Does it matter who or what Bernard Hopkins was? Or only who he is? Or what he'll become? He is transformed. Not just by his story but by your own. By your fears, by the eternal search for eternal youth, by mythology and sacrifice and the romance of risk and death. By boxing itself.
A week earlier, Frankie Leal was beaten to death in a ring in Mexico. A week later, Magomed Abdusalamov will be beaten into a coma at Madison Square Garden. Boxing is not ironic. "Boxing is not a metaphor," wrote Joyce Carol Oates. Boxing is the thing itself. Prizefighting is always sick, a constant invalid, but boxing never dies. Only boxers do.
The danger is real, and Hopkins is exceptional, but maybe one of the reasons he persists is the shallower talent pool. Fewer and fewer young athletes choose boxing. More weight classes and more sanctioning bodies spread those left even thinner. There are at least three other light heavyweight "world" champions. Stevenson. Shumenov. Kovalev. WBC. WBA. WBO. 36. 30. 30. Does it matter? By any standard of his art, Hopkins, IBF light heavyweight champion of the world, is a very old fighter. He'll fight Shumenov to unify titles on April 19, the oldest ever to try.
Even George Foreman never made it this far. Depending which birth date you believe, by the time the legendary mongoose Archie Moore was Hopkins' age, he had been retired for two years. James Toney, a cautionary tale of cumulative damage and slurred speech even as he continues to fight, is three years younger than Hopkins.
Get up offa that thing. A television crew, all black denim and sour worry, comes and goes and comes and goes. The reporter in the dress suit asks Hopkins questions. Hopkins is bright-eyed and runs his mouth when called upon to do so. He smiles his gap-toothed smile, and it is all nonsense, the questions and the answers.
Hopkins knows this. But Hopkins understands the show. And selling it. Understands his role out front of the tent. He is his own best promoter and owns a part of every fight he's in. The new spin on the selling is a new nickname, "The Alien." How else could he fight so well so long but that he be from another planet/universe/dimension? For the discussion of which he happily wears an alien Halloween mask, a rubber trick-or-treat thing the color of a sour apple. Hopkins' best weapon has always been his mind and a liberal reading of the Marquess of Queensberry, but he treats his business like a business.
Punch the clock. And understand the clock punches back.
The Girl from Ipanema.
State athletic commission guys wander in and out in gray latex gloves and powder blue polo shirts, fat and thin and short and tall. Security wears blue blazers. This is the biggest show in town tonight. Two weeks from now, the biggest show will be a Ricky Nelson tribute act starring Ricky Nelson's sons.
Have you seen her?
Up and down the boardwalk, from the old Hilton to the Showboat to the Revel -- a $2 billion glass blade half buried in the sand at the Absecon Inlet -- the hotel lobbies smell of air freshener, seaweed and low occupancy. In darkened rooms with walls full of distant voices and bedspreads thin as tissue, 10,000 unopened bibles wait in 10,000 unopened drawers. At the taffy shacks and the fry joints and the arcades, the wind howls against the windows. The walkers raise their collars as they hustle past.