Old Dogs: Bernard Hopkins, Dewey Bozella, and Their Separate Quests for Boxing Glory

October 14th, 2011

Grantland
By Eric Raskin
Oct. 14, 2011

When he ducks his gray-spattered beard and bring-out-the-gimp mask between the ropes Saturday night, Bernard Hopkins will be precisely 46 years and nine months old. For the first time in a very long time, he will not be the oldest fighter on the card.

At the age of 18, Hopkins began a 56-month stretch inside the State Correctional Institute at Graterford, Pennsylvania’s largest maximum-security prison, on an armed robbery conviction. Four years and eight months — that’s not a short stint in the joint. But that, too, is good for just second place on this fight card.

That’s because 52-year-old Dewey Bozella, who spent half of those 52 years at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in upstate New York, will enter the ring at Staples Center approximately three hours before Hopkins defends his light heavyweight championship against Chad Dawson. Bozella’s fight will be his first professional bout. Both Hopkins and Bozella went to jail in 1983. Hopkins got out less than five years later and began transforming himself from a lost cause to a living legend. It took 26 years before Bozella was released, and he was innocent all along.

Nobody can give him back those 26 years. The best anyone can do is help him make the most of the freedom he has now. To that end, Hopkins, a man whose empire was built on two-plus decades of looking out for number one, is doing what he can for his newfound ally in against-all-odds obstinacy.

If you aren’t already familiar with Bozella’s story and don’t have time for the director’s cut, here’s the one-paragraph version: At age 23, Bozella was found guilty of murdering a 92-year-old woman in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. The conviction came six years after the crime, with the case for Bozella’s guilt being built on the testimony of two deal-cutting inmates. At Sing Sing, Dewey learned to box. The sport offered him purpose. It also gave him an identity: He became the prison’s light heavyweight champion.1 On four separate occasions, Bozella could have been released on parole just by admitting his guilt, but he refused to confess to a crime he didn’t commit. Finally, in 2009, evidence that had long been buried — including another suspect’s confessing to the murder — was uncovered, and Bozella finally went free.

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