Much has been made of Bernard Hopkins' latest ring entrances. Depending on your mood, your age, your musical tastes and, possibly, your blood-alcohol content, they can come off as horrible, hilarious, crazy or all of the above. But there’s something undeniably brilliant about them. They have that special artist’s touch, where insanity meets pure, heartfelt feeling.
In some ways, Hard Nard’s entrances seem like the opposite of his fighting style in the ring: cold, cerebral, calculating. He doesn’t fight a man so much as he inflicts himself on him. As many people like to point out, it isn’t often a pretty thing to watch. Hopkins inflicts himself on crowds, too. But when he makes his entrances, hidden behind those goofy masks, I can’t shake the feeling he is showing us a real piece of what’s underneath them.
His most recent entrance was no different. It was loony and bizarre, funny and heartfelt. It wasn’t his greatest entrance. That came on a night almost ten years ago, in a city that was battered and bleeding, and in a country that was terrified and wondering what might happen next. But that’s another story. Last night was just Bernard being Bernard.
The song "My Way" is one that has inspired many artists over the years. Like a great book, new generations of people are always finding new angles inside of it. In that way, it’s almost a magical tune. After all, any song that can link together iconoclasts like Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Sid Vicious has to have something a little supernatural about it, right?
Bernard Hopkins wrote himself into the history of that magic song last night. He’s forever linked to it now, and, after watching and listening to this man over the course of my adult life, I'm sure he did that on purpose. But, I also think he just loves the song, and that he found the same dark mirror in it that all those other guys did. It’s a song about defiance. It’s about being who you are, fighting your fight and – win or lose – never allowing anyone else to define you. If there’s a better song to describe the career of the defiant 46-year old S.O.B. who just recaptured the Light Heavyweight title last night, I haven’t heard it yet.
About inflicting himself: Bernard doesn’t have a ton of die-hard fans. That’s not just because of the way he conducts business in the boxing ring, either. His style can sometimes be dull to watch for "all-action fans", but that ain’t what it’s about. If you asked Bernard himself why he’s not a superstar who draws massive crowds and paydays, I have no doubt that he’d find a way to link it to his skin color. He’d be wrong about that, though.
I think the big reason is that Bernard speaks his mind. A lot. He has no filter at all, and shows zero respect for people who do – and especially for people in and around the boxing business. The man behind the mask sees masked liars everywhere he looks. He hears commentators and promoters and hangers-on who present a warped view of reality. He hears loudmouths and carnival barkers who, for instance, will blithely compare Chad Dawson to Thomas Hearns, or Celestino Caballero to Jack Dempsey. It’s not so much about what Bernard says – and, yeah, he has said some nasty stuff over the years – but rather the gleefully defiant way he says it. He speaks like he’s the only guy in the room willing to say what he really thinks. And sometimes, he is.
He’s not wrong that boxing – and the world in general – is full of liars and politicians and used-car salesmen. He’s wrong about other stuff. No, Australia isn’t in Europe. No, Donovan McNabb is not less black than he is. But like anyone who regularly says controversial things, he sometimes is misunderstood, and catches heat for the wrong reasons. During his promotion for his fight with Calzaghe, he was widely attacked in the press for using the phrase, "I will never let a white boy beat me." The overreaction seemed a little crazy to me; he was obviously (and, in my opinion, cleverly) referencing the Hagler-Minter fight. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I thought his attackers even remembered or acknowledged the reference, but they didn’t and couldn't. Besides, if they were expecting an apology from Bernard Hopkins, they would be shit out of luck. Bernard doesn’t apologize, or shape his game to suit your needs. He just smiles his gap-toothed smile, and digs his fangs in deeper. He inflicts himself on you.
I had a great time watching Hopkins do just that to Jean Pascal last night. Not because it was a historical feat or a masterful performance, even though it was both of those things. I liked watching it because I like the song, "My Way", too. The busted circuitry and false starts of Pascal’s own ring entrance seemed to provide the perfect counterpoint to it: a mashed-up noise of mechanical, chest-beating pop junk that is as disposable as it is interchangeable. Bernard Hopkins would never waste a good entrance – or a single second of our lives – on that stuff. He knows that all the "Emminems" and "Korns" will eventually fade away in the rear-view mirror of music, but that "My Way" will live on forever.
In the last few minutes of their fight, a part of me started hoping that Hopkins would also go on forever – imposing his will and his diabolical brain on the world for generations to come. Deep down, I know that he can’t and shouldn’t and won’t. I also have a gut feeling that he won’t ever be an instructor and mentor, and pass on all that wisdom that makes him so hard to beat. He prefers to teach his lessons in the ring.
Besides, "his way" would be impossible to copy, and something in Bernard Hopkins’ eyes tells me it’s the one thing inside him that he really doesn’t want to share.