I love Bernard Hopkins. Not for what he has become, but for what he has overcome.
We've all heard his story, of how he went from a strong-armed street thug serving a fifty-six month prison term to the greatest middleweight champion of his generation—if not all time.
In prison, Hopkins rediscovered himself and the sport he toyed with as a youth. Today, his record of 20 consecutive successful title defenses looks like it's bound to stand for far longer than he was ever locked up.
But Bernard Hopkins just can't seem to leave well enough alone.
At the age of 42 and obviously unhappily retired, Hopkins has signed a contract to fight Ronald "Winky" Wright on July 21, 2007.
After losing two controversial decisions to Jermain Taylor in 2005, Hopkins closed out his career in storybook fashion last June by defeating Antonio Tarver to claim the light heavyweight title. B-Hop had announced before the fight that it would definitely be his last, as he'd promised his late mother that he wouldn't fight past age 40.
I don't know what it is that's pulling Hopkins back into the ring, but I don't think it's cash. Hopkins is a partner with Oscar De La Hoya in the latter's Golden Boy Promotions. He's earned enough in his last half-dozen fights to be set for life. And if you talk to B-Hop long enough, he'll tell you how frugal he is with his money.
So why is he fighting again?
If you ask me, the same itch that got Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Mike Tyson is working on Hopkins' big time!
Winky Wright is one of the top middleweights in the world and, like Hopkins, takes pride in being a defensive fighter. Wright's resume includes impressive victories over Shane Mosley, Felix Trinidad, and most recently Ike Quartey. He has two controversial defeats, one each to Fernando Vargas and Jermain Taylor.
By agreeing to fight Wright, Hopkins puts himself in a position to make boxing history—or to become its latest casualty. Just ask Ali, Leonard, and Tyson: Hanging on too long can tarnish your legacy faster than a flash knockdown.
Maybe Hopkins will be different. To his credit, he's shown no signs of decline that could be attributed to his fighting style. Hopkins rarely wears himself out in a fight, he doesn't waste punches, and he doesn't run in the ring—and the strategy may have added years to his career.
But then again this is boxing we're talking about, a sport where one punch can land you in a hospital, a wheelchair, or the morgue. There are many untold stories of young lives lost in the ring—and even those who survived the wars have been laid low by the lingering strain of the battle.
My mind goes back to Meldrick Taylor, Joe Frazier, Gerald McClellan, Chuck Wepner, and, of course, Ali. I don't want to see Hopkins—or any other fighter—suffer the same fate.
The point I wish I could get through to Bernard?
You've made money beyond your wildest dreams. Your place in the history of boxing is secure. You've inspired millions by making good on a second chance.
Really, Bernard, what else can you accomplish in the ring?
You've given me all that I could ask for as a boxing fan. You're from Philly, and you wear your pride for our city like a badge of honor. We love that here. Truth be told, I even like you against Wright—but that's not my angle today.
Bernard, you don't have to prove anything to us. Please don't become another sad chapter in the history of a brutal sport.
Spend the rest of you best years with your family.
After all, they're the biggest fans you'll ever have.