Hopkins headed toward another milestone

If you thought Bernard Hopkins' amazing and record-breaking 2011 couldn't be any more improbable, well, you might have another thing coming.

At 46, Hopkins defied both age and history with his unanimous decision victory over Jean Pascal in May to claim the lineal light heavyweight crown, becoming the oldest fighter ever to win a world title. His next scheduled bout, a title defense against former champion Chad Dawson (30-1, 17 KOs) on Oct. 15 in Los Angeles, offers a potentially different opportunity to make history.

If Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 KOs) can outwit and outhustle a second top-rated fighter in his prime within the same calendar year, it would almost assuredly earn him enough votes to become most media outlets' 2011 fighter of the year.

Let's be clear: A victory over the highly talented yet often unspectacular Dawson is far from a given for Hopkins. Additionally, there are other candidates who have yet to close the books on their 2011 r&#233sum&#233s, including exciting bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire.

Barring any last-minute ballot stuffing, a victory for Hopkins -- who opened as the betting underdog -- should be more than enough to secure him the award.

But what's the significance?

Ring Magazine has named its choice for fighter of the year annually since 1928, and during that span five men have earned the distinction at the age of 35: Joe Brown (1961), Evander Holyfield (1997), James Toney (2003), Glen Johnson (2004) and Sergio Martinez (2010).

Who was the oldest to win the award? The honor falls to a pair of then-36-year-old fighters you might have heard of: Muhammad Ali -- who rebounded to reclaim the heavyweight title from Leon Spinks in 1978 -- and, yes, Bernard Hopkins in 2001.

It has been 10 years since Hopkins defied the odds to dramatically stop unbeaten Felix Trinidad in a middleweight title unification bout that most believed was a swan song for "The Executioner." Clearly it wasn't, as Hopkins went on to record more historically impressive victories after turning 40 than he arguably had notched in his entire career up to that point.

Hopkins now has the opportunity to capture the top two spots -- accomplished an astounding 10 years apart -- as the oldest fighter to win the equivalent of the sport's most valuable player award.

Talk about peaking late.

With his receding hairline and scraggly gray beard, Hopkins has conned many younger opponents and eager gambling enthusiasts into counting him out. But with a performance against Dawson that's anywhere near what the ageless wonder turned in against Pascal, he won't need to con anyone who gets paid to vote on the year-end awards.