It was back in ’92, I believe. I got a call from his then promoter, Butch Lewis, saying there was this promising middleweight who when he showed up in any Philly gym, everybody ran out. The only way he could get sparring partners was to have a captive audience.
So we went to Graterford, the Hopkins’ alma mater at State Penn, a maximum-security playground that had many return guests. But, Bernard was too smart for that. He only went back to his old home to train, and maybe remind himself why there was going to be one less case of recidivism than the guards anticipated.
Hopkins had been a survivor – from the Philly rough streets he terrorized as a youth to the boxing rings he dominated as a young man. Not to mention the five years or so in Graterford where, he likes to say, he was a juvenile among hardened criminals who escaped the worst nightmares of prison life.
Bernard is not so young anymore. He’ll be 44 in January and a loser in three of his last five fights. Now he’s facing a 26-year-old possible budding superstar in the undefeated Kelly Pavlik.
There are those who would say next Saturday’s meeting at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City should be considered a generational crossroads between the longtime middleweight champion and the current 160-pound king.
But let’s not have any talk about passing the baton to the next generation. Put a stick in Hopkins’s hand, he’s not going to give it to anyone else except perhaps over the head.
And, that’s why there’s much temptation to back him at the 3-1 buyback rate against Pavlik.
I’m not convinced that a few shekels on B-Hop doesn’t constitute a better investment in these days of shrinking portfolios than the $50 pay-per-view tab – especially with a nonbetting undercard.
I just can’t see laying 4-1 odds on Pavlik, though he figures to win. Kelly is even hinting strongly at becoming the first man to stop Hopkins, who’ll be fighting 20 years and a week from when he made his pro debut – a 1988 loss to someone named Clinton Mitchell.
In his 54 pro fights, including 20 middleweight title defenses, Hopkins has never been knocked out. Hell, it’s been about 15 years since he’s been stopped. He not only has a great chin, but smart boxers who don’t want to get knocked out simply aren’t.
So, those 2-1 odds on Pavlik to win by stoppage do not appear overly generous.
You don’t have to wonder why Hopkins is still fighting, way beyond the time he had promised his late mother he would quit. Until he upset Felix Trinidad Jr. (I got 5-2 on him for that 2001 fight) he really didn’t make the big bucks. Now, every appearance means multimillions.
And Hopkins is smart enough to know when he can’t tuck that chin behind the shoulder, or slip a jab and land a hook to the cup when the ref is on the other side. Yeah, he knows all the tricks, and so what if Pavlik’s wise trainer, Jack Leow, can crack, "Don’t be surprised if we put Bernard’s nuts in his throat before he touches us low."
No, Hopkins isn’t what he used to be. Still he’s 48-5-1 with 32 knockouts. His last appearance was a split decision loss to the undefeated Joe Calzaghe that even some of the British writers thought B-Hop had won. And the two victories he’s had since losing two excruciating decisions to Jermain Taylor (I still haven’t seen Bernard beaten on my cards) were over fellow pound-for-pound stalwarts Antonio Tarver and Winky Wright.
They’re fighting at 170 pounds, which should not be a serious hindrance to Pavlik, who at 6-2½ is naturally bigger. The Ghost from Youngstown is a big, big puncher, perhaps the best one Hopkins has faced. Plus, Pavlik has surprising hand speed and agility. He’ll probably be able to land against the old man and says "it’s definitely not out of the question an early-round stoppage or a quick knockout."
That would be a nice feather in Pavlik’s crown. He has two victories against Taylor, and before that he beat Edison Miranda to qualify for his title shot. I can’t see him losing here, but Hopkins is a survivor. Laying 12-5 the fight goes 11½ rounds without a government bailout does not appeal.
Yes, I’m going to buy the pay-per-view. It could be the old man’s last fight. He deserves my support.