If there's anything more impressive about the career of Bernard Hopkins than the fact that he continues to competently challenge for world titles while closing in on 50, it might be the reality of the ageless wonder's noteworthy victories.
Nearly all of them during Hopkins' 25-year run as a professional have come after the age of 36 -- and more often than not, Hopkins was counted out as the old-man underdog heading into the bout.
Not a bad way to work through a mid-life crisis, eh?
But if you dig a little further, there's an even deeper reality to Hopkins' résumé as the 48-year-old prepares for his March 9 bout against unbeaten light heavyweight titlist Tavoris Cloud (9:30 p.m. ET, HBO) at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Hopkins hasn't just conquered the majority of marquee names he has faced during his incomparable twilight, he has outlasted the careers of just about all of them. That fact caught even Hopkins off-guard as he digested the murderers' row of opponents he has faced who are no longer active fighters: Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya, Jermain Taylor, Antonio Tarver, Winky Wright, Joe Calzaghe and Kelly Pavlik. (And Hopkins quickly added: "Realistically, Roy Jones is not around either.")
"Shhh! Shhh! Don't tell them!" Hopkins said after each name was read. "I didn't keep the numbers attached with the names, but now that you point that out -- especially with me being the underdog in all those fights -- I really have a motivation to prove a person's opinion wrong, even though they're entitled to have it."
The reasons Hopkins is still able to compete physically against fighters nearly half his age have been thrown around for nearly a decade -- from his spartan diet and dedication to fitness to his defensive style, which has protected him from punishment. But Hopkins' internal motivation for soldiering on remains tied to three simple words -- "You'll be back" -- that were spoken to Hopkins as he exited prison in 1988.
"I'm still scorned by the warden who told me that when I was walking down that hall, with the box in my hand with my belongings as I was being led out to a Greyhound bus to get dropped off in Philadelphia," said Hopkins, who served five years of an 18-year sentence for strong armed robbery. "No matter how old I get, there is nothing that was as hard as walking into the city with a GED and 30 felonies and nobody trusting me to work in their store. I'm motivated by 'Throw the key away, he's finished.'"
That motivation may be enough to get Hopkins out of bed each morning, but in the end, it's no help to a 48-year-old body that still must endure the physical pounding of sparring and training camp. Hopkins admits to waking up in his easy chair the morning after a tough workout, with his boxing shoes still on, often saying to himself, "What the hell am I doing sparring with these young guys?"
There also have been a few responses from his body that have been, well, unexpected -- everything from random sweats on a 20-degree day to swinging mood changes.
"I didn't know a man could have hot flashes!" Hopkins said. "I went to my doctor, and he said, 'Bernard, you are 48. How long are you going to keep doing this?' He checks me out to make sure I'm cool, and I say, 'Listen, I feel like I'm getting hot, man, like I'm sweating.' And he says it's called 'manopause.' What the hell? I told him I heard of menopause, but manopause? So I told him, 'Aw s---.'
"I know ain't too many 48-year-old guys feel like me and are able to be a boxer on this level, at my age. It's astonishing. But that's maintenance -- it takes time and discipline to do that every day, year after year. And guess what? We know how Lance Armstrong is doing it, and we know how other people are doing it. But for me, I know what I eat and [know] anything that goes in my body. I don't have this doctor or fitness guy or fantasy guy who made me this unique drink. I cook my own food and sometimes wash the dishes, too."
Part of what keeps Hopkins going is the simple fact that he knows he can still perform at the highest level -- that when he and trainer Nazim Richardson analyze the world's top 10 175-pounders, they still see at least seven names they are assured he can beat.
"If I get the opportunity and if it's worth anything to TV, I can unify the light heavyweight titles after March 9," Hopkins said. "But you need people to make that happen, to see if 'The Old Troublemaker' -- they call me 'The Executioner,' but it should be 'The Old Troublemaker' -- can trouble up the light heavyweight division. Because when March 9 comes, I don't want to eat my own words. I want to tell people that if they thought they seen something when I fought Kelly Pavlik, I want to outdo that. Maybe I'm chasing something that's not there anymore. But guess what? I'm giving it a million percent."