Bernard Hopkins' finest performances
By Hector Franco
December 17, 2016
Tonight on HBO fans will be witness to what is being promoted as the final fight for the legendary, Bernard Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 KOs). Hopkins will face light heavyweight contender, Joe Smith (22-1, 18 KOs) who is best known for his first round upset stoppage victory over Andrzej Fonfara. Smith at 27 years of age is almost half the age of Hopkins who hasn’t stepped in the ring since Nov. 2014 against Sergey Kovalev.
It’s fitting that Hopkins’ final fight is taking place at The Forum in Inglewood, California, as it is a building that has held many historical fights in boxing history. At 51 years of age, Hopkins’ will hope to have a historic night once again. This is nothing new for the Executioner as he has had numerous nights where he has made history or put on a great performance. Let’s take a look back at some of the best performances of his career.
Glen Johnson (54-21-2, 37 KOs)
July 20, 1997
In 1997, Jamaican-born Glen Johnson was an undefeated middleweight contender. Hopkins was at the beginning of his IBF middleweight title reign having made four successful title defenses. One of the defenses was against the man who is training Hopkins for his final fight, John David Jackson.
All of the boxing pundits who picked Hopkins over Felix Trinidad in 2001 may have done so because of this performance over Johnson. Hopkins was able to break down Johnson on all levels. This was when Hopkins lived up to his moniker of “The Executioner”. Hopkins was the only man until 2014 to score a stoppage victory over Johnson.
Antwun Echols II (32-22-4, 22 KOs)
December 1, 2000
This fight may be the most exciting fight in the career of Hopkins. It’s a foul-filled festival that included a body slam where Hopkins injured his shoulder. Instead of backing out of the fight, Hopkins fought on putting on a boxing lesson with just one arm. The toughness of Hopkins was on full display as he scored a stoppage victory over Echols who at the time was one of the biggest punchers at middleweight.
Felix Trinidad (42-3, 35 KOs)
September 29, 2001
The fight that is arguably the most important of Hopkins’ career came against Felix Trinidad in 2001. It was the final of Don Kings’ middleweight tournament that crowned an undisputed champion in the division. Many may not remember, but Hopkins came into the Trinidad fight as a 3-1 underdog. As the first big boxing event after the events of September 11th, the tension and atmosphere in the arena were one of the most memorable in the sport's history.
Hopkins’ put on a master class against Trinidad, as he was able to neutralize most of Trinidad’s attacks. Hopkins’ outfought and outboxed Trinidad in a Madison Square Garden filled with Puerto Rican fans. To this day it may be the biggest stage Hopkins has fought on with the biggest implications on his boxing legacy. That night he became the undisputed middleweight champion stopping Trinidad in 12 and tied Carlos Monzon’s middleweight title defense record at 14. A record he would go on to break with 20 defenses.
Antonio Tarver (31-6-1, 22 KOs)
June 10, 2006
After 20 successful middleweight title defenses, Hopkins finally lost a pair of fights against Arkansas native, Jermain Taylor. Both fights were full of controversy as many still contend that Hopkins should have been awarded decision victories. After the Taylor fights, Hopkins decided it was finally time to move up in weight. Hopkins’ decided to skip the super middleweight division and head straight to light heavyweight.
He faced light heavyweight champion, Antonio Tarver. Tarver was the favorite going into the fight as many felt Hopkins was taking a huge risk facing a champion in his first fight in a new weight class. In what is now a theme in the career of Hopkins’ he once against proved the critics wrong as he dominated Antonio Tarver winning a unanimous decision. Hopkins had proven to be the best middleweight of his era and had now made his stamp at light heavyweight.
Kelly Pavlik (40-2, 34 KOs)
October 18, 2008
The Tarver fight was a great night for Hopkins’ but was followed by two sub-par performances against Winky Wright and Joe Calzaghe. Hopkins’ got the victory over Wright but failed against Calzaghe in a fight that was filled with more fouling and posturing than punching.
Hopkins turned his attention back to the middleweight division and wanted a fight with the current middleweight kingpin, Kelly Pavlik. The Youngstown, Ohio native was coming off of two victories over Jermain Taylor. Pavlik had a height and reach advantage over Hopkins, and many thought that it might be the end for the Philadelphia fighter. The fight was set to take place at a catchweight of 170-pounds.
In what may have been the most technically dominant performance of Hopkins career, he dominated Pavlik from the first bell to the last. Hopkins looked like the younger man with the fresher legs against Pavlik. He threw in combination and negated everything Pavlik attempted. After Hopkins was declared the victor via unanimous decision, he went to one side of the ring and stared down all of the boxing writers who had doubted him. Hopkins’ was now in his forties and his career far from over.
Jean Pascal II (30-4-1, 17 KOs)
May 21, 2011
After the loss to Calzaghe and the win over Pavlik, Hopkins wanted to become a world champion again. In 2010, Jean Pascal was the lineal light heavyweight champion after his win over Chad Dawson. Pascal decided to face Hopkins in December 2010, in what turned out to be one of Hopkins’ gutsiest performances. Throughout the years Hopkins has rarely been hurt inside the ring let alone knocked down. Pascal was able to do both twice in the first half of the fight and looked to be on his way to victory.
Championship boxing matches, however, are 12 rounds, not six. In the second half of the fight, Hopkins was able to climb his way back into the fight earning a draw on the judge's scorecards. This set up a rematch and another opportunity for Hopkins to make history.
In May 2011, Hopkins faced Pascal in Canada to not only become the lineal light heavyweight champion but to become the oldest man at 46 years of age to win a world championship. This time, Hopkins was able to dictate the pace from the beginning. Hopkins had such a mental edge that he even did push-ups in between a round to show Pascal he wasn’t going to get old overnight. After surviving a few late round scares, Hopkins won a unanimous decision.
If tonight is the final night of Hopkins’ career, it should be celebrated and not mourned. A fighter who took on the industry and made history on his terms leaving behind a legacy of discipline. There will never be another fighter quite like Hopkins, once in a lifetime.
(Featured Photo: Christinne Muschi/Reuters)