Seventeen years ago, Bernard Hopkins (50-5-1, 32KOs) lost a unanimous decision to Roy Jones Jr. (54-6, 40KOs). That victory helped catapult Jones into super stardom. On Saturday, the two future Hall of Famers will face off again in a pay-per-view bout to be held at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Hopkins is five years off the half-century mark and Jones is forty-one.
I asked Hopkins why he keeps fighting. He was quick to explain, "Because I still love it. And I'm going to keep going until my body tells me to stop!" Further in the conversation it became clear that the history conscious ex-champ is enthralled by the idea of being a onetime middleweight who goes up to contest for the heavyweight crown. The Executioner is hoping for a shot at David Haye's WBA heavyweight title, which Haye is also defending Saturday against John Ruiz. Hopkins noted:
Ninety-nine percent of fighters go on because they need the money. I don't know whether that is it with Roy. But I do know that he has an ego that is even bigger than mine. And that is big! Roy can't believe what happened to him in his last few fights and he wants to save his legacy by beating me.
Hopkins, who had just finished his last hard day of training, continued, "It's ironic. Roy's victory over me made him a super star and now I'm going to be the one to end his career on Saturday night."
When I asked about the first fight, Hopkins recalled:
It was like going on a first date. You're so caught up in trying to be perfect and you can't quite be yourself. That was me. That was my first huge fight. I took a big lesson from it. It improved my focus 100 percent. Every time I went in the ring after that I was always thinking -- a chance like this may never come again. I learned from my defeat. But Roy was always protected from guys who would really challenge him and he has had to pay for that.
Boxing has to be more like mma in one sense. In mma they don't make a big deal about a loss. They come right back and are at it again. That's how it used to be in boxing. Look at Sugar Ray Robinson. He lost. But Roy was always terrified of losing that zero and, for that reason, he didn't develop the way he would have if he had been tested.
Though it was but a few days before his bout, Hopkins was generous enough to share some tips with me about coaching amateurs. Some were quite specific. For example, "Don't let them throw a hook unless they are leaning to their left, because they'll square up and get nailed." But Hopkins had more than hints about technique to pass on.
"Do you know what is going to be on my shirt at the press conference?," he asked. I didn't.
"CDR," he said. "Do you know what that stands for?" I didn't. He explained:
'C' because you have to have courage to lead a good life and be successful. But courage is not enough. You have to have the discipline to make the sacrifices you need to develop your abilities. I got that discipline in the penitentiary and through boxing. But the R is also important. It stands for rest. Everyone needs rest. Everyone has to re-charge.
The professor of pugilism is right. But I can't help but hope that both of these legendary fighters give boxing a rest after tonight. I know it's cold outside the klieg lights and torture to leave behind a skill that you have been honing for most of your life, but these men have nothing left to prove in the ring, and much to offer from outside the squared circle.