At 51, Bernard Hopkins may have enough Executioner left in him to make it seem like old times again inside the ring.
Just about a month before he turns 52, Hopkins will fight on both his word and contractual obligation for the final time in a 28-year career when he faces 27-year-old Joe Smith Jr. in a light heavyweight bout Saturday in Los Angeles.
No one savvy enough around boxing will count out Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 KOs) for a final victory. Even as the years ticked from his late 30s to his late 40s, the days of thinking of Hopkins as a washed-up fighter sure to see his career end in a thunderous embarrassment have long ended.
“Nobody’s laughing at me anymore,” Hopkins said. “That laughing made me motivated. How do I know it’s time? I can’t find no one to laugh no more.”
Hopkins once promised his mother he’d retire at 40. He vowed to quit at 41 after he defeated Antonio Tarver in one of his greatest fights in 2006.
At 48, Hopkins scored a 12-round unanimous decision over Tavoris Cloud to become the oldest boxer to win a major title.
“I’m glad I reneged on that 10 years because I’ve added to my legacy even further,” Hopkins said. “And nobody is complaining.”
His fitness, his daily physical commitment, has allowed him to thrive long after fighters of his era have retired. Whatever he does, the mouthy Hopkins will let the world know.
“I’ve done just about everything,” Hopkins said. “People’s points are well taken on how they think. But that’s why we don’t have a lot of people that’s me.”
While never stylistically pleasing, few middleweights ever performed better than Hopkins during a 10-year reign as champ. He called himself “the reincarnation of Ray Robinson and Marvin Hagler” when he defeated Felix Trinidad on Sept. 29, 2001 in the defining fight of his Hall of Fame career.
Hopkins saw quality opponents dry up the last few years and hasn’t fought since a 12-round decision loss to Sergey Kovalev on Nov. 8, 2014.
But Hopkins never stopped pushing for that final bout. He wanted to hear the bell sound for the last time on his own terms.
“Rules don’t apply to everyone. That can go a long way. I don’t look at it as others do as Russian Roulette. Rolling the dice. I look at it as, I’m one of those exceptions to the rules. I came, I proved and I showed that my legacy is always based on what they say I couldn’t do,” Hopkins said.