Hopkins aims to school young Pascal
It has been more than 16 years since George Foreman, then 45, won the heavyweight title in a shocking upset of Michael Moorer. But Bernard Hopkins remembers the moment like it was yesterday.
"George was losing, he was busted up and people were worrying about his health," Hopkins recalled. "And out of nowhere, he throws a one-two punch and splits the guard of Moorer. And he was knocked out. Not dazed, not wobbly -- he was knocked out. Fight was over. Referee didn't have to count. And all I remember was [HBO announcer] Jim Lampley yelling, 'It happened! It happened!'"
Foreman rallied to knock out Moorer in the 10th round in that 1994 bout, becoming the oldest champion in boxing history. Hopkins (51-5-2), who turned 46 this past January, can eclipse that mark Saturday in a rematch with WBC light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal (26-1-1) in Montreal. The two fought to a debated majority draw in December.
Hopkins' promising career shift
Bernard Hopkins' pursuit to become the oldest champion in boxing history, at age 46, wouldn't have taken him this far had it not been for a broken promise.
Before the death of his mother, Shirley, in 2003, Hopkins agreed to her wishes not to fight past the age of 40, setting for himself a deadline of Jan. 14, 2005 -- the day before his 41st birthday.
Eventually, however, as he continued to improve with age -- like a fine wine -- the promise was broken.
"I felt motivated to keep going, knowing that if my mother was here -- as my sisters, who are very close to me, will recognize -- that [she would agree]," Hopkins said. "When I first made that statement, I was in my 30s, and I felt that [after turning 40] I was in my peak, knowing that I was a late bloomer.
"A promise is a promise, but I seen that I had a lot to do," Hopkins said. "And because of that broken promise, you got to see Bernard make history by beating Antonio Tarver and you got to see me make my 20 defenses. You got to see me beat [Kelly] Pavlik and beat [Jean] Pascal [in a contentious decision that was actually ruled a draw]. You got to see me have a close fight with Joe Calzaghe and twice with Jermain Taylor.
"So my promise did benefit a lot of y'all in winning bets for free dinners and free food. So you ought to give me some of that money back later on."
-- Brian Campbell
It's amazing that Hopkins is even in this position, especially when you consider it has been almost 10 years since he cemented his Hall of Fame middleweight legacy by stopping unbeaten Felix Trinidad in a fight many believed was Hopkins' last hurrah.
All he has done since then is set a division record of 20 middleweight title defenses and upset Antonio Tarver to claim the lineal light heavyweight crown. Not to mention, Hopkins claimed marquee victories along the way against Oscar De La Hoya, Winky Wright and then-undefeated Kelly Pavlik. Even Hopkins' losses during that span have been impressive, as razor-thin defeats to Joe Calzaghe and Jermain Taylor (twice) could have gone either way.
"I want to keep going as long as history is in front of me," Hopkins said. "It doesn't come to athletes all of the time. George Foreman is my hero. Breaking his record would mean that in every old folks home, my name would be next to his as one of the oldest champions in sports that won a major world title. That is important."
If the pursuit of making history is what keeps Hopkins going at 46, it's not the sole reason for his longevity. Those roots trace back 31 miles west of Philadephia, behind the walls of Graterford State Correctional Institute, where a teenaged Hopkins served five years for armed robbery.
"It came from a place that I don't promote that you should go to get wisdom, but I speak about it to help and not hurt," Hopkins said. "I did time when I was 17 in an adult prison. I learned how to fast when I didn't want to eat certain things they had on the seven-day menu. I learned to discipline myself to eat the things that I felt was good for me to eat. Obviously, there was nothing there too nutritious -- everything was steamed to blow you up and take you through the next day. But I learned to take that mentality into society and use that discipline in my occupation of boxing. I was preparing myself even then for what I'd be next."
Since then, Hopkins' discipline outside the ring has become the stuff of legend. Not only does he stay in fighting shape year round, he has avoided the drinking, smoking and late-night troubles that have derailed other fighters tempted by complacency.
"Bernard really takes good care of himself, and he stays in great shape," said boxing judge Harold Lederman, who has been ringside for many of Hopkins' fights as HBO's unofficial scorer. "He's in the gym all the time and he must be running all the time. The man is unbelievable. Every time you see him, he looks like he's 160 pounds. Who do you know that can keep their weight down like he does and can stay in that kind of shape? Then he climbs in the ring and puts on great performances."
Hall of Fame trainer and television analyst Emanuel Steward credits Hopkins' relevance at such a relatively advanced age to more than just a mastery of nutrition and conditioning.
"Bernard is always conditioned and always comes in prepared, but more so than that, he is what we call a student of the game," Steward said. "He's not just a boxer who boxes; he's the type of guy who studies and watches every fight and reads history. Some fighters I have trained, like a Jermain Taylor, don't follow the sport outside of the ring. But Bernard's knowledge of the sport and its history is so deep. He is one of the most amazing athletes I have ever seen in my life."
Although Hopkins is clearly a late bloomer -- he turned pro at 23 and took a 16-month break following his first fight -- it's his defensive style that has been most responsible for keeping the miles off his odometer. As "The Executioner" has often said himself, "When was the last time you saw Bernard Hopkins in a war?"
"That was by design and was a lesson that was told to me from a lot of great local trainers out of Philadelphia," Hopkins said. "The name of the game is to hit and not get hit. Boxing is a science; it's an art. It's not a thing where you hit, I hit and we see who gets tired first. That mindset and strategy gave me time [to last] this long."
Despite all he has accomplished along the way, Hopkins insists a victory against Pascal, 28, would be the crowning moment of his career.
"The reason why is because of my age," Hopkins said. "Age is so important to people that really watch it as a plus or negative. Because to some, age is very terrifying to face. To me, if you got a young body that you invested in and you have the knowledge of an old wise man, then you got the best of both worlds -- because there is a handicap in youth, and that is experience.
"Young fighters today think because of the high-tech world we live in that they can take a shortcut to history and success. But even though they might get in the door, they can't sustain it. They can't stay there. I want to prove that I can take any young guy and spank him like a teacher would do when he don't act correct in the classroom. I'm a teacher giving the young guys a spanking. I don't want to ruin their career; I just want to give them a spanking and let them know they have to take their time to nurture and learn before they are seasoned and they are ready."
Brian Campbell is a contributor to ESPN Mobile.
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