In-depth blog about former slave and boxing legend Bill Richmond (1763-1829); subject of Luke G. Williams' biography, published by Amberley in August 2015.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Best ever veterans: No. 2 Bernard Hopkins

One of the most remarkable things about Bill Richmond's career was that he was still fighting in his 50s (and this during an age when life expectancy was far lower than it is today).

Richmond's amazing longevity got me thinking about who I would rank as the greatest veterans in fistic history (including bare-knuckle days, as well as the gloved era). 

With apologies to the likes of Bob Fitzsimmons, Jersey Joe Walcott and many other admirable vets who didn't quite make the cut, George Maddox was my no. 5 choice, Archie Moore came in at no. 4 and George Foreman was my no. 3. Today I present my no. 2 ... 

2. Bernard Hopkins:
Hopkins is Bill Richmond's spiritual heir.

As well as his formidable powers of determination and fitness, Hopkins' supreme  technique, particularly defensively, are an echo of Richmond's unparalleled mastery of 'boxing on the retreat' during the Georgian bare-knuckle era.

One of the secrets of Richmond's longevity was his impressive level of self-control and an avoidance of the type of hard-drinking lifestyle that prematurely curtailed the careers of many of his contemporaries. As Pierce Egan once stated, Richmond possessed "a temperate mode of living, preferring exercise to wasting his time, or injuring his constitution, by a too frequent repetition of the charms of the charms of the bottle."

Hopkins utilises a similar philosophy.

"When you look at the things I do," the Philadelphia native commented recently. "The lifestyle and the discipline, you would say I'm preserved ... well-kept."

An expert in nutrition (he swears by boiled beets and buffalo meat), Hopkins also indulges in frequent facials, manicures and pedicures to keep him as young as possible in both body, mind and spirit.

It's this tender loving care of his impressively sculpted frame, even when between bouts, that has enabled Hopkins to assemble a host of achievements which are the stuff of boxing legend.

The Hopkins story began in harsh and unforgiving environs. Involved in street crime from his early teenage years, Hopkins had been stabbed three times by the time he was 17 and was sent to prison after a string of criminal convictions, including for armed robbery.

Future prospects for the youngster looked bleak indeed. However, while inside he discovered the redemptive powers of boxing and of religion, converting to Islam. Released after nearly five years, the governor of Graterford State Penitentiary was convinced Hopkins would soon be back, quipping, "I'll see you again," as the 23-year-old departed. Hopkins' response? "I ain't ever coming back."

After his release, Hopkins entered the pro boxing ranks, losing his professional debut in 1988, but then putting together a 21-fight unbeaten streak which only snapped when he lost to the great Roy Jones in a scrap for the vacant IBF title in 1993.

Two years after this setback, Hopkins was IBF champ courtesy of a victory against Segundo Mercado, after climbing off the canvas twice in their first contest, which ended in a draw. Hopkins defended the IBF belt a remarkable 12 times before memorably unifying the WBC, WBA and IBF straps with victories against Keith Holmes and Felix Trinidad, who most judges thought would prove too strong and hard-hitting for Hopkins.

By this stage in his career, Hopkins was already 36, but there were still many more peaks for him to conquer. He defended the unified Middleweight title six times, including an unforgettable KO of Oscar De La Hoya, to add the WBO belt to his list of belts, and also set a new middleweight division record of 20 successful title defences.

As Hopkins entered his 40s a pair of losses to Jermain Taylor saw most people ready to write his career obituaries. However, a move to light-heavyweight revitalised the Executioner's career and, over the next few years, he annexed further world titles with  victories against Antonio Tarver, Jean Pascal, Tavoris Cloud and Beibut Shumenov, overhauling George Foreman's record as the oldest world boxing champ in the process.

Although the likes of Joe Calzaghe and Chad Dawson got the better of Hopkins, he always rebounded from such losses with impressive victories and his achievement in winning light-heavy titles at the ages of 42, 46, 48 and 49 is truly remarkable.

Only Sergey Kovalev, in Hopkins' most recent bout in November 2014, has succeeded in soundly pummelling him, and it remains conceivable that Hopkins could become the first ever boxer to win a world title in his 50s. He will reach his half century in a couple of weeks time (on 15 January 2015), and only a fool would write off the fistic phenomenon that is Bernard Hopkins just yet.

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