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June 10, 2022

International Boxing Hall of Fame welcomes two of Philly’s finest Bernards

Boxing Bernard Hopkins
Hopkins-Fernandez_120419 USA Today Sports/Courtesy

Boxer Bernard Hopkins and writer Bernie Fernandez will both be inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame.

Bernard Hopkins stood perched up on the corner ropes playing maestro to the electricity in the air that historic night in Madison Square Garden. On September 29, 2001, the all-time middleweight great from Philadelphia made everyone forget for a few minutes the tragedy that had befallen the nation two weeks prior when two commercial airliners rammed into the Twin Towers.

Moments before, Hopkins did what many thought was impossible, when he stopped Puerto Rican great Felix Trinidad in the 12th round to become the undisputed middleweight champion of the world.

While Hopkins was chanting “USA, USA, USA” from the corner ropes, he spotted a familiar round face in press row and pointed for him to join him in the ring. But Bernard Fernandez, the legendary boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, wasn’t about to commit a breach of journalistic etiquette and join Hopkins in the ring.

The moment spoke volumes about the pair who will be joined together on Sunday when they are formally inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York.

Hopkins, always filled with gratitude, wanted Fernandez to share in his special moment after the Trinidad victory, and Fernandez, ever the professional, wanted to let Hopkins enjoy his moment and simply didn’t think it was his place to openly cheer for a fighter he covered.

The two, through time, have become close friends.

It’s probably why this induction means so much to each of them.

They were robbed of their Hall of Fame moment together twice, once in June of 2020 and again in June of 2021 when the HOF opted to postpone their induction ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year will mark the largest, most prestigious class ever going in, with three classes combined, the 2020, 2021 and 2022 classes, which will not only include Hopkins and Fernandez, but the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr., Roy Jones Jr., Wladimir Klitschko, Laila Ali, Christy Martin, Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto, Andre Ward and Juan Manuel Marquez.

“I have about 20 people coming up and this is going to be an emotional moment for me,” Hopkins said. “It’s taken some time, but I do feel appreciated and all of the accolades society gives successful people who have done extraordinary things I’ve learned to embrace that. To be considered great, in boxing or any other field, you have to feel that and recognize it. I didn’t at one time. I always felt I had more to prove.

“This is something not given. It’s something earned. I do take this as an honor and I also know you get through all of the years I have in boxing, guys face death in that ring, you have nothing but to feel appreciative for everything.”

What makes Hopkins, who finished his career 55-8-2, with 32 knockouts, special is that he reached the heights of boxing without the otherworldly athleticism of Roy Jones Jr., or the dazzling hand speed and quickness of Floyd Mayweather Jr., or the power of Wladimir Klitschko.

Hopkins was able to squeeze every last ounce of ability he had into each fight. Some were spectacular, like the Trinidad triumph, some weren’t. But with Hopkins, who fought until he was 51, you knew you were going to get every last piece of him in the ring.

He won on will as much as he did with his fists.

“I’ll admit that,” Hopkins said. “I wasn’t blessed with all of the ability in the world, but I got the best of what I had. I’m going to be emotional accepting this induction, because of the people out there like Rudy Battle and Bernard Fernandez, who gave of themselves to help and support someone like me. Bernard covered every one of my fights.

“I saw myself here in the Hall of Fame. I had to overcome so many things that could have easily discouraged me. I never had any doubt. Even early in my career, and I told everyone was going to do before I did it, and it’s what makes my story so unique.”

Fernandez, 74, was ingrained in the sport of boxing since grade school, influenced by his father, Jack Fernandez, a decorated New Orleans police officer who fought as a pro welterweight and once appeared on an Archie Moore undercard in San Diego, California, in August 1944.

“When I came to Philadelphia and got the boxing beat in 1987, it was like a dream come true, covering boxing in the great city of Philadelphia,” Fernandez said. “I must have covered 16 Hall of Fame inductions and I realize how special it is.

“It’s made even more special going in with Bernard. He always returns my calls (laughs). When he would call me back, he would always say, ‘Hi Bernard, this is the other Bernard.’ When I would call Bernard, it was the same thing. He always treated me with respect. I always treated him with respect. I once told Meldrick Taylor ‘that if you fight ’em good, I’ll write ’em good.’

“Bernard is a remarkable individual, considering how long he fought, and how well he fought even into his 50s. There was no one like Bernard Hopkins and I don’t think there will ever be anyone like him. You could not have scripted this any better.”

They both invested 28 years heavily entrenched in a sport that lost its mainstream cache about 30 years ago, though they somehow managed to keep it on the edges of sports relevance for decades — one with his words and insight, the other with his fists and iconoclastic ways.

Otherwise, Bernard Hopkins and Bernard Fernandez are as close as night and day: the bombastic ex-con from the Germantown section of Philadelphia, and the former U.S. Marine from New Orleans.

On Sunday, they will both have something in common: They’ll be Hall of Famers.

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