Bernard Hopkins: Silence Is Deadly

Bernard Hopkins is being eerily quiet in the lead up to his rematch with Chad Dawson. There are a few things that could mean…

Perhaps the future Hall of Famer and legendary controversy concoctor is focused to the point where he doesn’t feel he needs to hype himself up. There is a precedent for this and incidentally, it was the last time “The Executioner” graced Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

In the lead up to his fight against then-middleweight champion and heavily-favored Kelly Pavlik in 2008, Hopkins had nary a word to say about the Youngstown youngster. He seemed to hold a curious respect for the fighter who was on the cusp of being the superstar face of boxing for Middle America to embrace. Hopkins didn’t have a bad word to say about the hard-working slugger.

In retrospect, knowing what actually happened in the ring back on that night in the autumn of ’08, it seems like Hopkins knew the devastation he was about to unfurl upon poor Kelly’s career. The fallout from that dominating performance derailed the middleweight champ inside and outside the ring, reverberations that may have led to Pavlik’s struggle with alcohol, poor career choices and finally falling out with longtime trainer Jack Loew.

Another reason for Hopkins’ relative silence may be because, inexplicably, tickets seem to be moving well for the rematch to a fight that no one wanted to see in the first place. If the word that has trickled down is to be believed, the Boardwalk will have a healthy live gate, for a fight that last time was dead on arrival. Perhaps the controversial ending to their first fight (an extremely generous tag for what they did in their less than two minutes in the ring with one another) is spurring curiosity in the make-up bout.

Or maybe, just maybe… fight fans are starting to suspect that Hopkins may be at or very near the end of the road of his long and illustrious career. In his last three fights, he’s been knocked down, buzzed by punches and injured. It could be a last shot for many to see the ageless legend before he thriftily settles in Delaware (for tax purposes, why else Delaware? Which, incidentally, should be there new state slogan…) and counts the money, hard-earned and scrupulously saved from his life as a prize fighter.

Even if fans might be coming to catch Hopkins in person one final time, suspecting that Dawson may be too young and hungry for the old timer, one imagines that the former Graterford Prison inmate would find a hint of solace in the respect for him that such crowds gathering would imply.

It’s a respect he has felt pressed to wrangle from the boxing establishment and spectators by sheer will and audacity over the course of a 24-year career. If some of those longstanding holdouts who all the long doubted or refused his acclaim are coming to finally see him, then Hopkins has won perhaps his most important victory without throwing a punch.

But if it’s not because he himself is eminently focused, or because there is no financial gain to stirring up a hornets nest this time, perhaps it is for one other reason…

The psychological warfare that Hopkins has become renowned for is often aimed at undercutting his opponents confidence in themselves. But there have been times, the Pavlik fight again a prime example, where Hopkins is willing to let an opponent’s confidence run wild, knowing that the higher up he clambers on the ladder of his certainty of success, the farther he will plummet when he starts to wobble that perch he placed himself upon.

Dawson has been very vocal about his belief that Hopkins faked the shoulder injury that occurred at the end of their first fight. According to the kid from Connecticut, he looked in Hopkins’ eyes in October and saw that Hopkins “didn’t want to be in the ring” with him.

Could be. I guess anything is possible. Only Hopkins would know the answer to that, but what he may also feel he knows is what their abbreviated dance a few months ago did to Dawson’s mind. Shortly after the bout Dawson’s claim was that Hopkins, upon spending just a few minutes in the ring, realized he was going to lose the fight and so he found an excuse and opted out.

The interesting thing is that while the game plan most had set forth for Dawson to win — to keep a fast pace and high punch output — the CompuBox numbers, slim though they may be, were telling a very different story unfolding over those first two stanzas.

According to the punch stats, Dawson threw just 31 punches in the 1st round and 24 in the 2nd. In winning efforts Dawson has typically tossed between 50 and 60 punches per round; against Pascal, his lone loss, that dipped to about 39.

The old argument against Hopkins though has always been, yes, he limits opponents’ output, but he throws even fewer. And this was true of last October too: just 29 punches thrown by Hopkins in total.

But more eye-opening, he landed four more punches than did Dawson. Five power connects a round to three and one respectively for Dawson.

Now all these numbers… what do they really mean in a fight that lasted less than two rounds? Anyone who saw the fight, knows that of the all the punches landed in the bout, and there were less than 20 between them, nothing was very meaningful.

Hopkins used the apt analogy of a first date that you go on and at the end of the night you got a kiss and she went home. What would sleeping with the girl have been like? You don’t know. You got stuck with a kiss. Now if you get another chance, you might come at it differently, but bottom line, you went into the night imagining what might happen and at the end of the night, you were still wondering.

Dawson seems to think he had the candles lit and the Barry White on.

Sometimes in the heat of battle or the excitement of a moment or the anxiousness of a round, what a fighter feels is happening or even what a spectator thinks they are seeing doesn’t really correlate to the cold hard reality.

That false sense of impending accomplishment may derail Dawson if he is not careful to keep a real perspective on just what happened in their first go around.

“Mind games don’t make you a legend.” Hopkins snapped at a reporter not long ago, when asked why he wasn’t saying much in the lead up to this rematch. “Mind games don’t make you a champion.”

What does, at least in the case of Hopkins, is taking away an opponent’s best weapons, one by one, until they are floundering, out of their depth. Suddenly when they should be fighting, they are thinking…. thinking about, how the shots that normally land aren’t landing. Thinking about how they can change something to right the problem….

All those questions. All that thinking. Suddenly your mind is splintered, running along different avenues, punch output drops, things get even harder…

“Next thing you know you’re fighting me off a you.” The old predator gets a cold, emotionless sneer of a grin on his lips. “Its a big difference between fighting somebody and fighting them off of you.”

It should be interesting to see what these two have in store for their second date. Dawson seems emboldened by his experience and may come out very confident in what he can do. It’ll bear watching to see if that hubris turns around and bites him.

Meanwhile, Hopkins is lying in the grass, eyeing his prey to see how invulnerable it believes itself to be. He is being quiet. He is prepared.

He’s watching and waiting and listening.

“They gonna question why I haven’t said anything. And that means I’m in control.”

And there it is.

The essence of Hopkins as a fighter, as a human being and of why we know his name at all is boiled down to that — to his preeminent need for, and success in, controlling all the facets of his life.

“We have two rules that I set…” The legend snarled, “…I hit you. You don’t hit me.”

Control over himself and his actions… control over the people in his space… control over the man he is fighting…

“You know what you want to do, you know what you’re capable of doing, but I damn sure ain’t gonna let you do it.” The light heavyweight champ has been getting worked up, attacking stupid reporter questions, leaning forward, eyes getting bigger, revealing the machinations of a mind that has built a storied career. He winds down his long, animosity-charged tirades.

Bernard Hopkins calms a little. Regains composure. Control.

“I’ve been talking for 24 years. What more is there to say?”

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.