By Cliff Rold
When comparing older eras to this one in boxing, the easiest point in favor of the old days is volume.
They fought more often. They fought more top guys.
Despite that, they still seemed to prime out relatively around the same time. The best of the best hung around into their mid-30s, the action stars petered out around their late 20s. Fighters succeeding past 40, much less well past, were rare.
This weekend, with a win, the great Bernard Hopkins (51-5-2, 32 KO) will move beyond rare. Defeat Jean Pascal (26-1-1, 16 KO), something he came oh so close to doing last December, and Hopkins will have added the legitimate Light Heavyweight crown to his ledger at 46 years of age.
By some months and what will appear a calendar year on paper, he will pass George Foreman as the oldest World Champion in the history of boxing. It’s been talked about so much this week it almost made people forget what a horse’s ass Hopkins made of himself last week talking trash about Donovan McNabb.
Only Hopkins could make it hard to root for him as he gets close to what could be a special moment.
And it would be special. Real history always is. It still has to happen though. The still younger, still faster, Pascal will have something to say about it for sure.
For now, it is enough to marvel about what Hopkins has done past the age of 40 altogether. If the modern fighter fights less, it behooves them to at least take real challenges in their semi-annual appearances. Hopkins, had he retired following his second debatable decision loss to Jermain Taylor for the Middleweight crown, was bound for Canastota.
He was a lock for most all-time Middleweight lists in the top ten to twenty.
There are those who, especially if he wins this weekend, would feel safe arguing Hopkins somewhere into the top fifty of all time in any weight class. Of those who would, they probably feel safe doing so already.
Such accolades would not have felt safe by most after the Taylor losses. That says a hell of a lot about what Hopkins has done since leaving his defining weight class, moving to Light Heavyweight, and aging from 40 to 46.
Put the ratings arguments aside. The argument that matters here is one about the last six years. In his twilight, a case can be made Hopkins has secured the finest wins of his career and, in seven fights, faced a deeper pool of competition than he did in all his years as a Middleweight.
Two names seriously dispute the contention: Roy Jones and Felix Trinidad. Despite a dull loss, the young Jones Hopkins fought in 1993 was better than anyone Hopkins has seen since 2005. Trinidad, undefeated and favored in 2001, was and remains the most important win of Hopkins career.
Some might even throw in an undefeated Glen Johnson in 1997, though history is likely to regard that win the same it has already begun to regard Hopkins loss to Jones. Each is a case of two great fighters facing off when one man in the ring was still growing, was farther from days of greatness to come than the other.
Besides Jones and Trinidad, and maybe Johnson, it’s hard to find any really remarkable foes (and Oscar De La Hoya at Middleweight doesn’t count) on the Hopkins Middleweight resume. At the end of his Middleweight reign, consistency, dominance, Tito, and 20 IBF title defenses were where Hopkins hung his hat.
Compare that, in terms of sheer competition, to what he’s faced in a seven-fight Light Heavyweight run that stands today at 5-1-1.
• Leaping up the scale to challenge reigning Ring Magazine Light Heavyweight champ Antonio Tarver in 2006, an underdog Hopkins boxed a masterpiece, winning ten rounds on every scorecard. Tarver to then had all but cleaned out 175 lbs. and avenged all of the 3 losses he’d collected to then. Hopkins made him look almost a novice.
• A little more than a year later, Hopkins won ugly but wide over a Winky Wright who was seen by some at the time as the uncrowned Middleweight champion following a draw with Jermain Taylor, this after unifying the Jr. Middleweight division. Catchweight or not, Hopkins picked a world-class foe.
• He picked another in 2008, defending against undefeated World Super Middleweight Champion Joe Calzaghe. Hopkins would lose a competitive, awkward decision after scoring a knockdown in the first round. With some wondering if that was all...
• …Hopkins, only months later, agreed to another catchweight with by then reigning, and undefeated, Middleweight Champion Kelly Pavlik. None of the judges had it a shutout. They could have. He was, at 43, just that good against a Pavlik believed advantaged by about a decade and a half. The point was made. The resume was shined up one more time. A lengthy vacation left many wondering if Hopkins might be done and a pair of ho-hum bouts with Enrique Ornelas and the ghost of Jones Jr. did little to dispel the notion. Hopkins had another idea.
• That idea turned out to be getting off the floor twice early against a Pascal almost twenty years younger and, even for those who scored it a draw, winning more rounds of the twelve than the champ. Now, in fight number eight since the Taylor losses, he faces Pascal again.
Hopkins never had a run of foes like this, in near succession, at any point in his 20s or 30s. Even granting substantial layoffs between bouts at times, Hopkins is doing it now, age 50 well in his sights. He talks about fighting a Chad Dawson, Adrian Diaconu, or Super Six winner down the road.
He talks about it seriously and is taken serious in doing so. Hopkins begs the question of how much greater he could have been in an era of greater challenges when he was a younger man.
Unanswerable, it is enough to marvel at an aging legend still taking on the best of what there is and staying among the best in this most brutal craft. To steal from a country ditty, Hopkins might not fight as much as they did in another time, but he can still fight once as good as almost anyone ever has.
But wait, there’s more…
Divisional Ratings Update: http://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=boxing-ratings
Picks of the Week: http://www.boxingscene.com/boxingscenecoms-television-picks-week--39210
Cliff’s Notes… Apparently, if one signs to fight Light Heavyweight titlist Juergen Braehmer, save the money on training camp and just go on vacation…Roy Jones is still scheduled to fight this weekend. Matching him with excellent, strong Cruiserweight Denis Lebedev should still scare anyone who ever enjoyed watching Jones at his peak…Smallville has finally come to an end and, while flawed, all Superman junkies owe a word of thanks. The show was comic book geek gold in so many ways, not least in giving fans the finest versions of Lex Luthor and Lois Lane ever set to film…Zack Snyder, it’s might be too late to replace the miscast Amy Adams with Erica Durance, but Michael Rosenbaum as Luthor could still happen in a better world…Zab Judah is no runner and a fight with Amir Khan would be outstanding stuff based on Judah’s recent form. Consider it one extra “Super” reference for the week.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]