Hopkins Realizes Robinson’s Dream, Ends Career As Light-Heavyweight Champion

By Francis Walker
Updated: June 12, 2006

Bernard Hopkins (left) throws a punch at Antonio Tarver

Bernard Hopkins (left) throws a punch at Antonio Tarver

NEW YORK — Bernard Hopkins accomplished a goal that his idol Sugar Ray Robinson was unable to realize. Hopkins, a former undisputed world middleweight champion, moved up two weight classes to win a light-heavyweight championship.

Hopkins (47-4-1, 32 KOs) ended his almost 18-year career with a 12-round unanimous decision against IBO light-heavyweight champion, Antonio Tarver (24-3, 18 KOs) at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, NJ.

Hopkins, at age 41, did what very few fighters have an opportunity to do. He’ll be recognized as a legendary middleweight championship career that had a light-heavyweight championship fairytale ending.

Hopkins became the first fighter to unify the WBA, WBC, and IBF middleweight championships since Marvelous Marvin Hagler when he knocked out undefeated Felix Trinidad (September 29, 2001) two weeks after 9-11.

Hopkins is the only fight to unify the WBA, WBC, IBF, and WBO middleweight championships when he knocked out Oscar De La Hoya (September 2004), who coincidentally is a business partner with Hopkins and promoted his bout Tarver under the Golden Boy Promotions banner.

Hopkins’ 20 consecutive middleweight championship defenses is the all-time record at 160 pounds. It marks just five shy of the all-time record held by late heavyweight legend Joe Louis (25). Middleweight great Carlos Monzon is second on the all-time consecutive middleweight title list behind Hopkins with 16.

Hopkins last fight wasn’t solely about reflecting on his successful middleweight title career that ended with two consecutive losses to current champion Jermain Taylor last year. It was about chasing history as a light-heavyweight.

“Here you have a man who is 41 years old,” De La Hoya said. “For 41 he is young – let’s put it that way. Hopkins did something the great Sugar Ray Robinson couldn’t accomplish. That’s a historical night for the boxing world. We will never ever forget this. I’m proud and happy to have Bernard Hopkins as a partner.”

Hopkins was awarded a diamond watch that had six time zones and every venue that Robinson won world titles by De La Hoya at the post fight press conference.

Robinson, arguably recognized as the greatest boxer ever, had a successful career as the world welterweight and middleweight champion in the 1940s-50s. However, Robinson’s bid to win the world light-heavyweight championship from Joey Maxim on June 25, 1952 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY, was unsuccessful.

Robinson was wining the fight until the fight on all three judges scorecards, but could no longer compete in the 104-degree temperature after the 13th round. Maxim retained his title on a 14th round TKO.

Hopkins could have ended his career against anyone of his choosing in an easy fight. It would have been understood and well accepted considering Hopkins’ fights against Segundo Mercardo, the man he had to fight twice to win the IBF middleweight championships in 1995, and Robert Allen (whom Hopkins fought three times), Antwun Echols (Hopkins had to beat twice), Syd Vanderpool, and even a young middleweight named Roy Jones, Jr. to name a few all engaged Hopkins in tough fights.

Instead, Hopkins welcomed the daunting task of training his 41-year-old battered body to move up two weight classes from 160 to 175 to fight Tarver, a guy who walked around over 200 pounds before training camp. Tarver was the man who permanently put a dent in Jones’ legacy with a one-punch KO in April 2004. Tarver, a “legend killer,” was on a mission to put Hopkins on the mat the same way he did Jones.

Hopkins’ hired Mackey Shilstone to be his strength and conditioning trainer. Shilstone was famous for preparing Micheal Spinks’ light-heavyweight body to dethrone Larry Holmes for the heavyweight title (1985). Shilstone also guided a 300-pound, out of shape Riddick Bowe back into prime fighting conditioning.

“I assumed that Tarver thought would we wouldn’t grow,” said Shilstone. “After the weigh-in we grew to about 182 pounds. We were as big as Tarver. We planned to get bigger after the weigh-in and we trained six weeks to do that. In essence, Hopkins was bigger than Tarver.”

“You have to understand that it’s called re-hydration technology. What happens is that Bernard Hopkins weighed in at 174. We were above 174, came down, and went back up. Our strategy was to get big at first, come down, and get big. They never expected us to do it.”

Hopkins appeared to be stronger than Tarver. Hopkins was able to move around the ring, pick his shots, and lead with his left jab before smothering Tarver with a series of right hands. Hopkins said that he worked on getting off or throwing his punches first so that Tarver would be the one to exert his energy more than Hopkins.

Hopkins said: “I had to time Tarver as much as I could because, Tarver has the longer reach. Event though on paper it was 74 even, his reach seemed to be a little longer than mine. He got some good shots when I threw my right hand. I had to really pick my spots. It’s called ‘pot shots’ on boxing. That was a concern of mine. I had to get something going early. I kept jabbing and kept faking because, he was reacting to a lot of things that I was not doing. When I went forwards and threw some shots, I caught him with the straight-right hand.”

In the fifth round, Hopkins caught Tarver with a straight-right that wobbled him backwards. Tarver’s left glove touched the mat and referee Benjy Esteves correctly ruled Tarver’s contact with the mat an official knockdown.

Hopkins’ dominance was reflected on all three judges’ scorecards: 118-109.

“What can you say? I take my hat off to Bernard Hopkins,” Tarver said. “He fought a gallant fight. We didn’t have an answer for the right hand tonight. Everything in camp was perfect. In the first round I felt something was wrong. I didn’t have the pop, the quickness, and the speed. In the game you have nights like that. Everybody who knows my history, I’m undefeated in rematches.”

It was clear that as long as Hopkins was offered a $20 million offer to resurrect himself from his own grave, the man known as “B-HOP” and “The Executioner,” or “X” was finished as a fighter.

“When I came home in 1988 from state correctional, I looked at god and said ‘I’m 22 years old and I’m not coming back,” said Hopkins referring to his days after leaving prison. “He laughed at me because, it was a laughable thing. Nine years, walk off at 22 that impossible not to comeback. That’s what statistics says. I had to look at that today to motivate me. But I’m done. There’s nothing else to do.”

“I told my mom, whom I’ve been wearing on my neck for almost four of five years since she’s been deceased at 56 from cancer. I had one middleweight fight that became two fights with Jermain Taylor. I did not go in the ring as an ex-champion. The book says that, but the fans in between the media know that Bernard Hopkins would still be middleweight champion.”

Hopkins may be finished as a fighter, but he is not done with boxing. Hopkins runs Golden Boy East as a promoter. He will work with De La Hoya to stage fight cards on the East Coast. The Borgata Hotel, Casino, and Spa could provide Golden Boy Promotions with a solid platform to stage high profile fights.

The Borgata Hotel, Casino, and Spa staged an ESPN-televised fight card this past Wednesday featuring Hopkins nephew, undefeated junior welterweight prospect Demetrius Hopkins. In an entertaining boxing match, Demetrius Hopkins (21-0, 10 KOs) iced Michael Warrick with a right cross for an impressive ninth-round KO victory.

Hopkins, in addition to Sugar Shane Mosley and Marco Antonio Barerra all have business relations with De La Hoya while being promoted under the Golden Boy Promotions banner.

“I’m done,” Hopkins added. “I don’t need to risk anything else. I want to be able to see my daughter. I want to know who her teachers are because I am not home half the time that I’m in camp. She’ll be seven in two weeks. Family to me is more important than boxing, but I’m still going to be giving you my sound bytes. I’m still going to do all the things I need to do to let you still hear my voice, so don’t think you’ll be getting rid of me that easily.

“Remember, I am a promoter.”

In other news

While Hopkins was making history against Tarver in Atlantic City, Miguel Angel Cotto was making a name for himself. Cotto (27-0, 22 KOs) handed Paul Malignaggi (21-1, 5 KOs) his first pro loss by winning a unanimous 12-round decision at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

It was Cotto’s sixth and perhaps final defense of the WBO junior welterweight championship he’s held since knocking out undefeated Kelson Pinto in September 2004. Cotto struggled to make the 140-pound weight limit and could make his welterweight debut later this year.

Malignaggi was knocked down in the second round and suffered a broken nose and a possible broken jaw in the biggest fight of his career.

The judges scored the bout 116-111 (twice) and 115-112.