• Boxing

The weird, wonderful world of Bernard Humphrey Hopkins

Steve Bunce November 4, 2014
Bernard Hopkins has been boxing professionally since 1988, when Sergey Kovalev was five years old © AP

This Saturday, two months shy ofhis 50th birthday, Bernard Hopkins defends his WBA super and IBF light-heavyweight titles against WBO champion and the terror of world boxing, Sergey Kovalev, the unbeaten Russian who has knocked out 23 of his 25 victims to date.

What makes Hopkins take such ridiculous risks? What makes him tick? What makes him special? It's complicated, but here are 49 tiny snippets into the world and mind of Bernard Humphrey Hopkins:

School of hard knocks

1. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison when he was just a 17-year-old kid.
2. He had been in and out of court in Philadelphia 30 times in 2 years. 3. He started to box at Graterford Penitentiary and was simply: Prisoner Y4145.
4. He turned professional when he was released at the age of 23.
5. He lost his first professional fight in Atlantic City against Clifton Mitchell.
6. He took a break of 18 months after the loss, lost six pounds and won his second fight.
7. He only lost once more in the next 15 years.

Contender to champion

8. He first won a world title in 1995, stopping Segundo Mercado in seven rounds for the IBF middleweight belt.
9. He had previously drawn with Mercado in Ecuador in an ugly brawl.
10. He was knocked down twice in the Mercado first fight and still got a draw!
11. He first lost a world title fight when Roy Jones outpointed him in 1993.
12. He had to wait over 17 years before getting revenge over Jones.
13. "I thought about Jones every single night until I beat him," he said.

The fight for fame

14. He made three defences of his middleweight title each year in 1996 and 1997.
15. He stopped five of his first six challengers and was avoided by other champions.
16. He stopped previously unbeaten and future world champion Glen Johnson in 1997.
17. "I still wish that world title fights took place over 15 rounds," he said.
18. He kept on defending his title but fame eluded him - he was frozen out.
19. He entered Don King's middleweight tournament in 2001 and his life changed.
20. He beat Keith Holmes to add the WBC belt in April, 2001.
21. He was the outsider in Madison Square Garden when he stopped WBA champion Felix Trinidad.
22. "It was one of the great middleweight fights," said Budd Schulberg.
23. He agreed to fight Oscar De La Hoya at a catch-weight, two pounds below middleweight.
24. "Oscar was brave, he fought the best and that is why I respect him," he said.
25. He was leading on two cards before knocking out Oscar in round nine.
26. "When I beat Oscar I became a star - it's that simple," he said.

Hopkins faces Kovalev with his IBF and WBA Super belts and the Russian's WBO title on the line © Getty Images

Against the odds

27. He stopped De La Hoya in 2004 - his last stoppage win.
28. He lost his world middleweight titles to Jermain Taylor in 2005 on a split decision.
29. He also lost the rematch and both fights were controversial.
30. He has often been motivated by the odds against him winning in big fights. 31. "The smart money goes on me, the other money goes somewhere else," he said.
32. He dropped Joe Calzaghe in 2008 but lost another split decision.
33. "I know that I beat these guys and they know it - it's hard in boxing," he said.
34. He was the underdog against Kelly Pavlik in 2008, the fight after Calzaghe.
35. He was 43 at the time and Pavlik was unbeaten in 34 fights, with 30 knockouts.
36. He gave Pavlik a boxing lesson, winning 10 of the 12 rounds.
37. He was also the underdog against Antonio Tarver, Trinidad and Winky Wright.
38. He won 11 of the 12 rounds against Tarver in his official move to light-heavyweight.
39. "The Executioner executed 20-something contenders, that's my legacy," he said.

Going the distance

40. He drew with and then beat Jean Pascal in two fights in Quebec.
41. "I went on the road, I'm not afraid to go on the road," he said.
42. He has looked in total control in his last three defences, losing just a couple of rounds.
43. He has studied all of Kovalev's fights and a lot of his amateur fights.
44. "I know what he eats, how he thinks, why he fights and what he hates," he said.
45. He stopped Kovalev's trainer, John David Jackson, 17 years ago in seven rounds.
46. "Jackson doesn't know how to beat me - he failed, that's a fact," he said.

Out of this world

47. He is the oldest man to ever win a world title.
48. He holds the IBF and WBA Super light-heavyweight titles.
49. He is known as The Alien.

Hopkins' achievements in the ring appear other-worldly... © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Steve Bunce Close
Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.