Bernard Hopkins is the Future of Boxing

Odd copy for an old fighter, but his international style assures him of the Olympian higher ground in the battle for futurity. Of course, solid footing on the high ground doesn’t assure him of winning, but just ask your dad: real estate is always the best investment.

The great actor Ric Royer described the point of boxing: “to touch your opponent in the face with your gloves while avoiding being touched.” It’s an explanation that maddens most fans, because it sounds clever but misses boxing’s most basic ingredient. Boxing’s most basic ingredient (as the actor well knows) is mortality.

But the future is not just gluten-free and fat-free, it’s also mortality-free. Too much mortality, and it wouldn’t be the future. In boxing, mortality is symbolized by the knockout. And the knockout’s days may be numbered.

I could well be wrong, but all the hand-wringing over violence in the big four sports keeps moving the odds against dystopian prophecies of a New Roman Empire where jaded citizens cheer blood-sports in a modern Coliseum. We are moving in the very opposite direction.

Royer describes boxing not as a blood-sport, but as a harmless game. In a future where you can’t smoke, can’t drive, can’t camp or even die without a permit, he’s describing the boxing of the future.

However, we live in the present, and we aren’t satisfied with the idea that boxing is a game even though it’s “a competition governed by rules,” and is “accompanied by the awareness of a different reality,” as sociologist Roger Caillois puts it. We aren’t satisfied because the game so often breaks down, allowing reality to seep in like a stirring evil which enters an unlatched window. And never are the game’s fissures more apparent than when a boxer dies –not a symbolic knockout death, but a real mortal death.

There is no place for death in the rules of boxing, which means any real death happens outside its structure. But the fact so many boxers die makes one wonder whether the rules of boxing are strong enough to separate fiction and reality. A fighter’s death makes headlines about once a year, and more than 500 deaths have been blamed on the sport since the introduction of the Queensberry Rules of 1884.

But if men are perfectly protected by the rules, can they be heroes? I don’t buy the notion that Lebron James or Peyton Manning is a hero. We bestow them with laurels, but what do they risk? They are protected by the rules of their games the way a law-abiding citizen is protected by the rules of society. And a hero isn’t just another do-gooder citizen, no matter what Ford commercials try to tell you. A hero lives on the very borderline of society, and knows what’s on the other side of that border.

Boxers live in the borderlands. Every player parading into the game of touch-without-being-touched knows he might die during the game –if he’s touched in that rarest way. They are no mere players, and it’s no mere game.

But the future works to make sure nothing seeps through the structure of its rules. Bigger gloves, fewer rounds, maybe headgear –whatever it takes to keep reality out. If boxing is to survive, it will more and more resemble Olympic boxing, and the sweet science could wind up as the least physical sport of all. Championship boxing used to be 15 rounds, before that it used to be 100 (the future always shortens “the distance,” ironically enough).

And this is where Bernard Hopkins comes in. He reveals the lie behind my cynical attitude about a sterile and mortality-free future, because he can take boxing to a land of no knock-outs, a land where a 39-year-old can be champion, and a 49-year-old man can be champion, a land of immortality: the one and only future. And I’ll be happy to come long for the ride because he can do it with style, and he can do it with art.

I love watching Bernard Hopkins. I could watch him not knock out a guy forever. Watch him clinch, hip-check, pot-shot, counterpunch, body-block and aim for the abdominal brain. Watch him render his opponent harmless as a charmed snake by scrambling his rhythm, and then hit him. And then hit him again in disdain.

Bernard Hopkins is the future of boxing because his art is strong enough to expand the game’s borders. His art can elevate symbolic violence beyond real violence. He is the answer to the conundrum that If boxing is all about brutal kayos, it will be pushed to the margins of society and into extinction, but that if it becomes “too safe” it will lose its audience and fade away. His art is strong enough to give us symbols that rival reality and satisfy our passions.

I believe Hopkins thinks about himself in a similar fashion. In an interview with The Boxing Voice (Aug 21, 2014) he expresses scorn for fight fans who just want to see knock-outs. A kayo is simple and vulgar compared to the higher precepts of the sweet science, he explains. A man like Kovalev is a fan favorite not only because he’s white, but because he’s a knockout machine, a one-trick pony. Hopkins, on the other hand, is anything but a one-trick pony, but he’s considered a “boring fighter,” and this infuriates the champion. And it should.

Hopkins has long viewed himself in heroic conflict against society –in this case, a conformist society which favors spectacle over true greatness (his greatness). It’s the same mentality that underappreciated artists have always had. In interviews, he says he’s fighting two fights: one against Kovalev, and one against the society that wants Kovalev to prevail. And he’s going to win both.

Bernard Hopkins is already living in the future, and he takes advantage of any opponent who’s still living in the past. If your plan is to kayo the champ, you have as much chance as a Neanderthal in the age of Homo-sapiens (or a Homo-sapien in the age of aliens, as BH would have it).

On November 8th, to achieve immortality in the game of boxing, Bernard Hopkins faces a player who killed a man. If he wins at age 49, he will prove that boxing is not a good game ,nor a bad game –it is an art. It is his art.

Long live Bernard Hopkins.



-Bernie Campbell :

Ill neverforget that my whole opinion changed of Bernard after he adressed a Barclay Brooklyn Crowd after a win and in wich I was present and he alluded to the audience, to the kids specificly and said..If you wanna be Champion, youve gotta stay away from Smolking..Evreybody in the house knew he wasnt talking about Pall Mall's! Yo go Sir! Later on the Replays..HBO eliminated that segment of the post fight interview!

-Froggy :

Hopkins is amazing for many different reasons, but I can not figure how anyone can have the disapline [sic] to stay at an elite level in the toughest sport for about 3 decades ! He is in a league of his own for that and other reasons !

-Skibbz :

Kovalev is a hunter. He's got the killer instinct to know when he's got his opponent hurt, he's got the power to put them out of their misery (or plunge them deeper in it), but most crucially he's got the patience. That's something a lot of people are taking for granted with Kovalev, his patience. Not all of his fights are 1 round blow outs. Not all of his fights even end in knock outs. I watched him fight Cleverly, for 3 rounds he stalked Nathan who was determined to fight behind a jab, to trade as little as he could afford to without giving rounds away and trying to box on the back foot. Kovalev was unperturbed. He had his plan and he stuck to it. He understands what game this is. He knows he can sacrifice 1 round, 2 rounds even 3 or 4 rounds. But he knows like any good patient hunter, stalking his prey, that when the time comes (and it usually comes) he will have to be ready to pull the trigger. On the other hand, Bernard will look to frustrate Kovalev, muddy his waters so he can't see what he's all whilst taking whatever's on offer, no matter how small. It's like Kovalev is the hunter after the big game, where as Bernard is the cautious survivor, he'll trap take the smaller game until he's satisfied and built up enough to go after the bigger prize. He's tireless in his efforts and rarely loses sight of the bigger picture. It's a tough fight to call, Bernard could make history, Kovalev could retire a future HOFer... I can't see Kovalev being allowed the room to punch how he wants, but I'm sure he's got the same dreadfully concussive strength on the inside as he does on the outside. But if anyone can fend off blows on the inside and out it's Bernard. My head doesn't agree with my heart, but it's Bernard who i'll be rooting for. I expect to be watching some history be made on the night of the 8th.

-MCM :

Kovalev does show patience. And a hard jab, and a jab is bound to land. He throws straight short punches, which like jabs are bound to land, from time to time. And his technique is good, so he gets good power. But I don't know why he's quite as powerful as he appears. Are his hands hams? And do we know his power? Hard to tell what knocked over a tomato can. He's a mystery. That's part of the intrigue. Who is Sergey Kovalev? Nobody answers a question like that better than Bernard Hopkins. He'll tell you exactly who you are.

-Skibbz :

Kovalev does show patience. And a hard jab, and a jab is bound to land. He throws straight short punches, which like jabs are bound to land, from time to time. And his technique is good, so he gets good power. But I don't know why he's quite as powerful as he appears. Are his hands hams? And do we know his power? Hard to tell what knocked over a tomato can. He's a mystery. That's part of the intrigue. Who is Sergey Kovalev? Nobody answers a question like that better than Bernard Hopkins. He'll tell you exactly who you are.
I agree MCM it's very intriguing. I've seen several Kovalev fights, one ringside, and he's got good economical punch selection, but he knows how to pour it on when he has to too. He's a fighter who will return shots only when he's in position. I don't think he's going to find that getting int position against BHop is going to be easy but then again I don't think he's expecting an easy day at the office. It's his biggest fight, against his best opponent to date (let's forget BHop is 49 - he's proving age is just a number if you're an alien) and on the biggest stage of his career so you can be sure that there will be nerves even if you're an iceman. I'll take what you said, Bernard will give us a good dissection of Kovalev.

-MCM :

After hearing what you say, I'm curious who you think will win, Skibbz? I personally am very excited about the fight, which I'll attend with my dad --he'll be coming from Buffalo I'll be coming from Brooklyn. It's going to be cold on the Boardwalk, and a quarter of the casinos are closed, and the night could go down in history. I think of it as Bernard Hopkins' last fight. Kovalev is a real monster.

-Skibbz :

I hope you have a great night MCM with your father, it could be a historic night it a little chilly.. When the fight first was announced I favoured Kovalev. As time's wore on, I've thought about it more and played it out a few times in my head I can see Hopkins winning a decision. He will play the role of a snake charmer, standing infront of the viper goading, but just out of range or with not much on offer to Kovalev. He'll snatch rounds that the more patient Kovalev may let slip but he can't take his focus off for even a half second because when Kovalev hits you, you stay hit. Ultimately, hopkins will work up an early lead and Kovalev will have to play catch up in the Virgin territory he's never entered before. It's going to be a good one.