Action in Bernard Hopkins Fights Is Like Bus that Never Comes


By Ivan G. Goldman

Bernard Hopkins, who goes up against fierce, undefeated Tavoris Cloud this Saturday on HBO, usually gets opponents to fight his fight — even when Hopkins loses. And as he heads inexorably toward his 50th birthday, his style is about as fan-friendly as E. coli at the refreshment counter.

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For example, Jermain Taylor, trying to fight aggressively, pulled out two back-to-back victories over Hopkins in 2005. But they were typical Hopkins fights — featuring lots of mauling, grappling, feinting, and fancy headwork, without much clean punching. Taylor won one by split decision, and the other on all three judges’ cards in bouts that were tough to score. Hopkins, now 52-6-2 (32 KOs), claimed he got robbed in both of them. All that was very typical.

Unless you count one second-round no contest called when an exasperated Chad Dawson threw Hopkins down on his shoulder and Hopkins couldn’t continue, no one has been stopped in the last thirteen Hopkins fights. He always promises plenty of action, but fans who love kayos can’t find much to love about the Executioner. Yes, he’s in great shape for a 48-year-old guy, but he’s not in great shape for a fighter, which is why he tries to keep exchanges to a minimum. Hopkins is a phenomenon, all right, but I find the best way to view one of his bouts is to make sure I have a couple magazines handy.

Incidentally, referee Pat Russell caught much grief for declaring Dawson the winner in their first contest (the California commission later ruled it a no contest). But Russell explained to me at the time that Hopkins refused to let the ring physician examine the shoulder, so Russell felt he had no choice. “Hopkins abandoned the fight,” Russell told me.

So intriguing stuff does occur when Hopkins gets in the ring, but it’s often connected to some sort of fan disappointment. In 1998, breaking up one of many clinches, referee Mills Lane accidentally pushed Hopkins through the ropes onto the tables below. Injured Hopkins couldn’t continue. That was against Robert Allen. Hopkins stopped him the next time out, but that was a relatively young Hopkins, a talented middleweight champion who usually dominated his opponents from the opening bell. Since then he’s perfected ways to stay in the fight while holding actual fistcuffs down to a minimum.

When HBO begins its coverage Saturday night in Brooklyn its tuxedo crew will make much of Hopkins’ age and the fact that he can make history if he manages to snatch the IBF light heavyweight title from 31-year-old Cloud, 24-0 (19 KOs), who won it in 2009 against Clinton Woods. All that is true. There’s often a really exciting aura around Hopkins fights — until the bell rings to start the contest. But after a while fans and commentators get grumpy. The experience is like waiting for a bus that won’t come.

Hopkins used to drive Larry Merchant loopy. He’d come out to interview the champ after yet another 12-round, borifying disaster and you could tell Merchant was aching to land just one clean shot on the guy himself so at last a fight would break out at a Hopkins fight.

The last really good Hopkins fight I saw was in 2008 against undefeated king of the hill Kelly Pavlik. Hopkins landed some good shots, and Pavlik barely laid a glove on him. It was an old-fashioned schooling as the old master moved around, got his angles, and made his flustered opponent look inferior. At the time, hard-hitting Pavlik was being hammered outside the ring by alcoholism and related personal problems, but it was still a magnificent victory, the exception that proves the rule. Yes, it’s possible for Hopkins to be involved in an excellent fight. But it’s unlikely.

Reading Goldman’s critically acclaimed novel Isaac: A Modern Fable {Permanent Press, 2012) is a fine experience the author wishes for each and every one of you. So buy it. Information HERE

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