Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins was in New York on a day that will forever live in infamy. Like so many others, he was transfixed by what he saw on the television in his midtown Manhattan hotel room, all thoughts of his middleweight unification bout with Felix Trinidad 4 days later in Madison Square Garden for the moment set aside. Three thousand died when the illusion of safety and security enjoyed by millions of Americans was shattered.
As the 10th anniversary of that horrifying 9/11 approaches, Hopkins said he was forever changed by the realization that nothing, even the next breath he draws, should ever be taken for granted. But he noted that something positive can be taken from even the most cataclysmic event, and the bonding effect 9/11 had on a nation that had perhaps misplaced its sense of purpose is a prime example.
"I thought about 9/11 during [Hurricane] Katrina, during all the natural disasters we've endured, and every time a terrorist plot is revealed," Hopkins said.
"We should come together a lot more than we do. It shouldn't take a 9/11 for that to happen. It shouldn't take a tragedy to remind us we all live in the same house we call America.
"That day, and its aftermath, reminds me of families I know that fight like dogs, but they pull tight if some outsider tries to mess with them. Look, we're all different. We bicker back and forth. But at the end of the day, we're all Americans. And that's the way it should be."
Hopkins wasn't the only person involved with the big boxing match who sensed that the gaping wound that had been inflicted on America's largest city was not a time for New Yorkers to slip into some deep, dark hole. The terrorists had struck an awful blow, yes, but those who had dispatched them on their mission could not be allowed to think they had rendered the living so fearful that they were unable to pick up the pieces and proceed with their daily routines.
On the morning of Sept. 12, Mark Taffet, HBO's pay-for-view chief, and promoter Don King met to discuss how long the fight should be postponed. Their conclusion: It was necessary to make the delay as brief as possible, a signal to the bad guys that they might have knocked New York down, but they couldn't knock it out.
"The first words out of Don's mouth were, 'Let's go to work. We have to show our pride and our strength. We can't let the people who did this think that they can stop this country in its tracks,' " Taffet said.
As it turned out, government officials and Madison Square Garden executives were equally determined. Taffet and King soon were in contact with New York Mayor Rudy Guliani, New York Gov. George Pataki and MSG executive chairman James Dolan, all of whom agreed that the city should host, as quickly as possible, a boxing match that would be emblematic of the toughness and resiliency of its 8 million residents. The bout was rescheduled for Sept. 29.
"We changed our focus from a fight for the middleweight championship of the world to a fight for New York City and America," Taffet said. "It was important to all of us that we were a part of the healing."
A sellout crowd of 19,000-plus turned out that night, and the feeling of patriotism was palpable. And when a group of firefighters arrived during an undercard bout, spectators stood and issued an ovation so loud and long that the boxers in the ring simply stopped punching and attempted to applaud with their padded gloves.
"That night transcended anything we'd ever experienced," said Taffet. "Everyone in the arena that night felt something very special. It's something I know I'll never forget."
Hopkins, a master of the big moment, was not about to let pass the opportunity to make a statement. He dominated the favored Trinidad from the start, scoring a 12th-round technical knockout when he floored the Puerto Rican star and Trinidad's father-trainer signaled his son had had enough. It was not the most difficult fight of Hopkins' career, but it is the most significant.
"That was a night when I was not going to be denied because I was fighting for more than myself," Hopkins said. "I'll never forget how emotional an atmosphere there was. Really, I can't compare it to anything else. To come through the way I did has to be one of my greatest achievements.
"I knew I had to mentally pull it together and win that fight. I had to win that fight."
Hopkins, 46, collects the mementos of his career because he knows they someday will serve as reminders to his daughters, 12-year-old Latrece and 3-month-old Sanaa, of who their father was and all that he has seen and done.
One of his most prized possessions is the sequined headband worn into the ring by Trinidad, which Hopkins asked for and was given by Trinidad the elder at the fight's conclusion. His handwraps, gloves, socks and boxing trunks from that night also are in vacuum-sealed bags.
"I've been through a lot, but nothing tops 9/11," said Hopkins, who is in training for the Oct. 15 defense of his WBC light-heavyweight championship against Chad Dawson in Los Angeles. "We lost a lot of lives that day, people of all races, all ages, all religions.
"Having been in New York when the twin towers were struck made me realize how precious life is and that you can't waste even a single day. I live now like I'm not going to be here tomorrow, so I have to enjoy what I have today."
If that is one of the lessons that can be taken from the madness that can spring up around us at any moment, maybe the horror of 9/11 will not have been in vain.