Hopkins out to silence critics, Pascal
Before Bernard Hopkins challenged then-light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver in June 2006, he insisted that, win or lose, it would be his final fight. Throughout the promotion, Hopkins played up his impending retirement.
After Hopkins pulled the upset with a dominant decision in which he knocked Tarver down and won a near-shutout, he indeed retired at age 41, having accomplished so much in his obvious Hall of Fame-worthy career: undisputed middleweight champion; a division-record 20 middleweight title defenses; and, with the win over Tarver, the lineal light heavyweight championship -- not to mention tens of millions of dollars in purses.
Not long after the win against Tarver, Golden Boy Promotions threw Hopkins a swanky retirement party at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and he walked off into the sunset.
But Hopkins was restless in retirement. He picked weeds in his yard. Mowed the lawn. Washed his car. Sorted through mementos he had collected during his career.
He was doing all that less than a month after the fight. A few months later, Hopkins decided to end his retirement.
He has no regrets, reasoning: "If I would have stuck to my promise, you would have never got to eat crow. You would have never got to write about the night in Atlantic City [in 2008 when he upset Kelly Pavlik]. After the Tarver fight, I could have easily stepped aside. You're absolutely right. But look what you all would have been denied of. You would have never got the chance to see the [six] fights that happened after the Tarver fight."
In the four years since ending the retirement, "The Executioner" has fought five times, going 4-1. He beat Winky Wright, whitewashed Pavlik in the stunning upset and easily outpointed Enrique Ornelas in December 2009 and Roy Jones Jr. in their April rematch. Hopkins' only loss since unretiring was a split decision to Joe Calzaghe in a 2008 fight that many thought Hopkins won.
And now, just a few weeks shy of his 46th birthday on Jan. 15, retirement isn't on his mind.
After Hopkins beat Jones, he was upset when some, including Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, suggested he might want to think about calling it a day. But Hopkins has always been his own man, and he ain't done yet.
He's made a career out of proving people wrong -- remember the upsets against Felix Trinidad to become undisputed middleweight champ and the ones against Tarver and Pavlik? -- and he's looking to do it again.
Hopkins (51-5-1, 32 KOs) will be an underdog again -- although not nearly as much of a long shot as he was in those other fights -- when he challenges champion Jean Pascal (26-1, 16 KOs) on Saturday night (Showtime, 10 ET/PT) at the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City.
With a victory, Hopkins, who is fighting on Pascal's home turf in front of what is expected to be a sellout crowd of more than 16,000, would become the oldest fighter in boxing history to win a major world championship.
"Bernard is a historian. I see additional motivation in him," said Naazim Richardson, Hopkins' trainer. "He is very interested in increasing the quality of his legacy, and that is what this fight will do."
Pascal, however, is very confident. He believes he will finish Hopkins' illustrious career.
"It's time to take on the legendary future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins and finally send him into his well-deserved retirement," Pascal said. "He's an old fox, but I'm the young wolf. He may be the master, but I am the commander. I know he may have more experience than any fighter out there, but I will show the world once again exactly why I am top dog in my division."
If Hopkins did win, he would be even older than George Foreman was when he regained the heavyweight title by knocking out Michael Moorer in a massive upset in 1994.
"I'm here because my body still can do it," Hopkins said. "I'm here because I did the things that I was supposed to do early [in my career] to be able to be here now. Making history; George Foreman; being the oldest champion; making, breaking and shattering records -- to me, that's one of the reasons I'm in this game. I like making history."
Hopkins will be 45 years and 337 days old when he faces Pascal as the oldest title challenger in boxing history, which will make him 38 days older than Foreman was when he reclaimed the heavyweight title.
"The difference between me and Foreman is that most people didn't think Foreman could do it. He was the underdog of all underdogs when he faced Moorer," Hopkins said. "Not only do people think I can win, they think I can win big, and I plan on proving them right.
"I get a chance to be the oldest fighter in history to win a title. I get to continue to make history. How many times can an athlete do that?"
"Nobody gave Bernard a chance against Tito Trinidad. Nobody gave him a chance against Antonio Tarver and nobody gave him a chance against Kelly Pavlik," Schaefer said. "He proved everyone wrong. He did it again and again and keeps doing it. Here he is, 28 days from his 46th birthday. He is trying to rewrite history yet again. He is going to prove everyone wrong. All of you out there, I give you one piece of advice: Never bet against this man."
The 27-year-old Pascal, who made a big impression on the international stage when he upset Chad Dawson in August, is 18 years younger than Hopkins. He intends show that youth will prevail.
"I don't see a legend in the ring; I see a piece of meat, and I'm a hungry dog," Pascal said. "This is my time. I belong with the elite boxers. To be the best in the world, you have to face the best. Bernard Hopkins is a legend. Bernard knows what time it is. It's about time for a new era.
"I'm the new kid on the block. I am looking to leave my teeth marks in Bernard Hopkins. I am a hungry wolf and I need red meat, and I am looking forward to destroying and devouring Hopkins.
"Bernard said he was going to school me like he schooled Kelly Pavlik. I went to high school and I didn't make good grades, I made great grades. I went to college and I have a diploma."
Despite the vast age difference, it's meaningless to Hopkins, who has been the older man in his fights time and again.
"Youth doesn't bother me," he said. "I have faced youth. Pascal hasn't faced someone like me. He hasn't faced a legend. He is hosting me in his country, on his turf, defending his title. He has a lot to be nervous about on top of the fact that when he looks in the opposite corner on fight night, he is going to see greatness. I can only add to my legacy. I can only continue to make history and back up what I have already accomplished.
"Saturday night you will see something unique. A 45-year-old man in a young man's body is an amazing thing. I am here to prove that I can still compete and that I am something special."
Although some have called for Hopkins to retire, his view is: Why should he?
"I think walking away because of my age would be a disservice to what I have to bring to boxing, especially after this sort of down time," Hopkins said.
He is sick of people always asking him when he will retire.
"It's something that people say, 'When is he going to retire?' The ring retires fighters. You've heard that many times, and that is true," he said. "Boxers don't retire from the ring. Whether it's good or bad, the ring has to retire the fighter from the boxing ring. If somebody literally kicked my ass in the ring to the point where I can look in the mirror and tell myself that I'm going to retire because I can't do it any more physically, I should do it because I'm 45."
Although Hopkins' defense-oriented style hasn't always been crowd-pleasing, he usually finds a way to win. In his 22-year professional career, Hopkins has never been truly beaten up.
All five of his losses came by decision. He dropped a four-round majority decision in his pro debut to Clinton Mitchell in 1988. Jones outpointed him for a vacant middleweight title in a 1993 fight in which both men were extremely cautious and inflicted no damage on each other. He lost debatable back-to-back decisions (one a split decision) in middleweight title fights to Jermain Taylor in 2005. And he lost to Calzaghe.
"No one ever had to write that I got my ass handed to me in any fight out of [almost] 60 fights," Hopkins said. "That's not bragging. That's the facts.
"I think the focus should not be about my age. I think the point should be: 'You know what? Let's enjoy this thing while we can because, you know what? Who is going to be around in the near future this long and accomplish what this man has accomplished?'
"It ain't nothing that I'm doing that's special. It's just I'm a different breed and I'm cut from a different cloth."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.