Hopkins is Philly's true Rocky, so why not a statue of him?

Light-heavyweight champ Bernard Hopkins holds up one of his title belts under Rocky Balboa.
Light-heavyweight champ Bernard Hopkins holds up one of his title belts under Rocky Balboa. (SARAH J. GLOVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 02, 2011

It is good to be Bernard Hopkins these days. He is carrying around four world championship belts. At 46 and having just won a unanimous decision over Jean Pascal, he is the oldest fighter ever to win a title, a distinction that George Foreman turned into a small fortune when he finally hung up his gloves and started grilling.

Hopkins is fit, healthy, presumably rich, and still fighting. Check out his Twitter account. His bio says, and the caps and punctuation are his: "WORLD LightHeavyweight Champion!!! Im fighting til Im 50," and at this point, who is to say Hopkins won't.

But Hopkins, ever the politician, was simply being politically correct Wednesday when he gushed about how special it was to be honored in front of the Rocky statue at the foot of the Art Museum steps. Mayor Nutter gave him a small replica of the Liberty Bell and read some official document he had signed praising Hopkins. And then the mayor and the boxer posed for pictures with Rocky.

It was all classic Philadelphia, right up there with Independence Hall and the duck boats. Except it is asinine that for a city that has produced some legendary boxers, including Hopkins and Joe Frazier, there is a statue immortalizing a fictitious character instead of one who really did rise up out of a challenging upbringing in a tough Philly neighborhood to become a world champion. Just like Sylvester Stallone, I mean Rocky Balboa, Frazier did that, too. So did Hopkins.

Yet Hopkins has to pose for pictures with Rocky, and Stallone is about to be inducted into the boxing Hall of Fame. Go figure.

Hopkins was not about to get into a fight with Rocky or the folks who love him. He said that a statue is just a statue, that Rocky embodies all that is Philadelphia, that he sees a little Rocky in himself. That's all good, but walk around the Art Museum. There are statues of other people - generals, a chief justice, a philanthropist - and they are all real people who did real things. They are not Hollywood creations. They also are not African American.

"It's not the statue you should focus on," Hopkins said, taking the highest road possible. "Like, 'Shouldn't it be Bernard in this statue? Shouldn't it be Joe Frazier in this statue? Hey, shouldn't it be Dr. J? Shouldn't it be Bobby Clarke?' But there wasn't movies made after these people. It was just the individual. . . .

"You have to have a broad mind, past the statue. You have to have a vision and then look at the movie and say, 'You know what? Isn't Philadelphia about the Rocky movie?' Think about it. It's the underdog who shouldn't have made it and actually shouldn't have won. That's me. So, I was honored to be here near the Rocky steps. I don't think we should be anywhere else."

Hopkins clearly was playing the public relations game. He is as calculating an athlete as there is in this city. Nothing he says is by accident, not a diatribe against another athlete that gained him national attention on the eve of a fight, and not a non-offensive answer to a question that, handled differently, might have nixed future endorsement opportunities.

Hopkins is all about making money, winning fights, building his legacy and preserving his face. Always has been.

But he is as much of a Philadelphia icon as any athlete from here. A couple of years ago, he took me to the Raymond Rosen project in North Philly where he grew up, and showed me the train tracks that were his playground as a kid. He talked about roaming the streets - Diamond, Dauphin, Norris - and beating people up for money.

He went to the penitentiary at 18, and 56 months later emerged a changed man, and a fighter.

That day in North Philly, Hopkins called himself "the black Rocky." But he is so much more than that, especially now. He is the example of clean living, of eating right, of exercising, and of investing in oneself. To be a champion of an unforgiving sport at the age of 46 is proof that Hopkins is true to his message.

"When you get to a certain age - I don't know if it's the 40s or 50s or 60s - you're sort of written off in some parts of America's culture, whether it's corporate America or athleticism," Hopkins said. "To be the poster boy for right now . . . I invested in me. Good health. Good health. Good health. That's the untold secret that never was a secret to me."

It is a script made for Hollywood. Hopkins promised the movie would get made. And maybe then, so too will the statue.


Contact columnist Ashley Fox

at 215-854-5064, afox@phillynews.com or @AshleyMFox on Twitter.

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