By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Leave it to Bernard Hopkins.
Though you’d think a 48-year-old challenging a 31-year-old to a fight would want all the new-school training gimmicks he could find, the career contrarian from Philadelphia has a different plan.
And its genesis, you ask?
Why a Southeast Pennsylvania retirement home, of course.
There, while paying a visit to former Philly-based light heavyweight champion Harold Johnson – who himself fought until age 42 – Hopkins stumbled upon a regimen that’s already served him well as he’s approached the foothills of yet another would-be 175-pound mountain climb.
Hopkins will meet unbeaten IBF title-holder Tavoris Cloud on March 9 in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“There were 13 or 15 older people in chairs sitting around a table with a therapist,” Hopkins said, “and they were working on their reflexes by playing a game with a tennis ball. They had to juggle the ball without looking at their hands, and they couldn’t let the ball fall to the floor.
“When I left that day I kept thinking of that ball and how I’d be able to work it into my training, because I know how important it is to work on my reflexes and keep them intact. Because even I can admit I’m not the same guy physically that I was in my 20s or even my 30s. I’ve got to work on it.”
The initial work wasn’t entirely without issues.
“I was lousy at it,” he said. “I tried to run and bounce the ball at the same time and I’d kick it around and have to chase after it. I was running around the track at Temple University and I looked like an idiot.”
Eventually, Hopkins and conditioning coach Danny Davis concocted a routine where the two would run side by side and toss the ball back and forth in full stride, which forced the aging challenger – a veteran of 30 title fights since 1993 – to react quickly to determine the ball’s path and catch it.
They upped the ante by making it a cash game, docking the one with the most drops by $50 or $100.
“We don’t throw it right at each other. That wouldn’t make any sense,” Hopkins said. “You never know where it’s going to go. Now I’m grabbing it over my head and under my leg. I’m a competitive guy. I don’t like to lose. And I don’t like to give money away either.”
If Hopkins has his way, the reflex work will ensure he won’t give rounds away against the habitually aggressive Cloud, who averaged 59.3 punches per round – and landed 12.25 – while winning a split 12-round decision over Gabriel Campillo in his last fight on Feb. 18.
Two months later, Hopkins threw just 33.3 punches per round – landing 8.83 – in a majority 12-round loss to WBC claimant Chad Dawson at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
“There’s no mistake about what he’s trying to do,” Hopkins said. “He’s a guy who’s going to come out and try to punch the hell out of you and try to knock you out. People tell me, ‘Either you're a bad-ass or you're crazy.’ And I realize that I'm a little bit of both. Thing is, you're always vulnerable when you go to a shootout. But I'm gonna show him that I've got my guns, too.”
A defeat of Cloud would continue Hopkins on what he insists will be the final quest of his career – unifying the light heavyweight division before he reaches age 50, two years from today.
That would presumably mean a subsequent fight with unbeaten Welshman Nathan Cleverly, who’s held the WBO share of the 175-pound crown since 2011.
Oscar De La Hoya, founder of the promotional company for which Hopkins also works, recently referred to a fight with Cleverly as “very possible” in 2013.
“Years ago, when you referred to the era with Roy Jones Jr. and James Toney, I was always the third child in that house. The one that didn’t get the attention,” Hopkins said.
“(Unifying the titles) would give me another chance to come back, break records and make history again, because I know that I won’t be able to keep doing it forever. When the book closes, I will have given myself all the chances to change that conversation.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBO/WBA middleweight titles – New York, N.Y.
Gennady Golovkin (champion) vs. Gabriel Rosado (No. 9 IBO/No. 15 WBA contender)
Golovkin (24-0, 21 KO): Third IBO title defense; Eleven straight wins by stoppage (35 total rounds)
Rosado (21-5, 13 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten since 2010 (7-0, 5 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Challenger deserves credit for accepting the task and he’ll give it a go, but he’s likely too small to handle the streaking middleweight wrecking machine.” Golovkin in 9
WBO junior lightweight title – New York, N.Y.
Roman Martinez (champion) vs. Juan Carlos Burgos (No. 1 contender)
Martinez (26-1-1, 16 KO): First title defense (second reign); Held WBO title (2009-10, two defenses)
Burgos (30-1, 20 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Unbeaten since 2010 (5-0, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Burgos has the edge in significant wins and has been since successful since failed featherweight shot in 2010. Looks like he gets it done here.” Burgos by decision
WBO featherweight title – New York, N.Y.
Orlando Salido (champion) vs. Miguel Angel Garcia (No. 1 contender)
Salido (39-11-2, 27 KO): Third title defense; Five straight wins by stoppage (40 total rounds)
Garcia (30-0, 26 KO): First title fight; Eight straight wins by stoppage (51 total rounds)
Fitzbitz says: “At some point, the veteran champion might go back to looking like an 11-loss fighter, but it won’t be here against a foe with nice numbers, but less big-fight mettle.” Salido in 10
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder -- no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week’s picks: 1-0
2013 picks record: 1-0 (100.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 374-121 (75.5 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.