I am a huge fan of the sport of boxing. Yet seldom do I root for any one fighter. When I am asked “who do you want to win” my answer is always the same: “I don’t care who wins I just want to see a good competitive fight”. Bernard Hopkins is the exception.
At 48 years old Hopkins became the oldest man to ever hold a major title by defeating light-heavyweight beltholder Tavoris Cloud at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. He broke his own record. The story of Hopkins is a man who has defied father time, doesn’t seem to age, and outsmarts younger and quicker opponents. There is more to the story though.
Hopkins grew up on the mean streets of Germantown North Philadelphia. At an early age, like many of his peers, Hopkins got caught up in a life on the streets. Strong-armed robbery was Hopkins game. It is easy to judge and say he should have stayed in school and in his amateur boxing gym: but you are talking about a young man from a highly dysfunctional home growing up in poverty and some of the meanest streets in America. This does not excuse his behavior it only gives it context.
Like most who turn to a life of crime, and many from his neighborhood, Hopkins ended up in prison. At age seventeen he began serving a five-year sentence at the notorious Grateford Prison in Pennsylvania. Hopkins witnessed rapes, murders, and countless acts of violence. It was only through his conversion to Islam and taking up the boxing program that Hopkins was able to stay clean and begin turning his life around from behind bars. Notice what I said: Islam and boxing. A religion that has turned so many lives around from behind the walls and boxing a sport that has turned lives around. It is ironic that prisons in the post-911 era have often developed a hostile attitude toward their Muslim prisoners and almost all prisons have cut their boxing programs. Hopkins left prison never to return. Never to go back to his old life and forever leaving behind him his old ways. This is an inspiration to the millions of prisoners and ex-offenders in America. Wardens should be inviting Hopkins to speak at such juvenile detention centers, county jails and prisons.
In his first professional fight Hopkins lost. He could have gave up: but he found the legendary trainer Bouie Fischer who taught him boxing and guided him to a middleweight championship. While Hopkins went on to defend the middleweight crown a record twenty times he was overshadowed in the 90’s and even much of the 00’s by Roy Jones, Jr., and James Toney. It was only in 2001 when Hopkins destroyed the heavily-favored Felix Trinidad at Madison Square Garden in front of a Puerto Rican crowd did Hopkins finally get his just due. By that time Hopkins was already getting old. Little did the public know the party was just getting started.
Hopkins has went on to have big wins into his 40’s. This time under the guidance of Brother Naazim Richardson a fellow Muslim brother from Philly who himself has inspired many by overcoming a serious medical-condition to train at the elite-level. How is he able to do this? Let’s start with the facts he doesn’t, drink, smoke, get high, eat sweets, eat junk foods, hang out in the streets, stay out late in night clubs and approaches boxing as a 24-7 lifestyle. He doesn’t get out of shape after fights and then have to cut weight in training. Hopkins is always in fighting shape. Wear and tear is not wasting in the gym with meaningless “Philly gym wars” he saves his energy. Most importantly Hopkins has a “boxing IQ” that is off the charts. Quite simply, like many other elite-fighters, he outthinks his opponents. While they are playing Asteroids he is playing Call of Duty. This is the model for all young boxers. If you want a long and successful career, and you have the goods, emulate this. If you want a short career make it rain at the strip clubs, buy a bunch of stuff you don’t need, get multiple child-support cases, drink and get high between fights, and surround yourself with violence and criminals.
Finally, not only is Hopkins a role-model for troubled urban youth, ex-offenders and young boxers, B-Hop is also a role-model for fitness in America. At 48 B-Hop is in elite condition and as we are all getting older, including myself, we can take inspiration from his discipline and physical condition.