- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

He is the last master craftsman in boxing — the last stonecutter, the last glassmaker. But now it is time for 49-year-old Bernard Hopkins to put away his tools.

“I think now it’s time that Hopkins give younger guys a chance,” said Sergey Kovalev, the undefeated light heavyweight champion who gave Hopkins a 12-round beating in a unification bout Saturday night in Atlantic City.

Hopkins would not commit to the end. “I will think about it,” he said.

There is nothing more to prove, nothing more to sell. Saturday night, going into the fight, he was the freak of nature, defying the odds by beating champions 20 years younger than him. He had been “The Executioner” and was now “The Alien.”

After the fight, he was just an old, game, beaten fighter — another chorus of the sad song of boxers who stayed too long

“The trouble with boxing is that it often ends in sadness,” Barry McGuigan, the former Irish featherweight champion, once said, and if Hopkins continues to fight — his 50th birthday is two months away, an attractive carrot — it may end in sadness.

The sadness of Saturday night’s one-sided beating by Kovalev was disguised by the very fact that this 49-year-old Philly fighter stood there for 12 rounds and took the best that this 31-year-old bruiser — who had knocked out 23 of his 26 opponents — had to offer. The Hopkins story softened the blows of the mismatch.

What was clear to nearly everyone watching from the first round, when Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 knockouts) went down from a Kovalev right hand to the temple, was that this was a mismatch. This was a 49-year-old man in the ring fighting to survive.

Yet there was a voice also saying, as the sixth, seventh, eighth rounds came and went, that Hopkins was laying in wait for Kovalev; that Hopkins, in those later rounds like he had done so many times before, would give the younger fighter a lesson and come away the victor.

Here was this 49-year-old man taking a beating, and somehow you believed he might still win.

Bernard, you’ve won. You finally beat them all.

Kovalev was a 3-1 favorite going into the fight. Yet, according to HBO, more than half the boxing writers covering the bout picked Hopkins to win. And HBO announcer Jim Lampley said he went into the fight thinking that somehow, Hopkins would win — because he had done it so many times before.

They counted Bernard Hopkins out time after time, and he had proven them wrong. Now few were willing to count Hopkins out, even when logic dictated otherwise.

Part of why Hopkins won people over was that he had a Ph.D. in boxing, while most in the sport today are high school dropouts when it comes to practicing the craft in the ring. He was smarter than his opponents and often in better shape, never falling out of condition between fights.

I watched him ringside at the D.C. Armory for his last win — a 12-round split decision over Beibut Shumenov in April to capture the World Boxing Association light-heavyweight crown to go along with his own International Boxing Federation title in that division — and knew we would never see the likes of him again.

It was like watching the last dinosaur dance his way out of the tar pits.

He dominated the 30-year-old Shumenov for 12 rounds, and looked as if he could have gone on for 12 more. He left the ring after the fight, sat down right in front of press row, and held court with the writers.

“I’m special, in a way that is good,” Hopkins told reporters. “I don’t have to explain special. There is no definition for special. Special speaks for itself. I had a great night. I am a great champion.”

He is a Philly fighter, born out of the furnace of Graterford State Prison, where, after being jailed for armed robbery in 1983, he learned how to box from an old trainer named Smokey Wilson inside the walls, in a time when the prison system offered boxing as a way out. But he belongs to Washington as well, fighting here so many times at so many crossroad moments in his career.

He fought Roy Jones — who was the HBO color commentator for Hopkins-Kovalev fight Saturday night — for the vacant IBF middleweight title in 1993 on the undercard of the Riddick Bowe-Jesse Ferguson fight at RFK Stadium and lost a decision. (He would avenge that defeat 17 years later in a rematch victory.) Two years later, Hopkins won that same title, vacant again, by stopping Segundo Mercado in seven rounds at the USAir Arena in Landover.

Two years later, Hopkins fought a 12-round war against local middleweight contender Andrew Council at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro. He stopped Robert Allen in seven rounds at the Washington Convention Center, then stood on the ropes and screamed a lengthy diatribe to the crowd as they left about the lack of respect he received inside the business of boxing, and his battle against the promotional powers that left him with a paltry paycheck for that bout.

Then, two years later, the door finally opened for Hopkins, and he pounded his way in. Don King organized a middleweight boxing tournament to produce a unified champion, believing that his prized fighter, Felix Trinidad, would emerge as the winner. But Hopkins dominated the District’s Keith Holmes, the World Boxing Council title holder, over 12 rounds in the first fight at Madison Square Garden, then gave a boxing clinic on his way to stopping Trinidad in the 12th round of their September 2009 bout.

They had to pay attention to Bernard Hopkins now.

He earned his biggest payday, $10 million, in stopping Oscar De La Hoya in nine rounds in 2004, and showed everyone his Costco membership card in the post-fight press conference, so they knew exactly who Bernard Hopkins was. Since then, he’s won most, lost some, but he never lost like he did Saturday night against Kovalev.

You can stop fighting now, Bernard. You’ve won.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com


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