By Jake Donovan
The reasons behind Bernard Hopkins becoming a pro boxer 25 years ago far differ from the reasons why he still does it to this day.
Twenty-five years ago – with that anniversary having just passed earlier this month – Hopkins decided to punch for pay, not long after taking up boxing as means to change his life while serving nearly five years in Grateford State Prison way back in the 1980’s.
Now entering his 64th professional prize fight, Hopkins—forever known as "The Executioner" but now affectionately referred to as "The Alien" for his inhuman knack for defying human nature—does it simply because he can still do it. Not only has he beaten the odds and outlasted his entire generation in the process, but is threatening to outpace yet another wave of stars from past, present and future.
“I'm in the second era of somebody else's era. I'm in the Broner and the Danny Garcia's and the other fighters; I could mention era,” Hopkins points out ahead of Saturday’s light heavyweight title defense versus mandatory challenger Karo Murat at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
The bout takes place in Atlantic City, home to his pro debut back in 1988. It was also home to his last ring loss, conceding the lineal light heavyweight championship to Chad Dawson in their rematch last April.
Atlantic City has also seen the best of Hopkins – turning back to beat Antonio Tarver in his first fight at light heavyweight following a 10-year stay as a middleweight champ, and then ruining the career of Kelly Pavlik just one fight and six months after getting bumped from the top of the light heavyweight mountain by Joe Calzaghe.
Given the odds of Saturday’s fight, few if any are expecting anything shocking to take place in the ring along the Boardwalk. That is, other than the sight of a 48-year old man defending a portion of the light heavyweight crown.
“I mean I don't think nobody really, really, if they look at, are surprised that I'm really here,” Hopkins believes. “I guess they'd be surprised why I'm still doing it because I shouldn't mentally and physically be motivated to do it anymore, but that's not necessarily true when it comes to me because I'm ready. I'm ready and I'll always be ready, and I'll never go in a ring without being prepared physically and mentally.”
One constant throughout Hopkins’ career was his never taking the game for granted. Always in shape and at least one step ahead in mind games with future opponents, the now 48-year old truly acts his age when it comes to preparing for the next challenge.
It’s that mindset that separates his view of what a fight with Murat represents from the average spectator. Any given skeptic can glance at the upcoming schedule and point out a 14-1 mismatch that’s headlining a Showtime tripleheader this weekend.
Hopkins chooses to apply long-term logic, even while admitting that there isn’t much longer for the ageless wonder to still ply his trade in the ring.
“I look at myself ending my career with a super fight, and peoples is going to remember that,” Hopkins says. “But this here, to me personally, is not a super fight in boxing but is a super fight to me because there's no other, no other fight if this fight is not completed the way it should be with Bernard Hopkins, with myself.
“So I know how important it is for me to get to that, again, that Tootsie Roll (Pop) at the end of the tunnel, that prize that says you got to work through. This is just an obstacle. My obstacles can be kind of nagging sometimes, and I got to get through the obstacles and the obstacle is what it is.”
The hurdle he needs to clear in this instance is agreeing to face Murat in order to keep the trinket that helped him once again make the history books. Hopkins lifted the alphabet belt currently in his possession when he effortlessly turned back the challenge of previously unbeaten light heavyweight titlist Tavoris Cloud earlier this year in Brooklyn.
The win made Hopkins, at age 48, the oldest fighter in boxing history to win a major belt. He broke his own record in doing so, having previously turned the trick at age 46 when he bumped off Jean Pascal for the lineal light heavyweight championship in their May ’11 rematch.
Other options were discussed for this weekend, but all of the other titlists and top contenders ultimately went in different directions. Rather than wait and grow old(er) doing so, Hopkins opted to find a way to keep his belt and stay active in the process.
The plan slightly backfired – the bout with Murat was twice rescheduled due to travel visa issues and lack of available TV dates. It resulted in Hopkins sitting on the sidelines and watching fighters such as Sergey Kovalev and current lineal light heavyweight champ Adonis Stevenson post far more notable wins than he can possibly achieve even with a dominant performance this weekend.
Still, there isn’t an ounce of regret in his body. The mistakes he made in the past prompted him to make the necessary changes to become the living legend and historic icon in the boxing world he is today. If part of that journey means waiting a few months longer for what most would consider a relatively meaningless fight… well, like his ring entrance theme music suggests, he’ll just continue to do it his way.
“I just want to keep (the belt),” Hopkins says in explaining the method behind his madness in agreeing to face Murat rather than dump a title in the trash. “It isn't going to be too long, but just get past this one and then I have the freedom by the rules to be able to at least have multiple months to be able to make some big fights in between, not waste time looking for one, but at least knowing that there'll be one on the horizon.
“That's really one of the real significant reasons that I continue to want to prove people wrong and not look at the age, and let them focus on that and just continue to open their eyes and shock them and then they become fans. You really can do something for a long time no matter what the purpose is if you still have the love and the respect for the sport and respect for yourself.”
More than 25 years later, Hopkins still loves and respects the sport as much as the sport respects his achievements – something that never seemed like a reality when it all first began.
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