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Bernard Hopkins: “I Will Not Retire Until I Get Close to Fifty”
By John G. Thompson
Following his uncharacteristically exciting victory this past May in Montreal over Jean Pascal for the WBC and IBO Light Heavyweight Championships, Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins said to ringside commentator Max Kellerman in the post-fight interview, “I think Canada will welcome me back to fight Bute. I would love to beat Bute, after Chad Dawson. And then I would go on to something bigger and better. I will not retire until I get close to fifty.” Hopkins was referring to a potential matchup with local hero and undefeated IBF Super Middleweight Champion Lucian Bute, after Hopkins’ upcoming bout with the former light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson (whose only loss came at the hands of Pascal). And Canada might well welcome back the Executioner based not only on his performance, but the way chants of “Hopkins” and “B-Hop” permeated the Bell Center throughout the evening. And certainly the pound-for-pound great and future Boxing Hall of Famer is still competing on the highest level in the sport, but should he continue in his career, or finally rest his head on his hard earned laurels? Hopkins said he wouldn’t retire until he is “close” to fifty – but how much closer can he get?
The forty-six year old champion from Philadelphia has put himself in the history books for a number of achievements: the longest reign as middleweight champion, the most defenses of the middleweight championship, being the first fighter to retain all four major middleweight belts in a single match, being the oldest ever middleweight champion and light heavyweight champion, and becoming the oldest man to ever win a boxing world championship – taking that distinction from George Foreman who won the heavyweight title back in 1994 at the age of forty-five.
Kellerman said to Hopkins after the fight with Pascal, “You weren’t this exciting at thirty-six.” Kellerman was of course referring to the thrilling and aggressive manner by which Hopkins had fought Pascal in his last two bouts; compared with his reputation as being an overly defensive fighter throughout his long career. Acknowledging the reputation Hopkins replied, “I’ve been accused of being boring, I was just trying to buy time and buy years… I’m going to finish last… I’m going to finish strong. So, I had a plan, [early] in my boxing career… to box as well as I can, win fights, and then get to that last bit of… good orange juice. And then this is what you see. Before I leave this game, y’all gonna see the best fights of Bernard Hopkins’ career. And
I know that’s a big order providing what I’ve done already but I’m vouching and I’m promising that every fight until I retire is going to be breathtaking.”
Kellerman asked Hopkins, “So in the twelve rounds of your career, we’re here and maybe getting close to the twelfth round, and you’ve saved yourself for the championship rounds to put it all on the line now?” Hopkins replied, “You save the best for last… Like any great entertainer, they normally give a blockbuster performance on the way out of they career. Tina Turner did it.”
So rather than considering retirement, not only is Hopkins looking for even bigger fights and challenges to cement his legacy, but he has made up his mind to fight in a style contrary to the one which kept him winning for twenty years. But is this a wise decision from the man who promised his late mother he would quit boxing by the age of forty? Should Hopkins continue to fight at this elite level, in this weight class or possibly above (depending on what he meant by “something bigger and better”), he’ll be taking more chances against stronger punchers. In the first match with Pascal, Hopkins was knocked down twice (the first time since 1994 he had been down) and in the second match he was clearly dazed and hurt by Pascal in the fourth round. Hopkins had never been noticeably hurt before in his long career, raising the question of whether it was Pascal’s power, Hopkins' slowed reflexes, his choice of fighting aggressive, or some combination therein, which resulted in the first chip in the granite chin of Hopkins the fans have ever witnessed.
Hopkins himself said, “I wanna go out on a good note; I wanna go out on a positive note, and that’s being a winner – a winner, not punch-drunk, not beat up, and not broke.” Well, that’s exactly what Hopkins is right now – a winner, never beaten up in the ring, and almost certainly not broke. So the question is should Hopkins continue? And will his new aggressive style leave him vulnerable to a younger Chad Dawson? Certainly he has a good chance of beating Dawson this coming Saturday, but what does that add to his legacy? Against Bute, Hopkins would be moving down in weight, instead of up, which can sometimes be even more risky for fighters (ask Roy Jones, Jr. or Antonio Tarver). There is a title in the super middleweight division Hopkins hasn’t collected yet, but does he need it? And what does Hopkins mean by moving “on to something bigger and better?” Does he expect to take on a Klitschko brother for one of the heavyweight titles?
Hopkins has already fought his way into the history books and possibly to a place among the all-time greatest in the sport of boxing, and that’s if he retired today. It would seem the aging champion isn’t satisfied to hang up the gloves, though if ever there were a time to call it a career, this would be the time to go out “on a positive note.” This writer has no intention of telling or even suggesting to a legend that it’s time to quit, but I would like to know what Hopkins has planned; if a heavyweight title bid is in the works or if he’ll be around to challenge the winner of the Showtime Super Middleweight Tournament. Should Hopkins defeat Dawson on Saturday night, Hopkins will most likely face a dangerous opponent in Lucian Bute. Does Hopkins have a chance against the champion? Yes. Does Hopkins need to take those chances? That’s up for discussion. Hopkins may be old in ring years, but as Max Kellerman said to him, “Like you say, the ring retires fighters, it hasn’t retired you yet.”