Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The True Vine

*** Update: Please check out the new piece I just did for nomas on Mayweather/Marquez.****

I might be one of the few, but when I heard that negotiations between cruiserweight champion Tomasz Adamek and geriatric wonder Bernard Hopkins had been restarted it sent my mind racing. Behind only Pacquiao/Mayweather it’s the fight I most want to see. Tomasz Adamek is a former light heavyweight champ and in the last couple of years has carved out a place for himself as a can’t miss action fighter and a top figure in the cruiserweight division’s, admittedly short and neglected, history. It would be a big fight for Adamek; if he should win he would really stamp his name as a fine champion, and move beyond a mostly Polish attraction to an HBO headlining fighter.

But, of course, the main focus of my excitement is Bernard Hopkins and his quest for the grail. Part of me wants him to quit, certain as the grave that if he keeps pushing his end will be no more glorious than the others whose time came much earlier. My god, though, what if he does it? What if he managed to, at the age of 46 move up thirty pounds from his last bout, itself a certified miracle, and win another legitimate title from a borderline p4p champion? He is already, to my mind, the greatest “old fighter,” of all time, but this would really bring it home.

I know some think Hopkins should fight the winner of Dawson/Johnson, but to me there’s something special about the audacity of the task in an Adamek fight. It’s also something tangible and bold. It would go right in the opening line of Hopkin’s CV, something like…

“Bernard “The Executioner,” Hopkins was the longest reigning middleweight champion in boxing history and won the light heavyweight and Cruiserweight championships after the age of forty.”

I’m no historian, but I think it would actually lift him above his contemporary Roy Jones Jr. as the greatest fighter of the post Whittaker era. (Holyfield, and Pacquiao or Mayweather, might have some dispute depending on the future)

A lot of people dislike Hopkins because of his cautious style and confrontational black identity, but to me he is a monument to discipline and soul. There is such a righteous fire inside him that it sometimes burns through the screen. He’s an old man, but he’s made of shoe leather and sinew, and the miasma of creation.

The thing that I’ve always loved about him is that he is not particularly physically gifted in any area. He has decent power, good handspeed, prodigious strength for a natural middleweight; but nothing compared to the genetic freaks who share his lofty ranks. What he has is a hardness and completeness of spirit that few can match. He is always on balance, always planning, always has his hands properly positioned and his chin tucked tight as though gently holding an invisible egg. He would have made a fine general in the era of cavalry, or a formidable knight in the age or heroes.

As a man constantly at odds with himself I admire his stalwart discipline. He has physically declined, but the fundamentals remain, the tricks and the insights and wisdom of the ages. I love to watch his feet in the ring, the rhythm gained through decades of shadowboxing and sparring. But even moreso one feels he is the rightful heir to generations of African-American prizefighters who passed through the gymnasiums of Philadelphia and the East coast. A true disciple of the sweet science, he may not have been born from a family of fighters, but it is in his blood.

Mike Seeger died this week, a folk singer and preservationist of roots music, he called his life’s study the “true vine.” It was a sound that came from the mountains, deep and lasting and American. That’s what Bernard Hopkins is; he is the true vine.

On some level the fight with Adamek is incidental to Hopkins’ career, he has already been etched into the book of names. For most I would say let it go, the glory of the Pavlik fight is good enough, but I want to see the old master at work again, want to see what tricks and old-tyme music he can play. He isn’t exciting or athletic or even particularly relevant to the sport anymore; but he is something more. He is an ambassador for an age and a philosophy that is largely gone. He did it his way, and I hope he does it one more time.

*I’m going to try to make a list of Hopkin’s ten best moments this week as a way of framing what I think a fight with Adamek might mean.


Anthony Wilson said...

You think Roy Jones is the best fighter post-Whitaker? In my opinion as time has gone on his reputation has only lessened. He was a great fighter, no doubt, and I'm not sure anyone could have beaten him in his prime. But I don't know and never will, which of course is the problem with him, and so all I have to go on is the material I have. When I watch what a man like Pacquiao has done, the opponents he has defeated and the difficult matches he has taken on, how fearless and ambitious he has been, it makes the way Roy handpicked his second and third-rate conquests during his peak seem more and more disappointing. When I think about the conquests Hopkins has achieved over the years, so many of them over the years, it makes the way Roy, when he was in his prime, avoided fighting anyone who could give him a challenge look worse and worse. Even the heart he has showed here in his latter years cannot make up for it, in my opinion.

I think Floyd would beat Manny if they fought, but I think Manny has had the better and more inspirational career. I love him more for the things he's done and the way he's taken on such big challenges. In my opinion Floyd is not as much of a warrior, and that's what I want my boxers to be. I think the Hopkins/Jones comparison is similar, with the difference being that Floyd has fought perhaps twice as good the competition that Roy did in his prime years.

Mike said...

I'm glad you're writing regularly again. This site is fantastic.

shoefly said...

Hey Mike, thanks for the encouragement.

Anthony, I think you're a bit hard on Old Roy. Did he miss out on some big fights? Sure, but he also made quite a few...

Virgil Hill
Reggie Johnson
Merqui Sosa
Antonio Tarver

And quite a few other decent contenders. I agree with you inasmuch as there were times where he fought borderline top 15 guys when he should have fought top five guys, but he has a pretty impressive resume. Legit champion in two weight classes and beltholder in two more.

I think what hurts him is he made it look so damn easy that people dismissed a bit, but Toney and Hopkins are two A+ wins.

I agree that he was a bit uninspiring in that he never seemed to take it too serious, but boy, could he fight. He was basically at the top of the sport from 94, when he beat Toney, to 2004, when he lost to Tarver.

That's ten years, which is pretty fantastic. He's not my favorite, but I think there's been a little too much negativity towards him since the downslide. I think his reputation will rebound in the years to come. He was truly a unique talent, and as such will be remembered well in my opinion.

shoefly said...

This got me thinking and I might try to get a piece up about Jones/Lacy before the weekend.

bumgilseo said...

Archie Moore might have something to say about Hopkins being the greatest "old fighter" of all time. Also, it is a well-known fact that Joe Louis was 75 years old when he fought Marciano. True story.