Difficult Genius: A Boxing Fan's Constant Battle with Bernard Hopkins

The man behind the mask has now been dominating rings for 23 years, with no sign of stopping. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

"I know where I came from, I know what I’ve accomplished, and I know that I’m an overachiever not only in the boxing ring but in life. So what keeps me going – I don’t have to hit nobody over the head to make a buck now. I don’t have to go out and do something criminal to anybody to make a dollar now. So I realized that my mom and my father have never seen $100,000 in their whole lifetime. And I get a chance to go in the ring and make millions of dollars. I realize that Bernard Hopkins has came a long way from being a city guy on the street, boxing in the street, and re-evaluated my life to become one of the premier fighters and probably a future Hall of Famer. I already won. The rest is all gravy."
--Bernard Hopkins

As long as I've been a boxing fan, Bernard Hopkins has been around. When I was a youngster with a passing interest in the sport, Bernard was out at the Blue Horizon and on the Trump Plaza Hotel undercards, winning. When I became a serious fan, Bernard was middleweight champion, not getting the respect he felt (probably rightly, looking back) that he deserved.

And that part might have stuck with me. For whatever reason, I can't take to Hopkins. It's not that I find him boring, because I don't. It's that when he's not in the ring, I forget who he is.

I forget what he is.

The old Bernard Hopkins -- the current version, that is -- is the fighter I am most familiar with. While this is just one of a million boxing sites, it has meant that I watch a lot more boxing, live and in the moment, than I would otherwise. We came along after Bernard had shocked the world by not just beating Antonio Tarver, but throttling him when everyone thought he was finally done.

Sound familiar?

He's now 46 years old, and tonight I was again reminded: Bernard Hopkins, bell-to-bell, is a genius. He's a phenom. He's everything we say about alleged "superior physical specimens," but almost never say about Bernard Hopkins. Because it's nothing physical. Bernard Hopkins is average physically. He's not really fast, he's not really strong, he's not a big puncher, he's not a great combination puncher.

He's so good at what he does that I don't even know if future generations will understand his greatness. You really do have to see him do what he does, in real time, to start getting it. He overwhelms good fighters mentally. He's dirty if he has to be. And for some reason, he can't be beaten. Not really. The only man who's ever really beaten Hopkins -- really beaten him -- is the 1993 version of Roy Jones Jr, and I'd say that's a pretty damn good career.

Last night I watched him, at 46 years old, pick apart a 28-year-old world champion. It was his best performance since he wiped the mat with Kelly Pavlik in 2008. By the middle rounds, he had a good fighter once again wrapped around his finger. In case Pascal wasn't being beaten mentally, Hopkins dropped to the mat before the start of a round and did push-ups. You know, just in case that was necessary.

At the end of it, Bernard Hopkins spoke pleasantly of Pascal. Did he mean it? Was he just being a "nice guy" because another win gave him the floor to do that? I don't know. And it doesn't matter.

Bernard Hopkins might not ever have the most fans, and I might never be one of the minority that does truly like him. But Bernard Hopkins' career has not been built on fan approval or the love of the people. He doesn't fight for the people. He doesn't give a damn who's pleased with him or who isn't.

Bernard Hopkins' career has been built on an undying need to prove everybody wrong.

He's mean-spirited. He's a jerk. He's often, quite frankly, an ignorant fool when he speaks his mind.

And he's a great fighter. When all is said and done, that's what the history books are going to say about "The Executioner." I hope future generations understand what they missed.

As for me, I'll probably forget in a few months just how great Bernard Hopkins really is once the bell sounds. I'll try to remember, but it's never stuck before. Neither Bernard nor myself are getting any younger, and it's easy to forget things. He keeps forgetting he's an old man. I keep forgetting he's really not.

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