You've got to admire Bernard Hopkins on some level, even if you can't stand him—and many boxing fans can't. The thinking man's ambassador of the sport is an aging ex-con who refuses to have corrective dental surgery on that trademark gap-toothed smile.
Well, he's got plenty of reason to smile nowadays.
B-Hop spent many years in the sport paying his dues and climbing the ladder. Once at the top rung, he still struggled to find the big fights. But recent wins over Trinidad and Oscar de la Hoya made him a star. Even more recently, losses to Jermain Taylor and a win that few people predicted over Antonio Tarver made him a superstar.
Now famously partnered with his ex-victim's Golden Boy Promotions, he's been in one lucrative fight after another. His retirement fund has been secured many times over. Come to think of it, his retirement has been announced a couple of times over too. But it's hard to blame Hopkins, who is enjoying a true golden sunset to his career, for not wanting to bask in it after what must have seemed like forever in obscurity.
Underneath that Executioner's hood is one of the most knowing boxers in the sport. Hopkins realizes that boxing is part sport and part game. And he knows how to play both like a pro.
One of the best talkers—trash, negotiations, or just plain promotional bull—Hopkins has made many enemies by defending himself with the kind of verbal guile generally reserved for unscrupulous promoters and other sharks. So don't be fooled.
When Hopkins said he would "never let a white boy beat [him]" you can be sure that he wouldn't really take extra offense. Hopkins knows that Calzaghe would be hung high for making comments like that. Hopkins isn't personally racist and he couldn't care less who beats him—he doesn't want to lose to anyone.
Hopkins also knows what makes headlines and what puts behinds into seats. Already there's been a wave of publicity over this throw-away sentence. Throw in boxing's racially charged history for good measure and the hype machine is running on a full tank.
Cue the gap-toothed smile—Mr. Hopkins is going to the bank.
But a good fight doesn't need hype. It stands on it's own. A crafty opponent known for making other fighters "fight his fight," Hopkins is a defensive master dedicated to the science part of the sweet science. Anyone who thinks boxing is just organized brawling or unskilled beatings obviously is not familiar with the self-proclaimed Executioner.
You have to forgive an old man for sometimes, in the heat of battle forgetting things like the fact that shoulders aren't third and fourth hands to fight with. Sorry Winky Wright, it probably wasn't intentional...Probably.
Joe Calzaghe is a top 10 pound-for-pound lister at the peak of his powers—and popularity. His aggressive style is the perfect foil and there's a certain poetic justice in tha fact that Calzaghe is also just coming into the limelight after a long career spent toiling away in unglamourous matchups.
No, this fight doesn't need hype. But in the boxing world, where bigger is better,
that's no excuse not to hype it. This is a sport so desperate to get onto the front page of the sports section—or in some cases even to be included—that it's practically nostalgic for the late-90s tabloid coverage of a fading Mike Tyson. Hopkins-Calzaghe is a great fight, but a great story never hurts either.
For every 10 people offended by Hopkins' racially charged statement, I wonder if there was even one who took note of what Hopkins went on to say.
"We have to put a stop to your invasion. You want to put us under the Queen's regime...I'm the black Paul Revere saying, 'the British are coming again'...We can make it fun. I will get a red, white, and blue costume and a midget band and play 'Yankee Doodle Dandy'. It would be so patriotic."
Hopkins is writing a story and we'll all be the better for it. Personally, I think the "patriotic midget band" would've gotten more attention, but whatever sells those tickets is going to be good for boxing because this is going to be a great fight. The more people who see it, the more boxing fans that will be made. However the media wants to play it is fine with me. And it's fine with Hopkins, who's undoubtedly got plenty more tunes up his sleeve.
So first things last: Who wins?
While nobody ever got rich by doubting Bernard Hopkins, Old Man Popkins (as Calzaghe has taken to calling him) has just kept shoulder rollin' along. But to take on Calzaghe at his peak seems like too much, even for a living legend. Forget the bull and the matador. This is like throwing a tiger in against an armadillo.
It's unlikely that Hopkins will get hurt, but even for him to be outworked and clearly beaten is something we haven't seen in a very long time. The smart money says that Calzaghe will put B-Hop out to a very lucrative pasture. But the smart money also said the same thing about Antonio Tarver.
If Hopkins goes on to dominate Calzaghe there needs to be serious recognition paid to Hopkins' all time great status. At 42 years old, he's still fighting the best out there.
The two real questions to ask are as follows. Number one: How much longer can he keep rollin' along? Number two: Can an armadillo whoop a tiger?
I have no idea, but it's going to be interesting to watch and see on April 19.