Bryan Armen Graham
Thursday December 3rd, 2009

Bernard Hopkins went home Wednesday and didn't let down the fans who'd waited years for his return.

Hopkins won a lopsided unanimous-decision over Mexico's Enrique Ornelas at the Liacouras Center on the campus of Temple University -- less than one mile from the Raymond Rosen projects where the former middleweight and light heavyweight champion grew up.

Hopkins, who turns 45 on Jan. 15, was cautious throughout a cagey opening and became more offensive-minded as the fight moved forward. He landed nearly twice as many punches as Ornelas (205 to 113), among them 64 body shots.

The judges' scorecards -- 120-108, 119-109 and 118-110 -- were fair bellwethers of the action. SI.com had it 118-110.

Inactive since a shocking October 2008 whitewash of Kelly Pavlik, Hopkins had signed a tentative contract to fight a long-anticipated rematch with Roy Jones Jr. in March 2010. Rather than face Jones after a 17-month layoff, Hopkins wanted a tune-up fight in the interim. Enter Ornelas, a 29-year-old who proved to be much more than just an opponent-for-hire.

"I had to run and train like I was fighting a top superstar in boxing, because I never approach anything half-heartedly," said Hopkins of his preparations. "And that's a message to every young fighter, every person in here: Never underestimate your opponent, in the office or in the gym."

Complicating matters Wednesday was Jones' stunning first-round TKO loss in Sydney to Danny Green. Hopkins was aware of the result -- and the loss of the assured payday for the Jones fight -- though he didn't see any video of the fight until afterwards.

Jones was the last thing on Hopkins' mind when the veteran emerged from the tunnel wearing a simple cherry sleeveless robe with white trim -- Temple's school colors -- and the spirited crowd of 6,662 erupted with a warm reception.

Early on, Hopkins looked exactly like someone who hadn't fought in 14 months. After the two fighters traded punches during the three razor-close opening rounds, Ornelas twice tagged Hopkins in the fourth. It seemed Hopkins was trying to lull Ornelas to sleep during stretches, setting up the uppercut. Meanwhile, Hopkins received unsolicited advice from the 6,000 coaches in the house: "Hit 'em, 'Nard!" ... "Do what you do!" ... "Pop that jab!"

But unlike Jones Jr., Hopkins is no nostalgia act. He started moving forward toward the second half of the fourth round, controlling the angles, connecting with higher frequency and winning the in-fighting with short uppercuts to the head and body.

He further ramped up the aggression for the fifth, which ended with Ornelas curled up in a neutral corner as Hopkins leaned in and delivered uppercuts. Hopkins delivered a three-punch combo -- punctuated by a bola punch -- in the sixth that snapped Ornelas' head backwards. It was Hopkins' best round.

This was the old Bernard: slippery and artful in defense, fleeing trouble with a graceful sidestep or instinctive shoulder roll.

The chants of "B-Hop!" started in the cheap seats and cascaded downward at the start of the 12th, as the fighters touched gloves before trading violently. Hopkins made an obvious push for the knockout, capping off the round with a nine-punch flurry in the final seven seconds.

Though the outcome wasn't much of a surprise, Hopkins declared the night a success for one of America's greatest fight towns.

"I just wanted to bring Golden Boy to Philadelphia. That's been my big dream," Hopkins said. "I said it ain't all about the money. We're going to make this an event for everybody to enjoy and start something here in Philadelphia that we haven't had in a long time -- and that's monthly quality shows."

By now the Hopkins legend is familiar even to casual sports fans. He came up in the North Philly projects near 25th and Diamond -- a stretch of asphalt known as the Badlands. He turned to crime early and spent 53 months in prison, where he learned the ascetic physical, mental and spiritual discipline necessary to succeed in the ring.

After his sentence, he turned his life around and has maintained it for decades. The next time Hopkins steps into the ring, he'll be closer to 50 than 40. Yet he's still one of the five best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport -- No. 4 according to The Ring magazine's most recent ratings.

"This is what happens when you take care of your body when it's young," Hopkins said. "I invested in myself like you invest money in a bank. I took care of my body in my 20s and 30s. And having some talent attached to that, this is the product that comes to fruition."

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