Bernard Hopkins’ Grand Exit
By: Brandon Bernica
When Bernard Hopkins speaks, you listen. It’s not just the engaging mannerisms or his glaring visage, though. That’s not why you’re drawn to him. Rather, his pull lies in the scope of his knowledge of boxing. It feels like he elaborates on the small crevices and details that blow past the mind of every other analyst or pundit. You probably didn’t notice the half-step back that fighter took to open up room for the hook. But Bernard did. Face it: he just sees the game completely differently than the rest of us. He’s a different breed.
Argument can be made as to whether Bernard’s uncanny ability to dissect the in’s and out’s of boxing stems from his talent in the ring, or whether that talent is a symptom of his knowledge. Really, it doesn’t matter, because what can’t be argued is that Bernard has dominated the sport for a greater span of time than mostly any other boxer. But when news broke recently that Bernard’s last fight will be in 2017, the impending shadow of closure falling on his career finally felt like reality to those who have followed him closest.
Bernard stated that he’d love to end his career the way Kobe Bryant did, and who wouldn’t? With 60 points his last game, recapturing his prime on the way out, it’s practically unfathomable. The problem is, boxing glory is largely proportional to the caliber of opponent across from you. Put it this way: the lesser the opponent, the lesser the spoils. And at age 51 with excessive time in-between fights, the odds against a picturesque ending continue to mount.
It’s not like Bernard hasn’t trampled the odds before. He became the oldest belt holder in boxing history at 48 years old. He clobbered the legendary Felix Trinidad after few gave him any chance. Maybe the question we need to ask ourselves isn’t whether Hopkins can do it, it’s whether enough magic remains in the palms of his hands to clench out one last signature victory.
To exit out on top, Hopkins is going to need the perfect dance partner. A noteworthy name, not too heavy, not too dangerous, not too prime, all ingredients required in his last opponent. So who comes to mind? What if a 3rd fight with Jean Pascal interests him? The two split their first two meetings, and a third summit against a potentially fading Pascal could bode well. Maybe Hopkins takes on heavy-fisted young gun Artur Beterbiev and does what he does best: defuses punchers of their power. Or, if he’s looking for a final pay day, there’s a titlist from the UK named James DeGale, who’s lighter, proven, and a ticket seller.
All Hopkins needs to avoid is getting greedy. The worry is that, with a track record of surmounting the insurmountable, he will throw his chances to the wind and challenge someone like the winner of the Ward-Kovalev superfight. Both men would be favored against Hopkins any day of the week – especially considering that Kovalev already dominated Hopkins once. But with Hopkins, the rest of the equation figures itself out. He eats right, trains hard, and fights smart. Don’t doubt that he’s going to stray from destroying any chance to add one more notch to his belt.
With all that being said, the stark truth remains that Hopkins really can’t disappoint us with a game effort. Even if he’s floored within the opening seconds, fans already have moments from his career to cling onto. But something beckons that this is more than icing on the cake. This is one last shot to defy the status quo. This is the lasting image the public will have etched in their minds whenever his name is brought up in legacy conversations. Even if he doesn’t admit it, much more is at stake than what appears on the surface. But just as Kobe long knew he’d hold his hand high in triumph as he departed Staples Center forever, somewhere deep down, Bernard Hopkins believes the same.