|The Cyber Boxing Zone Newswire -- AUGUST 10:2001|
DISCIPLINE BORN IN DARK PLACES BROUGHT REDEMPTION FOR BERNARD HOPKINS |
by Rocky Alkazoff
Experienced convicts call knowing how to do prison time "bitting". Knowing how to "bitt" is necessary to survive the hell of a long prison term. Its a way of life and a knowledge born out of adversity and there is many ways to achieve this goal. At it's worst "bitting" means a animal like battle to survive, but at its best its a discipline, a way of life that translates into knowing how to turn the time you spend in prison into a plus, into a advance.
When a person is in prison its not a "part time" experience; Its a "all day and night" experience. For as many years as you are there, you do it 24 hours a day. Its your life twenty four hours a day. To survive prison and to turn it to your advantage, one must learn how to "bit" that whole twenty four hours. One must learn to live in the pit of darkness and get strong. One must learn discipline in a Hell on Earth, forge ahead, and get strong enough to live again when the time comes and the doors are again opened to you in the "real world" as convicts call it.
The most proper "biting" is a discipline few men achieve, but those who can make it come out of prison with a "will" made of iron. The "wills" of the Mandelas, Stalins, Castros, and Gandis are well known. Those men had the wills born behind the hard walls of prisons to become world leaders, but figures like these famous men are not the only ones to forge this quality out of their prison time; There are boxers who achieve it also.
"Rocko," yelled Freddie Soto, a thirty two year old light skinned Puerto Rican who moved to our neighborhood from New York about twenty years ago. "Tonight baby. Tonight we show Hopkins what Puerto Rico is about! He picked the wrong Puerto Rican baby! The wrong Rican to mess with. No mercy tonight!"
I was standing on Florida street in the middle of "little" Puerto Rico in our "Hood". Raoul Mercado, his brother Hector, and Joey BellCastro were doing their usual working on cars thing on this sunny day in Detroit's Southwest side, and I was standing there talking to them with Johnny Fox, a stocky dark skinned buddy of mine. Freddie was in a blue van covered with flags of Puerto Rico on the windows, and as usual he was in a upbeat mood.
"You know it Rock," said Freddie making a fist, as the guys working on the old Ford Probe got up and looked towards the van in acknowledgement. "You know Felix is the best! He hits too hard for anyone in that division. Especially for a 36 year old guy!"
"Damm, 36 is old Rock," said Johnny, as he took a swig from a Mexican brand beer. "Joe Louis was bout that old when Marciano killed him. And that was Joe Louis! So who the hell is Bernard Hopkins? He looks okay against these other guys, but this is Trinidad man! Hopkins couldn't do nothing with Roy Jones."
I couldn't say much about this. I had talked up Trinidad so highly as a warrior and as a spirited puncher. I loved his attitude in the ring. He is the Marciano-Frazier of the era. I liked his sportsmanship. I liked his looks. I liked his pride in his heritage. I got no problem with the guy. But in this fight my heart was with Hopkins.
"I kinda think Hopkins is gonna win," I said unemotionally, not wanting to show how determined I was with this pick.
"Hopkins?" said Freddie, a young guy of twenty, full of Puerto Rican colors for tatoos, and dressed in the latest baggy ware. "Rock, not you? I thought Felix was your boy! You gonna go against us?"
I was up against it now. Puerto Ricans were coming out of the garage now, good naturedly getting on my case.
"Rocko, comon man," said Angel Perez, who owned a bar around the corner. "Hopkins never been up against it like this. This boy is young and strong. He's fighting for his people. He's fighting for Puerto Rico! Roy Jones is a runner. Trinidad comes to kill man! Hopkins never seen nothing like this kid."
"Hopkins disrespected us," said Tony Delgado, a green eyed, curly haired, wiry guy who used to box. "He disrespected our flag man. You think Trinidads gonna let that fly? No way. Whats on your mind with picking Hopkins Rock?"
I didn't say anything. Everyone was waiting to argue with me. I could see that. I had a boxing argument based on the style of smothering punches with useful, tough, aggression I had seen Hopkins use against Mark Holmes. I wanted to say how I had never seen Hopkins tire in a match, how he keeps improving based on his hard training. I wanted to say how Hopkins had faced power before in Antwon Eccles. I wanted to say how hard Gene Fullmer gave it to Sugar Ray Robinson with the same aggressive unorthodox tactics, and how Trinidad was surely no better the original Sugar Ray. But if I argued boxing strategy, they would argue back and the truth wouldn't come out about how I really felt.
How I felt, was something I couldn't explain; How could I explain a hell, a desperate situation I fought with a determination to be better, to be greater, to overcome, to change, a enemy to defeat? How could I explain a deep desire for redemption that dwelt in a good man who is incarcerated?
When a man is in prison, if he is in a real prison, (not a country camp type place where they stick snitches and white collar guys), and he faces big time or is doing a big sentence, at least one time he will inevitably be put in what is called the "Hole" or in layman's terms "Administrative Segregation". This is used as punishment when you fall out of line, but in truth it is a inhuman thing for one person to do to another. Its like being stripped of life, because all you retain is breath and your mind. You are placed in a room, by yourself, fed and that is it. You just sit. You just sit and think. You realize you have just allowed yourself to be insulted in a kind of a rape of the little freedom you have left. You realize that you have hit rock bottom, and you are alone with no pity around you. You are in the darkness of the pit, and no one cares. You have been stripped, slapped, and thrown into it. So what happens next?
What happens is you hate. You hate so much that you strike out and you become a even more anti everything a person can be. Whatever is bad in you becomes worse. You just don't give a damm no more. That kind of hate breeds a animal of the worst order. But something else might happen. You might just hate so bad, that you develop a determination to change, to succeed, to work hard, to redeem yourself, to see a goal and march towards it with a drive that is maniacal. Something is born in you so intense, so willful to succeed, that no one else has the eye power to see it. Its a drive that is on a level that normal people who haven't fell this far down, just don't see; The paranoia of prison teaches wise convicts about the rip offs. So you keep the dream deep inside. I thought I saw that dream in the face of Bernard Hopkins.
"Believe me," I told the group of Puerto Ricans. "I respect Trinidad as a warrior. I know he's gonna fight to the end. But I got a feeling about Hopkins."
This was greeted with laughter and jeering, but I held to my thoughts. I saw something in Hopkins and it was something I knew about. I knew its birthplace. I had been to the same dark hell. I had the dream too.
On fight night, I was at my buddy Gino's house watching the big screen TV with about a dozen drinking and rowdy Trinidad fans. Nobody was giving Hopkins a chance.
"No prayer Rock," said Tim Moreno, a wiry Puerto Rican from the old neighborhood. "Hopkins never been hit like Tito will hit him. Just like Joppy. He's gonna be in shock!"
I watched Trindad on the television screen hitting the pads of his trainer in his dressing room. You could see it. He hit a ton. He had a knockout punch, no doubt. His powerful hook was frightening.
"Wait a minute," I thought. "Bernards been in the joint. He knew there were killers in there. Killers that would stab you over a chair, a chicken wing, or a cigarette. He knew how to survive. He knew how to live "defensively". He knew how to spot danger and avoid it. He knew there was danger you couldn't fight; You had to keep your eyes on it and avoid it."
"Hopkins knows about Felix's hook," I said. "He's not gonna forget all of that. He's gonna find a way to avoid all of that."
That remark drew pity for me as if I was a fool, but somehow I knew differently. That big left hook was in Bernard's mind; It was the killers, the rip offs, the freaks, and the guards all rolled up into one.
Shifting back to the television screen, they were showing Hopkins warming up in his dressing room. As he hit the pads I noticed it wasn't a power show at all, like Trinidad put on. No heavy hooks or killer straight rights. No it was fast flurries. Bap, bap, bap! Left, right, left! No power, but speed. What was happening here? Where was the rough aggression and the low hooks to the body? What was Bernard thinking?
Negatives. Turn them into positives. You learn that in prison, if you are going to use the time to improve. You get locked up, lose your freedom, and the whole thing is one big negative. So what do you do? You turn this time locked up into a positive. You get up, you eat, your work out like a animal, then you eat and sleep. You do the same thing every day, rest on Sunday and read. Over and over and over for years. Not eight weeks, but years. No drinking, no heavy food, no girls, no drugs, no late hours. Over and over and over for years. You take the negative of being locked up and turn it into a orgy of physical fitness. You do it in a way that a guy in the free world can't. The free man has too many distractions. While you are doing it, in the dark corner of prison, you know that the guys out in the free world aren't working as hard as you, isn't as disciplined. He's got girls, cars, and parties. You got nothing but "time". You develop a strength of will born of clean living, that you want to ride out of prison and on to your dream. A dream born out of a will and discipline that was created in adversity.
As I was watching the pay for view show and the guys were cackling on, praising Tito Trinidad, awaiting the knockout they felt he was sure to score, I had to laugh listening to some of the comments by the so-called experts. They were talking about Hopkins weighing in at 157, and that maybe he was too "weak" at that weight. Didn't they know that a man can train down tight and still be strong and fast? Didn't knew know that strength came from clean living and talent and not mere weight? Didn't they know that Dempsey, Louis, and Marciano all weighed light cause they trained down hard to that weight for speed? If they lived clean and ate correctly, they wouldn't sacrifice any strength at all. With skill, that developed strength would be moving faster and make it harder to handle. I figured it was the new generation mania for big muscles and all, and the absurdity that created thinking like Michael Grant could have beaten Joe Frazier cause he was so big and muscular; The new athlete. Well it might be good for football, but this was boxing.
"You should have eaten more Hopkins," said Tony Canfield, a veteran of the neighborhood's bars and bar fights. "You gonna need it to take those punches from that young buck!"
I didn't have anything to say. My eyes were on the screen. Bernard's body was tight and hard, and his eyes were clear. I liked what I saw. It was look of "penitentiary conditioning". I knew the kind of power it meant, and Hopkins had it. I wasn't worried about the age difference between the two.
"How much time you got kid?" the oldtimer asked me.
"Fifteen to Life," I answered, looking around the prison yard.
"You'll be okay," he said. "Look around. You'll see lots of guys here that look at least ten or fifteen years younger. They work out, eat right, sleep, don't mess around with drugs, or booze, or sissies."
The oldtimer was right. I had seen that already in several convicts I had observed like Curtis "Hatchetman" Sheppard and Sonny Franzeze, amonst others. They were in their late seventies, but acted and looked like they were twenty five years younger. Both of them had been in prison for over twenty years, and they had the physical conditioning of men far younger.
"You "bit" right kid, and you'll be okay," I remembered the oldtimer said nodding knowingly. "Prison preserves a man Rock if you know how to do the time. Its tricky, but it can be done."
I thought about all of that. Trinidad was about ten years younger but he had recently had marriage trouble. I'd heard he had fathered a child out of wedlock. He was enjoying life, and although he was no demon he was no saint neither. Hopkins had the hard clean look of the "joint". I saw the purpose in his eyes. I'd seen it in my own eyes when I was in prison training. I knew that hard, clear look. If he took the spirit of prison "biting" to the street, he'd only gotten stronger and better. He KNEW what he had, and he knew a guy on the streets in the world DIDN'T have it. Physical condition was never AGE, it was LIFESTYLE. I knew Hopkins knew that.
Suddenly I got confidence that Hopkins was the stronger man in a way that couldn't be measured by how hard one could punch. Hopkins might have been 36, but he was preserved and therefore much younger. Trinidad had no edge there at all in my book.
As the fighters came into the ring, and the anthems of the USA and Puerto Rico were played, it was obvious this was a Trinidad crowd. When Hopkins got introduced the crowd booed so loudly it was almost intimidating. My buddies all slapped hands.
"Oh man," said Billy Rio, a Puerto Rican who I play handball with. "They got his head now! Hopkins knows its time now. He's gonna get his ass beat in front of all those Ricans, and he's scared as hell."
Billy and the rest of the guys were slapping hands and whooping it up, but I knew different.
"You've heard worse before Bernard," I thought. "No boos in the world can compare with hearing a Judge sentence you to a long prison term. The boos of all those thousands can't compare with all of that! If you handled hearing that prison sentence come down, you can handle the boos of thousands who can't hit you!"
"I'm not worried about that," I said. "Hopkins can handle it. He knows about that stuff."
When the bell rung and the match started it was obvious Trinidad was coming forward as usual to land his bombs. We'd know now if Hopkins could take away his punching room and smother Trinidad's power. But Hopkins was doing something I never expected, he was backpeddleing and jabbing!
"Ha," said Tony Martin, a light skinned Felix Trinidad lookalike from the Hood. "Hopkins is scared Rock. He's going backwards like a bitch. He knows what time it is."
I was wondering myself. I didn't like Bernard giving Felix that kind of punching room. I had likened this matchup to Gene Fullmer versus Ray Robinson, and I had figured that Hopkins would do like the Utah brawler did and charge forward and take away Trindiad's punching room. What the hell was Bernard doing? Did he want to eat a hook like Gene did in the second fight with Sugar Ray and get knocked out? What was on his mind? I guess I should have known when I saw him hitting the pads in the dressing room. He was going for speed and movement. He had a plan.
This went on for about three rounds, and although Hopkins was winning the rounds with his jab, I was nervous that Trinidad would close the distance and land the bombs.
"Its just a matter of time," said Billy Rios with a smile. "Just a matter of time. The pressure, man. Just like Oscar got scared, Hopkins will fold and run. If he fights, he goes down."
Everyone was unanimous on that point in the television room, but not me. I was starting to see something that my buddy that great boxing historian Arne Steinburg brought to my attention about the second Jack Sharkey-Max Schmeling title fight where Jack won the title. He brought it to my attention that Sharkey always stayed about six inches from Schmeling's punching zone, and when Max started to regroup after Sharkey moved back, Jack would pop him with a jab. It won him the title from a murderous puncher who would later knockout Joe Louis for one.
Hopkins was doing what Sharkey did. He wouldn't let Felix get set to punch with power. He move and pop him and pop him. My buddys figured Bernard would get tired, but I knew better. It was Felix who was gonna get tired. It was Felix who the pressure was going to get to. He was gonna get frustrated from falling behind on points and force things. Then when missing those hard shots, he was gonna get tired. That little bit of the good life he had enjoyed was gonna cost him with a hardened ex con like Hopkins, who had the condition of the discipline of the joint. I could see Hopkins had the control to work his plan.
"Remember the darkness of the "hole" Bernard," I thought to myself. "Remember how you had to control yourself. Control yourself against the ignorance of the guards, of the bandits screaming and yelling, and how you had to deal with the insanity of what they were doing to you."
Hopkins had control, and soon in the middle rounds he was popping Felix with harder punches, surprising him. Another thing I noticed was that when Felix got close, Bernard would fight like a caged tiger, a crazed animal. It was like a beast fighting for his life. It wasn't like a Tony Zale with those ferocious body shots or like Gene Fullmer with his clubbing shots to the sides, but like a clawing, fast moving wildcat. Trinidad was so taken back that he couldn't land anything of purpose that way. Another thing Hopkins was doing was that when Trinidad backed up, Bernard would come in with a fast combination to the head. They'd land too, for he had done his homework and knew Felix had trouble fighting going back. He wasn't scared of Felix's power now in these middle rounds, and somehow it seemed Trinidad was losing heart knowing he couldn't hurt Hopkins anymore.
By the ninth round it was obvious something was missing from Trinidad. He was a warrior and coming forward, but he was getting hit now and looked forlorn. There was silence in the room from his fans, but now I was the one doing the talking.
"He's ready to go," I said, realizing I was watching a upset on a par perhaps with Louis-Schmeling one. "He's ready to go. He's got nothing left but heart. Hopkins is gonna take him out."
These comments shocked the guys in the television room, but I could sense the knockout coming. Hopkins was taking his time, even though he had staggered Trinidad badly near the end of round nine. He was no killer puncher, but he knew what he had to do. He was being patient and getting ready to drown the young buck in the deep water. He had condition and knew he could do it in time. It was about clean punches and he was landing the sharper shots with both hands over and over.
The Trinidad fans were silent, and unbelieving. He was such a idol to Puerto Ricans that they would not accept his defeat, and as long as the fight went on, they were expecting him to land a knockout blow. I could understand this. I saw the same reaction at the first Frazier-Ali fight, as Frazier was charging to victory. The Ali fans had idolized him so much, they just couldn't accept what was happening. They couldn't accept what they were seeing, and the Trinidad fans were no different.
I liked Trinidad too, and it was sad to see a great warrior like him getting beat up. But Hopkins had my heart in this one. Trinidad had aged some as a man, had lost some innocence, and was not the same fighter he was a year ago. Good enough maybe to beat most, but not Bernard Hopkins tonight.
I was tuned right in, and when Trinidad's father asked him in the corner before the eleventh round,
"Are you alright? Can you fight one more round?"
A sense of fear went through the room and the Trinidad fans were motionless and had no animation. No more screaming and clapping. This was dangerous ground, they sensed it, and I announced,
"I got it a shutout for Hopkins. I give him every round."
No one argued. No one said a word. They just silently watched the end of this fistic masterpiece.
When the final round started I saw Hopkins give himself a real deep inner look, and feel for his strength. He knew all the work and discipline was worth it. I could imagine him thinking about his prison term, and there was satisfaction that he spent the time well, working out, getting his rest, living clean, and forming the solid foundation of his dream of redemption. He wa now ready to go out and grab that redemption by the throat.
Trinidad, ever the champion, ever the warrior, ever fighting for Puerto Rico, came out and was winging as best he could in his weakened condition. He did his people proud, but he had nothing left. In a whirlwind of trading punches with the now much stronger Hopkins, he was caught with a right hook and went down hard! The heart of a champion drove him to his feet, but he was in no condition to fight on, and his father threw in the towel. It was over. Like the moment for the Ali fans when Frazier knocked him down hard in the fifteenth round, there was a stunned silence from the Trinidad people.
At this great moment in Bernard Hopkins life, did he march around the ring and respond to the cheering crowd? No he lay in the middle of ring, on his back and just stared upward. He had reached the top of mountain and no doubt he wanted the moment to be alone with he and his God, he and the force that drove him here. He wanted to remember the darkness that he knew drove him here, and he wanted to talk to the twinkling stars that he had been reaching for so long. I knew it and my heart went out to him. He won it for himself, and for guys like me.
If other athletes, were cleaner cut, handsomer, and more in the mainstream of media hoopla, good. Let the kids idolize them. But Bernard Hopkins was a inspiration for guys like me; Guys who had bad luck, made the wrong turns in life, and were battling with all they knew to make it back to the clean air, the top of the mountain, to freedom and redemption. Bernard did this for not only himself, but guys like me who knew the darkness of prison and the jail cell.
After the Trinidad fans got over their shock, and while the post fight interviews went on, they like the Ali fans of old would not accept the truth.
"Trinidad was drunk man," said Billy Rios disdainfully. "He was drunk. Something was wrong with him. This shit wasn't right man."
"Drugs man," said Tim Moreno, as he sipped his beer. "It was drugs. Hopkins couldn't beat the real Trinidad. He'll be back and beat that old man down!"
This was the general consensus of the Trinidad fans, but I didn't pay attention. I knew better.
Bernard Hopkins won this fight years ago. Years ago when he received that big prison sentence, and he saw the pit of despair that is the penitentiary. He won that fight when he decided he didn't want that life no more. He won that fight when he decided to avoid the hustles, bandits, rip offs, snitches, and sissies and learn the discipline of "biting". He won it when he gave birth to a dream and focused on hard work and faith.
You made it Bernard. Redemption buddy. God bless you and good luck from a fellow brother who knows.
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