Hopkins looks to be 'special' one last time

Mark E. Ortega
15/12/2016 4:17pm

Mark E. Ortega reports from Inglewood California as 51-year-old boxing legend Bernard Hopkins takes to the dais for the final time in his professional boxing career and delivers an inspirational message ahead of his showdown with Joe Smith Jr on Saturday.

Bernard Hopkins may be fighting for the final time in his illustrious career on Saturday night, but at Wednesday’s press conference at The Forum, he may have given a preview of what is to be his next chapter.

After a seemingly endless run of fighters taking to the dais and regurgitating the same thanks to 'everyone involved' in the promotion of Saturday’s HBO card, it was Hopkins’ turn. Within minutes of speaking, I could already see a not-so distant future in which he gets paid to speak to large crowds, as the 51-year-old used this final pre-fight press conference both to get in his opponent Joe Smith Jr.’s head and to also motivate everyone assembled in the crowd.

Smith Jr. is on the big stage for the first time in his career. The 27-year old is fighting on premium cable for the first time, six months removed from his shocking one-round knockout of Andrzej Fonfara, a solid light heavyweight contender. Smith’s promoter, Joe DeGuardia of Star Boxing, used his time at the microphone to preach about his fighter being “for the common man,” pointing out that he is a man who still works a full-time job while pursuing his boxing career.

Then Hopkins did what he’s done so often during 20-plus years as a championship calibre fighter – he took an opponent’s perceived strength and used it against him.

“Joe DeGuardia said 'common',” Hopkins said, before giving a pause. “Pull your phones out, and go to the dictionary. I ain’t gonna preach, but we’re gonna talk about 'common'.

“Special!” Hopkins shouted, while pointing inwards. “Common!” he followed, pointing at his star-struck opponent seated next to him.

“So all the fighters out there that want to be special, claim it before you become special amongst the eyes of the people because even though you might make it and surpass what Oscar [De La Hoya] and I did when your career blossoms, there’s always going to be someone that tries to prove that you’re special. No matter how many titles you win.

"No matter how much money you got. No matter what you do. You're always gonna have that but if you use that for motivation – if you use that to stay in the game respectfully, then you become special, and an icon surpasses legend. Common man! Special man! Which one you want?”

It’s the kind of mindset that has helped Hopkins become one of the modern era’s transcendent fighters. He was never the most physically gifted fighter. Never the biggest puncher. It’s been his fierce determination and belief in himself that has lifted him over some of the sport’s biggest names, often as the underdog going in.

It’s what it took to beat Felix Trinidad, Antonio Tarver and Kelly Pavlik at or near their peaks. And not only did he beat these guys, but he undressed them with his boxing skills in front of massive crowds with all the pressure that entails.

Hopkins has sometimes not been the most entertaining fighter in the ring. He rose to the occasion when the lights shined the brightest. He has seven losses in 64 total fights (plus two no contests), but one thing he hasn’t lost in the past two decades is a press conference.

“Remember, he gave you all a prediction,” Hopkins said of DeGuardia’s promise that there would be a changing of the guard Saturday night. “See I’m not going to predict that I end his career - mentally, emotionally, physically. I’m not going to wish the Kelly Pavlik on him.

"But what I’m going to do is, I’m going to spank him, teach him his ABCs and then send him back to Long Island, up the road from Philadelphia. Then one day, if he recovers mentally, then he might have something to salvage and go forward. See that’s what I’m about - I’m a career stopper to most of my opponents that talk like him.”

Hopkins then used his opponent’s status as a union worker and turned it around on him.

“He from the Union 3560, I’m from the Union State Correctional Institution of Graterford [referring to his nearly five years in prison before embarking on his pro career].”

Hopkins then stepped away from the microphone, shouting directly into his opponent’s face about how he still carries his prison ID card. “You know what that remind me of, when I got that first big check? That I’m always fighting for a lot of reasons here in America. One is this [pointing to his skin colour].”

Hopkins has never been the No. 1 money-maker in the sport, but there’s a reason he’s managed to outlast all of the big names that have come in and out of boxing during his 28-year career. There’s a reason he’s still fighting on major TV one month before his 52nd birthday.

“Believe you’re special. Women, men. Whatever you do. Believe you’re special. You don’t need nobody to tell you, you gotta believe that. But you could also choose second, which is common. You could always want to be common. It’s so easy to be common!”

Saturday night, will Hopkins dispatch one more opponent back to the common ranks? Regardless of the outcome, he will go down as one of the sport’s most special fighters in our lifetimes.