Shadow League All-Star J.R. Gamble got up with B Hop, just two months shy of his 50th birthday, at a recent workout in Gleason’s Gym as he prepared for his latest light heavyweight title showdown with undefeated Russian Sergey Kovalev Saturday November 8th on HBO at 10pm.
Former opponents of boxing legend Bernard Hopkins say engaging in a ring battle with an assassin and scientist such as “The Alien” is like diving into the eye of the storm. He has the knowledge of a college professor—even if he wants you to believe book smarts is an inhibitor to great men, the enemy of higher enlightenment and true self elevation. He commands respect and exudes the veteran confidence of an army general, the boxing intellect of a molecular genetics major and the life discipline of a monk.
When Hopkins meets Kovalev he will be attempting to break his own record of becoming the oldest champion in the history of major sports to win a world title. Adding prestige to this bout and raising the stakes is the fact that Hopkins will be fighting a 12-round unification jump off for the IBF, WBA and WBO Light Heavyweight belts. He accomplished a similar feat in the middleweight division.
Hopkins first broke George Foreman’s record as the oldest fighter in history to win a title when he defeated Jean Pascal for the WBC and Ring Magazine titles in 2011 at the age of 46 years, four months and 6 days young.
Most recently on April 19th, 2014, Hopkins made history by defeating Beibut Shumenov via a split decision to become the Unified Light Heavyweight World Champion in front of a sold out crowd at the DC Armory, just feet from where he made his first unsuccessful attempt at a world title in 1993 when he faced Roy Jones Jr. at RFK Stadium.
Bernard Hopkins: Everything I do at this point in my career affects my legacy. I’ve set and broken many records but becoming the oldest undisputed light heavy weight is the goal and Kovalev stands in the way of that goal. He’s another young, hungry fighter, and just like the ones that came before him, he will leave the ring beltless.
Hopkins’ legendary rise and story of redemption and growth has become the text book for young inner-city males looking for a role model and a reason to cherish their future as much as they do the present. He made mistakes at age 17 that cost him about six years in the Graterford State Penitentiary. He was released back into the world at age 23 and never looked back. He became 100 percent dedicated to enhancing his boxing skills and his lifestyle. Now, Hopkins story is one of North Philly boxing lore.
When I spoke with Kovalev, he called Hopkins the old lion that’s about to get robbed of his kingdom. Members of Kovalev’s team bluntly expressed bewilderment as to why Hopkins would fight an undefeated boxer whose twenty years younger, with a body on his bloody resume and a wicked thirst for light heavyweight belt unification.
“I respect Bernard Hopkins for taking the fight,” said the 31-year-old Kovalev (25-0-1, 23 KO). When I came to America, it was my dream to fight the best and now I am. I have my chance. He says he is alien. He will punch, I will punch, then we see who is gonna go to Mars…Age is no excuse if he steps in that ring.”
Those kinds of jabs at his biological clock and loaded questions are infested with hints of doubt and ridicule. In Hopkins’s opinion they express an ignorance towards who he is as an individual. He lets it be known that he doesn’t box for glory or money. His conquests aren’t laced in champagne baths, stripper sprees and YouTube clips of his fleet of whips or shoe boxes full of money piled up along a mansion wall.
Hopkins has often said that he is a rare breed. In a world where people seek low-effort, high compensation financial and material comfortability and laugh at people who work harder but receive less instant gratification, Hopkins keeps challenging evolving, challenging himself and defying logic and science.
When asked about the laundry-list of younger opponents that he has not only beaten, but wrecked and ruined for the rest of their once-promising careers, Hopkins is unapologetic. He has blemished some unbeaten records along the way, but that Hopkins says, is the difference between him and these young bloods.
Early in his career, Hopkins was considered more of a promising outlaw than anything else. He was never the young rising star and fan favorite with the glossy undefeated record. He never had any legends to chase except himself.
Hopkins: Unfortunately there is a long line of people who went through that but I honestly have never been in that position. I lost my first professional fight so I’ve never been in a position where I had 20 or 30 wins and then I had to deal with something I’ve never dealt with before and all of a sudden was never the same. I got my taste of how that feels early, and it wasn’t a good taste.
When asked where a win over Kovalev would rank in his own personal Hall of Fame, Hopkins was unsure at the moment. However, he didn’t dismiss it as just another fight.
Hopkins: It’s going to be kind of difficult but not only for me, but for any other type of analyst or person with knowledge of the game…I think they’re going to have a harder time assessing my many performances over the years which spans three different age groups –my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s…with 50’s coming. Man y’all have a job cut out for you. That question ain’t for me. It’s for y’all. Y'all have a job to do. You ain't gonna put it on The Alien.
I asked B Hop if there was any “anxiousness” to get this fight crackin’, especially with some prognosticators picking Kovalev to dethrone him.
Hopkins: It’s not the anxiousness of a rookie that I have. It’s not the kind that I had early in my career, where I couldn’t sleep at night. There’s different kinds of anxious. There’s the anxious when you finally got her to say yes and your waiting for Friday to come and it’s Monday and it seems like that day will never come. There’s the anxious of you moving so fast that you wish they’d slow up. That’s a nervous anxious. I’ve been past the stage of both sides because I’ve been in the game so long that I’m numb from the head down. That to me is a luxury that I have over 90 percent of the fighters today no matter what age they are. I don’t have that young anxiety anymore that’s like a bad spark plug that can mess up a smooth running car. I’ve been sleeping well the past 15 years of my career and I’m almost 27 in. Those days I don’t think about anymore.
Hopkins also didn’t attack Sergey’s gangsta' or mental capacity to the degree that he has mocked and criticized past opponents’ manhood, desire and intelligence. As usual, Hopkins kept the spotlight focused on the improbable journey he has taken boxing fans on in an era when the crown jewel title of boxing (Heavyweight championship) rests in the hands of non-American, almost unmarketable athletes.
Hopkins: I’ve done so many unpredictable things, so profoundly, where even the ones who want to go against me are afraid to go against me. We call it hedging your bets. I don’t gamble but I know what “hedge your bets” means. And when you’ve got an industry in the position I have them in you normally don’t see that in any sport; baseball, football basketball. I say that’s a comfortable position to have them in. Where they’ve been wrong—profoundly wrong— is on certain fights… saying that I had no chance and a lot of them are just being mum right now. They might not feel like I can still do things but we all have pride and egos I don’t care what nobody says. We all want to be the ones that can say I was right. Nobody wants to be wrong and nobody will say they are wrong before trying to prove they are right first.
Some if they were knowledgeable and humble enough would say, “yeah, he got me.” This is a great position to be in because I really don’t believe that there's a fighter from any decade...Any decade, to be in that position of luxury that I’ve enjoyed for many years.
He did at least credit the Kelly Pavlik fight in 2008 with being his sweetest and most satisfying demolition.
Hopkins: The Pavlik fight was for me to make a statement on what I perceived the masses wanted to predict. Despite the guys that I had previously fought that were better than Pavlik, for some reason the Youngstown, blue collar worker, town family guy…that was the guy that someone attached knockout to the scenario of me losing. That was the first time I heard the “masses” attach the word knockout to my opponent. So I’m real keen on what people say. Ninety-percent of it might be garbage but there’s a fraction in there that tells you the plan if you listen with knowledge. So I said, “huh”…
Pavlik was the good ole’ American boy, who I wanted to destroy in and out of the ring. And I accomplished both. See I’m not God, but I know who’s on my side. And I will go against anybody with that partner that rides with me, because I wasn’t wrong. I was right and I took his career that night in AC. And he ain’t the only fighter that even if he snuck by on the scorecards, you know that he wasn’t the same after that. So my Father is punishing them. Only thing I have to do is be right about what I say because I know I’m being watched. Just put the work and preparation behind it.
Hopkins’s latest body of work will be on full display Saturday and we already know that he’s going to seek out a style that works against Kovalev and make the adjustments. The verdict is out on whether the Russian has the kind of versatility and boxing prowess needed to tangle with The Godfather, but it’s a tremendous opportunity for Kovalev to usher in a fresh era in the division.
To Hopkins, however, until “Krusher” proves it in the ring of consequence, he’s another paper champ in a long list of humans who underestimated The Alien’s godly intentions and divine guidance.