Hopkins: 'I am defending my legacy'

Bernard Hopkins, the future Hall of Famer and former middleweight and light heavyweight champion, celebrated his 48th birthday on Tuesday by being presented with a cake. There's nothing unusual about that.

What was unusual was that it was at a news conference at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., to announce his next fight, which will take place at the new $1 billion arena against light heavyweight titleholder Tavoris Cloud on March 9 in what will be Hopkins' 21st appearance on HBO (9:30 p.m. ET/PT).

"At this stage of my career I am aware that they are coming for my legacy and for my name," Hopkins told ESPN.com. "I am defending my legacy. Cloud is defending his title and trying to build his own legacy. I realize the challenge. He is going to try to end my career on March 9 and I want to extend it. I'm pushing near 50. Is that an embarrassment to the sport? What does it say about the sport that I can still do this at my age? Or am I just a unique guy?"

Whatever the answer is, Hopkins' age has been part of his story for more than a decade. This fight will be no different.

When Hopkins -- now in his 25th year as a pro fighter and about to participate in his 33rd world title fight (alphabet or lineal) -- was 36, he was supposed to be too old to deal with wrecking machine Felix Trinidad. Instead, Hopkins dominated him en route to a 12th-round knockout to unify the middleweight division and become the undisputed champion on his way to a division-record 20 defenses.

Hopkins was just getting started because he was into his 40s when he pulled off some of his greatest wins (and upsets) -- a rout of Antonio Tarver to become the lineal light heavyweight champion when Hopkins was moving up from middleweight in 2006 and his tour de force against Kelly Pavlik in 2008.

Then came maybe the most amazing post-40 win of them all, Hopkins' decision win to reclaim the light heavyweight championship against Jean Pascal in a 2011 rematch (of a draw) on Pascal's turf in Montreal.

That was the memorable fight in which Hopkins dropped down and did push-ups between rounds late in the fight to show just how much he had left while Pascal, who was 28, was on his stool sucking wind. The victory against Pascal made Hopkins, at 46, the oldest fighter in boxing history to win a world title.

"I understand that I have a blessing to not only make history once but two, three and four times. I understand you will miss me when I'm not here," Hopkins said.

Hopkins (52-6-2, 32 KOs) could have walked off into the sunset having broken heavyweight great George Foreman's record of being the oldest to win a title. But if you know Hopkins, you know that the competitive streak runs deep in him, which is why he took on a much younger and slicker Chad Dawson next. Despite his two disappointing fights with Dawson -- a two-round no decision followed by last April's clear decision loss in their rematch -- Hopkins insisted on carrying on.

The Philadelphia fighter insisted he isn't even doing it just for the money anymore, because while he is still making good money, gone are the days of the multimillion-dollar purses.

"Any money is good, but I don't got to get a dollar to punch you in the mouth," Hopkins said. "It ain't all about the money."

Hopkins has always loved his money -- he probably still has the first dollar he ever made and will proudly show off his Costco card -- but he also loves the great legacy he has carved out.

So the way Hopkins looks at it, losing a title to Dawson just opened the door for him to add to his legacy. He can fight for another title and put his record even further out of reach at age 48 if he can upset Cloud (24-0, 19 KOs), a hard-punching, prime 31-year-old from Tallahassee, Fla., who will be making his fifth title defense.

"Nobody else is going to break that record while I am living on this Earth, so I might as well break it myself, because I don't see anyone else doing it," Hopkins said. "I might as well go and raise the bar even higher and make it that much more out of reach. Nobody's gonna break that record other than me right now, so I might as well do it."

He will try to pull off yet another upset.

"Who is going to run from a 48-year-old man? Cloud isn't going to run," Hopkins said. "He's going to fight. I'm going to be the professor and teach him his ABCs. I have never been the favorite in anything in my life, no matter what I've done. I would rather be the underdog than the favorite."

It remains to be seen what Hopkins can still do. He is slower now. His defense isn't quite as impenetrable as it once was. He can't fight for a full three minutes of each round. He's never been a big puncher. And the old bones are a lot creakier now.

But Hopkins simply cannot keep from boxing. He has a confession to make: Despite happiness in his personal life -- a solid marriage with a 15-year-old daughter and a baby son -- Hopkins has a mistress.

Her name is "Boxing."

"I'm in love with what I do," he said. "I'm in love with boxing. Maybe I should get over it someday. For many, many years I know I've reached the mountain that I fought for. I should be satisfied."

But he is not.

"I'm in love with it. That's the problem. I'm a boxing addict," he said. "I train when I don't even have no fight. Not like every day, maybe three or four days a week. I do different things. It's my lifestyle. I've been doing it for 28 years [including his amateur days]. If I stop, I believe I will fall apart. I would feel so miserable."

When the suggestion was made that he could continue to train and stay in shape and do all of the things he does in his routine but simply not actually fight, he was quiet for a few moments -- a miracle if you know BHop.

"I could do all that but it ain't competing," he finally said. "I'm a competitor and it's an addiction."

It's not one he wants to break, even though intellectually he knows the end is near. He talks about beating Cloud and then going on to unify titles.

"But there's some serious thought that it's time to pack it in," he said. "I know I can't box forever. I don't want to be a circus act. I've seen too many fighters who have been that. I damn sure don't want to be a gate keeper for anybody. It would be a disservice for me to go on if I don't win this fight."

Dan Rafael is a boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.