A lot of people remember when Michael Jordan was the celebrity endorser for a sports energy drink, whose television commercials advised viewers to "Be like Mike."
In the insulated world of Philadelphia boxing, the mantra is more like "Be like Bernard." Steve "USS" Cunningham, the IBF cruiserweight champion from Southwest Philly who defends his title tomorrow night in Germany against Enad Licina, has Hopkins' trainer, Brother Naazim Richardson, as his chief second. Frankford welterweight contender Mike Jones, who takes on Jesus Soto-Karass for a second time the following Saturday in Las Vegas, has added Hopkins' strength and conditioning coach, Danny Davis, to his retinue.
It seems that quite a few fighters, locally and around the country, already have or want to hire members of Hopkins' support crew so that a little bit of what makes "The Executioner" special might rub off on them. But that magic is not easily transferable because the seemingly ageless ring legend is an original, perhaps beyond duplication.
If Hopkins' one-of-a-kind status wasn't universally evident before, it ought to be now with the announcement that "HBO World Championship Boxing" will televise his rematch with Canada's Jean Pascal on May 21, most likely in Montreal's Bell Centre. Pascal (26-1-1, 16 KOs) retained his WBC light-heavyweight title with a disputed majority draw with Hopkins (51-5-2, 32 KOs) on Dec. 18 in Quebec City, although most observers came away convinced that the now-46-year-old North Philadelphian, who dominated the action from the middle rounds on, deserved the historic victory that would have certified him the oldest fighter to win a widely recognized world championship.
Public support of Hopkins was such that WBC president Jose Sulaiman directed that Hopkins be granted an immediate rematch with Pascal, despite the fact that the Haitian-born champ was contractually obligated to fulfill a rematch clause with another fighter, Chad Dawson, whom Pascal defeated on Aug. 14 in Montreal. Dawson's promoter, Gary Shaw, graciously allowed Hopkins to get first crack at Pascal in exchange for his fighter snagging a spot on the Pascal-Hopkins II undercard and the assurance of a title shot against the winner.
Hopkins expects that it will be he, not Pascal, who accommodates Dawson sometime before the end of the year. In fact, Hopkins and Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer are so certain of that, they already have negotiated a three-fight deal with HBO. Oh, and did you know there's an option for a fourth fight as well? If Hopkins continues to defy the aging process, sweeps through Pascal, Dawson and IBF super middleweight ruler Lucian Bute (who, collectively, are 52 years younger than B-Hop), and HBO exercises its option, it is conceivable the old master will keep banging away until he's nearly ready to blow out 50 candles on a birthday cake.
"Brett Favre finally threw in the towel," Hopkins said of the veteran quarterback to whom he has long felt something of a connection. "Are there any NBA players over 40? If there are, they're probably riding the bench. Name me another sport where you have somebody who's 46 and just signed a multimillion-dollar contract. I don't think even George Foreman got that."
Foreman was 45 years, 337 days old when, trailing badly on the scorecards, he knocked out WBA heavyweight champion Michael Moorer in the 10th round of their Nov. 5, 1994, showdown in Las Vegas. Hopkins, who is well aware of his place in ring history, would have been 38 days older than that had he gotten the nod against Pascal.
"But maybe not getting the decision I deserved is a blessing in disguise," he said. "Instead of beating Foreman's record by a little more than a month, I get to do it by 5 more months now. It's more dramatic."
HBO, which hasn't always been so fond of Hopkins as it sought to phase out its more veteran stable of fighters while cultivating younger stars, has gone retro. Maybe that's because the recent junior welterweight unification matchup of unbeatens Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander generated an abysmal rating as fight fans seem determined to hang onto familiar favorites as long as possible. HBO has even brought back Roy Jones Jr. to serve as a commentator.
Ironically, HBO passed on the first Pascal-Hopkins matchup, which was televised by Showtime. But when that fight turned into a crowd-pleasing ratings success, with a controversial decision to boot, HBO rectified its mistake by jumping in when Showtime, which had an option to do the rematch, could not fit it onto its boxing schedule before July.
Hopkins said Pascal can expect to see an even fitter, more prepared version of himself.