Tick tock, tick tock -- Bernard Hopkins is always watching the clock.
Along with the rest of us, the undisputed middleweight champion of the world
is well aware that he is 40 years old, an age that is a death sentence for
most fighters, but one that has seen Hopkins be not only relevant in the
boxing world, but on top of the game.
Want middleweight comparisons?
When Carlos Monzon turned 40, he had already been out of the ring for five
years. Marvin Hagler was a retiree for seven years as he hit the big 4-0.
Sugar Ray Robinson turned 40 in May of 1961, two months after losing a 15-round decision to Gene Fullmer for the NBA middleweight crown. Robinson
fought an amazing 44 times after turning 40, losing 10 and drawing
three times, before finally retiring at 44.
Conversely, Hopkins only plans on a handful of fights before walking off
into the sunset, and he's willing to name names - Glen Johnson, Felix
Trinidad, and Jermain Taylor. But first, he's got business to take care of
with top contender Howard Eastman on Saturday night, and to his credit, he
didn't look for an easy mark for his 20th title defense, even though he
describes Eastman as "a B-fighter."
Yet regardless of who Hopkins fights, at 40, every trek into the ring can be
a struggle. It's the law of nature, and past history proves it with rare
exception. Yet "The Executioner" refuses to turn away when the topic of age
comes up, even joking about it in a recent teleconference.
"I think that the first signs have come that I'm sliding a little bit," he
said. "I usually get up at 4:30, no later than 5 o'clock to run; I'm
getting up at 6:30 now. I'm like an hour and a half late now. But other
than that, everything is feeling great and I'm mentally and physically ready
for this fight."
Seriously, though, instead of dodging the serious question of when he's going
to start acting his age, Hopkins instead wants to use his new status as
promoter (as part of Golden Boy Promotions) to build up the fact that he's
doing something that you're just not supposed to be doing in boxing - in
effect saying, "step right up and watch the old guy -- you never know when
he's going to fall." And what greater selling point can there be for a
promotion than to push the possibility that a future Hall of Famer may get
old and lose right before your eyes?
"I turned 40 years old Jan. 15," said Hopkins, "so the only question when
I fight between now and when the end comes is, 'when is Bernard Hopkins
gonna start looking like he's 40?' I want to promote that."
It's a brilliant strategy; one of many Hopkins has pulled out of his hat
after a series of then-questionable moves had some wondering about his
business sanity. But if that past is any indication, Hopkins just seems to
know better than the rest of us about how this whole journey is going to end
up. If you need reminders, don't worry -- Hopkins has saved us the trouble
of research, and will recite, chapter and verse, where he's proved the
"He's not a good fighter," said Hopkins. "He turned out to be a great
"He won't ever get the big paydays -- he turned out to get the big paydays."
"The decisions he made in his career were wrong; he lost the lottery ticket
as Don King said with the Trinidad tournament - I wound up getting manager
of the year from the Boxing Writers Association."
"I think the best way to shut people up is to accomplish what they say you
And the best way to shut Hopkins up is to beat him, a feat that no one has
pulled off since Roy Jones Jr. turned the trick in 1993. That's almost 12
years of dominance that boxing hasn't seen in ages. Forget the quality level
of some of his opponents - every great champion has fought his share of
clunkers - the fact is, that whenever Hopkins stepped through the ropes
since 1993, he won. His fights won't end up on a "Greatest Hits" tape or win
Fight of the Year honors, but as a consummate pro, Hopkins has delivered,
and you can't argue with success, whether you like the guy or not.
"I feel that it's gonna take a helluva disciplined champion to come along to
get 20 straight title defenses in one weight class," said Hopkins. "In this
day of boxing, fighters get a few dollars, and they don't want to lose that
extra pound, don't want to stick it out like they used to, and it's gonna be
difficult. I'm proud that I've set that high standard."
But despite his resemblance to a well-oiled machine in training and in the
ring, Hopkins is human. After a career-high payday against Oscar De La Hoya
last year, a subsequent partnership with the promotional company of the
"Golden Boy," and the acceptance from the mainstream that comes along with
such accomplishments, there's got to be a letdown to fight Howard Eastman.
Plus, as the cover athlete of the video game Fight Night Round Two, Hopkins
is dealing with a jinx that has taken down Jones, NFL stars Michael Vick,
Daunte Culpepper, among others, and NHL star Dany Heatley. He can't possibly
win forever - can he?
"I approach fights like it's my last fight and I have to make a statement,"
said Hopkins. "Once you've got to the point that you've got 10-plus years
in, and you just happen to be one of the successful ones out of thousands of
fighters in your era, we've seen everything, we've heard everything, and
it's just maintaining now - maintaining my body, maintaining my mental
state, knowing that I'm still hungry and focused. That is the key, and the
talent speaks for itself; the longevity speaks for itself."
You can't argue with that, but as they say, "that's why they fight 'em," and
that's why Eastman is seen as a live underdog come Saturday night. "The
Battersea Bomber" has even been as bold to say that he will knock Hopkins
out in five rounds.
"I want to see how he reacts when I'm around after five rounds, or he'll be
out within five," said Hopkins. "So for a guy to make a statement like
that, to me it's nervous energy and it's hype talk. We need that, but you've
got to back it up. I'm not gonna run, and I'm gonna be right there. If he
knocks me out in five rounds like he thinks, then he's gonna make history.
He'd be the baddest man on the planet."
Right now Hopkins holds that crown, even though he does nothing outside the
ropes that would justify that moniker - in addition to being a husband and
father, he doesn't smoke, drink, or do drugs. You could say that outside of
his interviews, press conferences, and fights, he's downright boring. But
then again, it's also what has allowed him to be at the top level of the
sport at an age when he should be looking for another way to make a living
for the next 25 years.
"I know what it takes to be disciplined," said Hopkins. "I know what it
takes to not have; I know what it takes to wait; I know how it sounds to
have somebody say no to you or that you can't do this or you can't do that,
or that something is impossible. I overcame a lot of that and to me it
became easier as my life went on as a professional fighter because I could
always go back to (point) A. If I survived that world, then I know I can
survive this world. I believe that's what kept me mentally and physically
prepared for anything in and out of the ring - the business and the physical
part of my sport."
He is 40 years old, though, and eventually, he'll get old -- at least that's
what we keep telling ourselves - and if you look closely enough, you'll see
that Robert Allen hit Hopkins with shots in their bout last year that he
never would have taken a few years back. Even William Joppy and De La Hoya
were very much in their bouts against Hopkins in the early rounds, before
the roof caved in.
So call it intimidation, guile, or plain ol' trickery, but when Hopkins
fights, he puts opponents in enough of a trance where they won't jump on
him, hence allowing the champion to establish his own rhythm and pace. It's
like the kid who brings the ball to the playground - he gets to make the
rules, and when the game is over, he takes the ball and goes home. Hopkins
sets his pace, gets his rhythm, and he doesn't fight until he wants to
fight. And when he doesn't want to fight anymore, he breaks you down and
gets rid of you - it's not pretty, but it's brutally effective.
But what happens if Eastman, or anyone, jumps on Hopkins at the
opening bell, cracks him with a flush power shot, and establishes their own
rhythm? What happens to Hopkins then, and if he happens to lose due to this
strategy, is it old age or just a great game plan? If and when it happens,
don't expect Hopkins to blame it on his advancing age.
"If you think about it, then you become it," said Hopkins. "You get the
regular aches and pains, and you think 'maybe I'm getting old.' You don't
get old in one second or one minute - everyone is getting old."
Everyone except Hopkins, it seems, and maybe, just maybe, he won't get old
enough in a fistic sense to lose to a Howard Eastman, Glen Johnson, Jermain
Taylor, or Felix Trinidad. Maybe the hours spent under the tutelage of
Bouie Fisher in sweatbox gyms in Miami and Philadelphia will preserve him
for yet another year, where his will to win will be enough to turn back the
challenges of those who are younger, more relentless, or who punch harder.
Maybe old age and treachery does overtake youth and skill.
In any event, be assured that Bernard Hopkins, the promoter, wants you to
tune in on Saturday, because, like the lottery ad goes, "you never know."
"When I leave here, you don't know when the next Bernard Hopkins, is gonna
re-occur here, if ever," said Hopkins. "A lot of people take things for
granted until it's gone."
"Enjoy me while I'm here."