By Jake Donovan, photo by Damien Acevedo
Bernard Hopkins has achieved just about everything a fighter in his position could ever possibly ask for. He’d have still been celebrated as a first round Hall of Famer if he decided to call it a career immediately after his historic middleweight championship winning effort over Felix Trinidad more than a decade ago.
Instead, Hopkins decided to march towards the history books. Well over a decade later, the pursuit of his own records and upsetting the apple cart continue to drive the 48-year old former two-division world champion.
Those motivating factors have led Philly’s finest to this weekend’s challenge, when he faces unbeaten Tavoris Cloud for a piece of the light heavyweight crown. The two square off at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, with HBO to televise.
A win would allow Hopkins (52-6-2, 32KO) to shatter his own record of becoming the oldest fighter ever to win a title of any kind. But even if he manages to once again outdo himself, don’t expect him to stop there.
“What drives me is that I'm not satisfied, even though I know I've done a lot to be grateful for, and I am. Trust me, I am. God knows I am. But I'm the kind of person that if I'm not satisfied, not unsatisfied or selfish, not to a point where there’s nothing to be done. So I'm the type of person, again, when I'm not satisfied I keep driving,” states Hopkins, who gives away 17 years in age to the unbeaten Cloud (24-0, 19KO).
“I know there (are) a lot of other things to accomplish, maybe not in the ring, because it must stop soon, it will, everybody has to recognize that, and then you've got the young fighters under Golden Boy Promotion that need our help, Oscar, myself, Richard (Schaefer) and everybody else that works under the banner, to make their careers like ours or just better. So a lot of things keep me going personally, I just explained it, and also the company, Golden Boy Promotions.”
For this weekend’s adventure, Hopkins plans to prove he’s still the best light heavyweight in the world. Some doubt was removed following his two-fight set with Chad Dawson, including a points loss in their lethargic title fight rematch last April.
Many were calling for Hopkins to finally call it a career after each of the two fights with Dawson, though a similar call has come every time he’s looked anything other than ageless.
His last official win came in his rematch with Jean Pascal, making him the oldest fighter in history to win a genuine world championship. It was the best he looked in years, having previously fought to a draw with Pascal after hitting the deck twice early on in their Dec. ’10 showdown.
Now more than 10 months removed from the Dawson sequel, Hopkins sees a next generation of light heavyweight titlists who – while much younger – are ripe for the taking.
“I know I'm the better fighter,” Hopkins believes. “I know I have the better fighter's IQ and I am also the better-conditioned fighter. I believe that when I go in that ring and Cloud is thinking something else, he's going to be very, very surprised. It's natural. He's in his early 30s, I believe, fighting someone that's almost double his age, it's natural that a person will say, ‘Whoa, hey man, you know, this isn't going to happen to me. He's a couple years younger than my father or mother.’
“So that is the reality of numbers, yes, you can't mess with that. But then when you step in there I think that's when, as a matter of fact, not think, I believe that's when I know that he's going to have to go ahead and adjust mentally and then adjust physically, and that's when a fight really begins. I mean, this isn't the first time a fighter ever froze up like that in the ring when you start seeing something a little different than what he was speaking about prior to the fight. So I'm very motivated for this fight, for a lot of reasons.”
One of the motivating factors in this particular fight is the driving promotional force behind Cloud’s career. The unbeaten light heavyweight titlist is guided by Hall of Famer promoter Don King, who had Hopkins long enough to get him to completely unify the middleweight division. Wins over Keith Holmes and Felix Trinidad gave boxing its first undisputed middleweight champion in nearly 20 years, when the great Marvelous Marvin Hagler ruled the roost.
As has been the case with many promoters in his career, Hopkins eventually hit a wall with King. The two parted ways following his Dec. 2003 title defense over William Joppy. It was his 17th successful defense of an alphabelt, with the majority of his reign taking place on King-promoted shows. Included among the lot is a pair of vacant title fights with Segundo Mercado, the second of which officially started the reign and beginning the legacy.
“I know I'm not fighting his promoter, but at the end of the day my career was based on beating, like I say, a rival now, not even a rival, but somebody that to me personally was somebody that played a very real importance of my legacy, good or bad,” Hopkins points out.
Saturday’s fight marks the first time in nine years in which he and King do business, and also his first time in which he returns to New York City since his career-defining win over Trinidad.
“I understand my biggest motivation and it's always been, even 80% of my 20 defenses were with his fighters,” Hopkins acknowledges. “Do the math, look at the Internet, look at the fighters I've fought. Don King, willingly, or unwillingly, helped me build my legacy, and I've been beating him ever since, and what way to put the last nail in ... coffin, I'm honored to do it. It's an honor.”
There are those who continue to doubt just what Hopkins is capable of accomplishing these days. At 48 years old and nearly 20 years from his absolute prime, Father Time will eventually have to get the best of him. He’s shown plenty of signs of slowing down during the years, but has always managed to find a way to prove the naysayers wrong.
Had he listened to the critics, he never would have returned following his pair of losses – disputed or otherwise – to Jermain Taylor way back in 2005. Listening to his critics would have meant not coming back to move up two divisions and upset Antonio Tarver.
Listening to his critics would have meant walking away after losing to Joe Calzaghe. Instead, he stuck around long enough to emphatically snatch the ‘0’ from then unbeaten Kelly Pavlik.
Listening to his critics would have meant staying away even after the Pavlik win, but more so after his tough-to-watch victory over Roy Jones. Their April 2010 rematch was 17 years overdue, but hardly at all worth the wait.
What he accomplished afterwards, however, was indeed well worth sticking around for, topping Jean Pascal on the second try to capture the light heavyweight crown.
Two years after pumping pushups in between rounds against Pascal and through all of these years of disproving critics, the thrill of the chase continues to drive Hopkins even as he creeps closer to social security than he is to his prime years.
“Right now I'm in this season, and this season is 2013, and I want to outdo the fight that I fought in Atlantic City when I fought another young guy undefeated and ready to come knock my head off, his name was Kelly Pavlik, but this guy hits harder, this guy's coming right to you, he wants to be Mike Tyson, he says, he admires Mike Tyson's style, so I get a chance to show some craftsmanship. I get a chance to show some Bernard Hopkins talents that no one has probably ever seen in my whole career, to be honest with you, so this is a chance now that I get a chance maybe to outdo 2001.
“It will mean a lot to me, but it will mean more to the young guys that I see not only in the gym but around the world in boxing that admire me to understand if you keep your body clean, you keep it clean in and out and you do the right things, you might not fight until you're in your 40s, but you have a great possible career. And my thing is that I'm an example and I might as well get all I can get out of it and let everybody see what it can be when I'm gone, because I doubt very seriously that you will see a longevity in any sport of a Bernard Hopkins in a long time, not in my lifetime. And maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm wrong, but I wouldn't want to hold my breath for all those years to see what another Bernard Hopkins in any sport, whether it's basketball, whether it's football, whether it's hockey.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox