“I fear no man on earth that breathes the same air as I do” Never one to back down from a challenge, The Executioner has fought the best and beat the best, aiming towards being the best boxer of our era. Following a showdown loss to Roy Jones Jr in 1993, Bernard Hopkins fought and defended his middleweight championship a record 20 times in the shadows of bigger names like Roy Jones and Oscar De La Hoya. Then when Jones and De La Hoya ultimately failed, Hopkins emerged at the very top of the sport, only to stumble himself and then to come back again to create a legacy as one of the greatest middleweights of all-time.
The story of Bernard Hopkins began in the tough streets of Philadelphia, where a young man learned how to survive and defend himself through boxing. Surrounded by drugs and gun crime, B-Hop succumbed to the peer pressure of the ghetto. From assaults to robbery, he had established a reputation as one of the most infamous criminals in town but this eventually led to him being sentenced to 18 years in Graterford State Penitentiary. Determined not to let this setback define him, Hopkins rediscovered his passion for boxing through the prison boxing programme. With a jailhouse championship to his name and determined to achieve more success from the sweet science, Hopkins was released in 1988, after serving 56 months. The warden told Hopkins that he expected their next meeting to be back at Graterford, to which Hopkins replied "I ain't ever coming back here."
After boxing his way out of prison, Hopkins turned pro but unfortunately, lost his first fight. Instead of being discouraged, he came back stronger, winning his next 20 fights (16 by KO), to earn a world title shot in May 1993.
Bernard Hopkins faced his first true test as a top ranking professional when he entered the ring against the most talented middleweight of the time, Roy Jones Jr, for the IBF belt. It was, at best, a tactical battle which Roy Jones won by a unanimous decision.
WBA champion, Felix Trinidad, made a decision to move up in weight and pursue a championship at 160lb. In 2001, a fight between Hopkins and Trinidad was scheduled to determine the undisputed middleweight champion of the world. Hopkins fought an absolute masterpiece. The fight became an “execution” as Hopkins systematically broke down Trinidad before stopping him in the twelfth and final round.
After winning the vacant middleweight title in 1995, Hopkins rewrote history, defending the title a record 20 times, including a mega matchup with Oscar De La Hoya in 2004. Oscar came out boxing but ultimately had no answers against the bigger, stronger middleweight champion. In the ninth round a devastating left hook to the body gave Hopkins a knockout win.
Capitalising on his superstar status, Bernard Hopkins took on Jermaine Taylor in two memorable fights. In 2005, Hopkins reign as middleweight champion ended, suffering his first loss in twelve years.
Hopkins rematch with Taylor was again a fight that could have gone either way. Once again Taylor came away with the victory.
In 2005, Hopkins moved up two weight divisions and met Antonio Tarver for light heavyweight supremacy. Tarver, the clear favourite, was sluggish from the start and Hopkins made him pay. Seizing the moment Hopkins would not let up and went on to add win 47 to his illustrious career.
Hopkins fought a catch weight matchup at 170lb against Winky Wright, in 2007. Hopkins was beating Wright to the punch early and a head butt in round three opened a bad cut over Winky’s left eye. Feeling a sense of urgency, Wright became the aggressor but Hopkins continued applying pressure to the cut on Wright’s left eye. Hopkins was awarded the unanimous decision victory.
Hopkins and Joe Calzaghe squared off in the Welshman’s first fight in the United States, in April 2008, and Hopkins wasted no time welcoming Calzaghe to the ring. Hopkins hoped his stunning first round knockdown was a sign of things to come but Calzaghe would recover and become the aggressor. Hopkins had some good moments though, particularly with his counter-punching but Calzaghe’s constant swarm of activity was clearly wearing the older Hopkins down. To Hopkins’ dismay, Calzaghe was awarded the split decision victory.
It took Bernard Hopkins more than a decade of sustained accomplishments to fight his way out of shadows cast by more celebrated boxers. However, along the way, he won the undisputed middleweight championship of the world, broke a record for consecutive middleweight title defences and then unexpectedly rose, while passing the age of 40, to become the light heavyweight champion. As Hopkins’ career draws to a close, he can be assured of being remembered as a ring legend and an inspiration to young, aspiring boxers living in the ghetto and beyond.