by David P. Greisman
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — It didn’t begin that far from here, and yet it’s been a long journey for Bernard Hopkins.
It began at the Resorts Casino in Atlantic City on Oct. 11, 1988. If you’d been in the stands that night, you would have seen Hopkins lose his pro debut to Clinton Mitchell, an opponent who at the time was just as unknown.
You would not have foreseen what, and where, Hopkins would be — 25 years and 15 days later, headlining in Boardwalk Hall just a mile’s stroll down the boardwalk from Resorts Casino, scoring his 54th pro victory with a unanimous decision over Karo Murat.
You would not have predicted that Hopkins would go on to win a world title at middleweight in 1995, defending it over the next 10 years with 19 wins and 1 no contest.
You would not have predicted that Hopkins would become the undisputed champion at 160 pounds, knocking out Felix Trinidad in front of a hostile crowd at New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 2001.
You would not have even remembered the 23-year-old who left the ring with the 0-1 record.
You cannot help but remember Hopkins now, the 48-year-old man whose every win is another entry in the record books.
This win over Murat wasn’t the most significant, not in terms of the level of opponent. But it did break another record previously held by George Foreman. Hopkins’ win over Tavoris Cloud in March made him the oldest person to win a world title. Saturday’s victory made him the oldest person to defend a world title.
The scorecards read 119-108 (twice) and 117-110. That’s not to say that it was easy for Hopkins — at least not at first.
Hopkins allowed Murat to be the aggressor in the opening rounds. Maybe he was sizing up his opponent. Maybe he was starting slow, as has become his custom. Maybe it was a combination of both. Either way, Hopkins sought to make Murat miss early but still got hit while moving away.
Murat got overconfident, sending out a right hand and a left hook early in the third that missed by miles. Hopkins needed to send a message, and he began to come forward at Murat, sending out lead right hands that landed.
Murat had won the first and third round on judge Benoit Roussel’s scorecard, and the second round on the cards of judges Julie Lederman and Joseph Pasquale. That would nearly be it for him.
Hopkins landed counter left hooks in the fourth, and the veteran boxer — with 25 years of pro experience and far less sign of wear and tear given his time in the sport — also set up lead right hands that landed well.
Murat still landed a pair of left hooks at the end of the fourth. They didn’t bother Hopkins. Hopkins was beginning to bother Murat, though. They clinched in the fifth round, and Hopkins ended up behind Murat and planted a kiss to the back of his head. That same round, with the men again facing each other, Hopkins stuck his tongue out. Murat retaliated by hitting Hopkins after the bell. Hopkins responded with a right hand.
That wasn’t it for the dirty stuff. Murat tossed Hopkins to the canvas in the sixth and landed a couple of punches. In the seventh, Murat hit Hopkins with a jab on the break. The referee, Steve Smoger, docked a point from him.
Those fouls weren’t the only shots of note that Murat was landing. Nevertheless, while Murat was trying to send a message by landing dirty, Hopkins was sending a message by landing cleanly. There was the lead left hook in the seventh that hurt Murat. There were the right hands in the eighth that opened a cut over Murat’s eye. And Hopkins decided to add a mental attack to his physical one. In the eighth, he turned around and went to Murat’s corner, turning his head and talking to them, then turning back toward Murat, taking some punches, ducking others, striking back and catching Murat hard enough to make him hold.
This was the same Hopkins who had once done push-ups after a good round against Jean Pascal.
Hopkins was more active and more accurate than his 30-year-old opponent. CompuBox credited Hopkins with landing 247 of 565 punches, a 44 percent connect rate, including 184 of 373 power shots, or 49 percent, nearly one landing for every two thrown.
Murat, meanwhile, was 147 of 486, a 30 percent connect rate, going 120 of 336, or 36 percent, with his power shots. According to CompuBox, Murat threw 54 percent fewer punches and landed 50 percent fewer shots than he did in his 10th round technical knockout loss to Nathan Cleverly in 2010 and his controversial rematch draw with Gabriel Campillo in 2011.
Murat only got one more round from one more judge — the ninth, from Benoit Roussel.
The judges didn’t give Murat much credit, though Hopkins gave him some.
“He’s a No. 1 contender, and if you become the No. 1 contender you have to work to get there,” Hopkins said afterward. “He’s a good fighter. He’ll give anyone in the division a good fight.
“I trained like he was the best opponent I ever faced,” he said. “I felt like I threw more punches. They told me I have to be a crowd-pleaser. Sure, I took a little bit of blood, but that’s what they want to see. I felt like I was in control of the fight the whole night.”
Hopkins started at 0-1 in Atlantic City. He will leave this latest trip to Atlantic City with a record of 54-6-2 and 32 knockouts.
Murat, a 30-year-old resident of Germany, falls to 25-2-1 with 15 KOs.