Hopkins Is Philadelphia’s Greatest Sports Champion Ever

By Eric Williams
Updated: June 13, 2006

PHILADELPHIA — Everyone loves a fairy tale with a happy ending. Since the beginning of time creative writers have penned wonderful endings in which their characters either ride off into the sunset with the girl of their dreams or get married and live happily ever after or … well, you get the idea.

In the last few years, we have seen several cases of exemplary players ending their respective careers on the highest of peaks – a championship title.

Just to name a few, there was John Elway in 1998. He ended over a decade’s worth of pent up frustration by winning consecutive Super Bowl championships before retiring to a Hollywood-like ending.

That same year, Michael Jordan hit the game-winning jump shot against the Utah Jazz to win his sixth and final NBA championship before ending his wonderful career – except that he inexplicably came back for two nondescript seasons with the Washington Wizards.

Just last season, former Pittsburgh Steeler, Jerome “The Bus” Bettis, ended his surefire Hall of Fame career by winning the first Super Bowl title of his memorable career.

This past Saturday evening, Philadelphia native, Bernard Hopkins, put on one of the best performances of his storied career to defeat Antonio Tarver and write the perfect ending to his illustrious career – in the same place where it began no less.

Incredibly, Jordan, along with numerous other celebrities, joined the more than 11,000-plus spectators who showed up for “The Executioner’s last fight at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. However, Hopkins isn’t planning a comeback – or is he?

“I’m done,” Hopkins said at the postfight news conference. “There’s nothing else to do. I’ve heard some people say, ‘What about this? What about that?’ Let’s keep it real, y’all. I don’t need to risk anything else. What am I gonna’ do, go to cruiser[weight]? Heavyweight?”

“There’s nothing else to do. I want to be able to see my daughter. I want to be able to know who her teachers are, because I’m not home half the time. I’m in [training] camp. So now family is more important than boxing.”

Nevertheless, it was only minutes after the 41-year-old Hopkins (47-4-1, 32 KOs) had won the IBO light-heavyweight championship with a remarkably resourceful dismantling of 3-1 favorite Antonio Tarver (24-4, 18 KOs), that HBO analyst Larry Merchant asked Hopkins what he would do if he were offered something like 20 million to come out of retirement.

“Heck, I might come out of my grave for that kind of money,” Hopkins said, who is definitely a lot smarter than most professional boxers.

Whether he retires for good or not – and personally, I hope he doesn’t because I like him so much – this column is dedicated to recognizing Hopkins as one of the greatest fighters of this era- and all-time.

First of all, let me say that it is a damn shame that so many outstanding Philadelphia athletes are never recognized for their greatness until they either,

A) are playing for another team in their respective sport

or, B) are nearing the ends of their careers after a lengthy love-hate relationship with the “City of Brotherly Shove.”

Sure, by now, most Philadelphians and boxing enthusiasts know about “B-Hop’s” legendary training ethic and 20-title defense reign over 10 years as the best boxer on the planet, but has Hopkins ever gotten the respect, not just nationwide, but in his own hometown, that he’s truly deserved?

Absolutely not!

I unequivocally say that Hopkins is Philadelphia’s greatest champion ever – and should have been treated and praised that way – the way guys like Allen Iverson and Donovan McNabb, who have never won a championship in their respective sports – are accepted and beloved (although McNabb has had his own share of drama with the city lately).

Even nationally, Hopkins didn’t get the breaks, respect – or payday – he deserved until he was towards the end of his career.

For many years, Hopkins was perceived as a villain in the sport – an image I have to admit that he cultivated early on in his career. Remember, before Hopkins recently began to receive the long-sought recognition he had been searching for nearly his entire career, he was certainly not as personable –or as buoyant as he has been the last half-decade or so.

Hopkins would enter rings all over the country in his black executioner’s garb with the black mask and would just personify the classic “bad guy in black.”

Not that he was a bad guy mind you, Hopkins left that part of his life waaaay behind him when he walked out of Graterford Prison after serving five years there for armed robbery.

Whatever the case was for Hopkins’ lack of love from the national media and boxing fans across the country early in his career, he has certainly made up for lost time in terms of his relationship with, both, Philadelphia – and national – boxing fans the last few years, beginning with his annihilations of Puerto Rican idol Felix Trinidad in Madison Square Garden and Mexican-American hero – and current promotions partner – Oscar De La Hoya at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

“I’m humbled but I’m proud that I got a chance to go out on top,” Hopkins said. “How many fighters go out on top?”

When I wrote my annual column on the greatest athletes in the world a little over a year ago – and selected Hopkins as the number two pick behind Lance Armstrong, was the fact that, unlike most athlete’s (not named Roger Clemens) Hopkins has seemingly continued to get better with each passing year.

Simply put, there has never been a fighter who was a better boxer at 40 than he was at 30 or even 20-years-old.

At any rate, with Hopkins coming off of two consecutive defeats to Jermain Taylor in 2005, (which could have both gone either way) many observers thought this last fight might end in the same fashion.

It certainly didn’t help that Tarver, an excellent fighter in his own right, was coming off of two consecutive victories (which should have been three) over the formerly invincible, Roy Jones Jr., and at 37 years of age, was viewed as being the bigger, better and stronger boxer.

Surprisingly, Hopkins had his way with Tarver from the opening bell.

First off, Hopkins moved up two weight classes from a career at middleweight to beat Tarver, a light-heavyweight champion. Hopkins bothered Tarver (24-4), taking him away from whatever game plan he might have brought with him on the way to winning every round.

Hopkins spent the night thoroughly schooling Tarver with his movement while landing, straight rights, hooking lefts and a multitude of flurries that left Tarver dazed on more than one occasion.

Midway through the fifth round, Hopkins nailed Tarver and sent the former champ reeling backwards as his glove touched the canvas, to officially score a knockdown – and for all intents and purposes –end the fight and Tarver’s night.

Hopkins stayed in control in the later rounds and then unleashed several devastating combinations as he chased Tarver across the ring. All three judges ended up having identical scorecards of 118-109 for Hopkins – a sure sign of his total domination.

Hopkins said afterward, that although he entered the fight as a 3-1 underdog, he knew he would win – and win easily.

“Yes, I told you people you would be surprised at how easy of a fight it would be,” Hopkins said. “I could have fought in three different weight classes a long time ago. I knew all I had to do was negate his jab and he wouldn’t have anything else.”

Whether Hopkins ever decides to step in the ring again, one thing should be crystal clear by now. He is undeniably Philadelphia’s greatest athletic champion ever. Forget the 1980 Phillies and the Flyers teams of the 1970s. Heck, even the Sixers great 1966-67 championship team (voted the greatest in NBA history) can’t compare to the 10-year reign of Bernard Hopkins.

No, Hopkins wasn’t recognized for years, even in his own hometown. But, as the saying goes, ‘Better late than never’ – and Hopkins is certainly as beloved as almost any athlete in the history of Philadelphia – and rightfully so.

However, he did add that just because he was stepping away from his career as a boxer, he wasn’t just going to walk away from the sport altogether.

“Don’t think you’re getting rid of me that easy,” Hopkins said. “Remember, I am a promoter. I’m going to try to build champions now.”

If anyone knows what it takes to build a champion – it would surely be Bernard Hopkins.