be the trick. It could be argued that people have become too comfortable with Hopkins’ successes than to be inspired or excited about them.
To Hopkins’ way of thinking, negativity in today’s jaded sports world is the fastest, surest way for someone to call attention to himself or herself. The biggest headlines go to athletes who test positive for performance-enhancing drugs; who slap around their wives or girlfriends, or at least serial-cheat on them; who get into wee-hours brawls at strip clubs, and who snort more coke than Al Pacino in Scarface.
Living clean is, well, so … boring.
Which maybe explains why Hopkins ripp