ATLANTIC CITY -- Bernard Hopkins doesn't get enough credit.
His words, not mine.
Sitting at a table at Boardwalk Hall, at a makeshift press event held, in theory, to promote his July 13 IBF light heavyweight title defense against Karo Murat, Hopkins unleashed an epic, 45-minute rant on his place in history.
Questions? Hopkins don't need no stinking questions.
"This country has a problem with right," Hopkins said. "The guy that is doing right, he gets no coverage. The guy that does skullduggery or deceit, that's the news. That's the country we live in. I can't change it. Here I am, a year and a half from being 50, and I'm still taking names and whooping ass, and you're telling me that's not a story? Because I'm in this secret world of boxing? If this was happening in basketball, in football, in hockey, then there would be an outpour of 'what a unique thing.' Let someone in any other sport do what Bernard Hopkins did, they couldn't walk the street without bodyguards. Why? Because the coverage would be too much."
Here's the thing: I agree with Hopkins. Most do. What Hopkins, at the ripe age of 48, has accomplished is staggering. Two years ago, he became the oldest man to win a major title when he mopped the mat with Jean Pascal in Pascal's backyard. In March, Hopkins eclipsed that record when he dissected Tavoris Cloud in a lopsided decision.
At an age when most fighters are long since retired and a frightening number are babbling incoherently, Hopkins continues to soldier on, showing no effects from the rigors of boxing and no significant sign of slowing down. There are fighters Hopkins can't beat, sure. Put Hopkins in the ring 10 times with Chad Dawson, who took Hopkins' title last year, and he will lose all 10. But there are far more out there that he can.
Hopkins's achievements are underappreciated, no question. If Derek Jeter were an All-Star at 48, if Kobe Bryant were averaging 20 points per game as he crept towards 50, the world would stand up, daily, and take notice. But baseball is America's pastime and basketball, under David Stern, has become arguably the world's most popular sport.
Boxing? It's in a constant state of self-destruction.
The top promotional outfit in the business, Golden Boy, doesn't do business with its biggest competitor, Top Rank. The biggest network, HBO, won't do business with Golden Boy because Golden Boy moved all the stars it developed across the street to Showtime. Showtime, run by Stephen Espinoza, an attorney who represented Golden Boy for years, isn't doing business with anyone else.
Want more? Performance enhancing drug use is rampant; I mean, really, in what other sport could admitted PED peddlers like Victor Conte and Angel Heredia be welcomed as strength and conditioning coaches? And fighters flock to shadowy advisor Al Haymon, who too often masterfully walks the tightrope of making his clients the most money and putting them in with stiffs who have no chance of beating them.
Hopkins is aware of all of this, but he rarely takes an interest. He can't solve all of boxing's problems. But he can tell his friend and fellow executive at Golden Boy, Oscar De La Hoya, to stop using Twitter to pour gasoline on the Golden Boy-Top Rank fire. He can be outspoken about the need for Golden Boy to settle its differences with Top Rank, to settle its differences with HBO, to create opportunities for the sport to make the best fights. He could demand that anyone who wants to face him be tested by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) or the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA), or they don't get the fight.
He could do a lot for the sport and, by extension, do a lot for himself, too. Boxing should be thriving in the mainstream. It's a sport rich with personalities, stories and great fights. Last Saturday, Lucas Matthysse clobbered junior welterweight titleholder Lamont Peterson in three rounds in a fight that was impossible not to enjoy. Two months earlier Mike Alvarado squeezed out a close decision in a rematch against Brandon Rios that was even more entertaining than the first go-round. Two weeks earlier, Tim Bradley engaged in a war with unheralded Ruslan Provodnikov.
Hopkins wants recognition, and he's earned it. There will never be another Bernard Hopkins, not in such a dangerous sport. He wants the accolades that would come to someone who did something comparable in the NBA or Major League Baseball.
He deserves it. He's on that level. But he'll only get it if boxing gets there, too.