Ageless Hopkins puts on masterful performance against Pavlik

Bernard Hopkins, right, delivered a performance for the ages by outclassing Kelly Pavlik on Saturday. AP Photo/Tim Larsen

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Bernard Hopkins has defied the odds his whole life.

He'll tell you that he defied the odds just by not going back to prison after serving a 4½-year stint for armed robbery.

He became middleweight champion and held his title through 20 defenses, another odds-defying accomplishment, especially when as a huge underdog he knocked out Felix Trinidad to become undisputed champion in 2001.

On and on it went for Hopkins, who fought the system throughout his career and later beat the odds again when he jumped up 15 pounds to the 175-pound light heavyweight division and toppled Antonio Tarver in a virtuoso performance to lay claim to that throne in 2006.

And now Hopkins, his legend beyond established, did it once again. He didn't just beat middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik. He laid waste to him in a stunning, one-sided unanimous decision Saturday at Boardwalk Hall, where he broke the hearts of most of the 11,332 fans who were overwhelmingly rooting for the Youngstown, Ohio, hero.

And don't forget this fact: Pavlik is 26 and in his prime. Hopkins is 43.

It was supposed to be the other way around.

But Hopkins, still the master against the student Pavlik, dominated from Round 1 through Round 12 and stamped himself as perhaps the greatest 40-plus fighter in boxing history. At the very least, he's in the conversation with light heavyweight great Archie Moore and heavyweight icon George Foreman.

The history of what Hopkins had just done was not lost on the hardened tough guy.

After the fight, but before the scores everyone knew were coming were actually read, Hopkins walked to the ropes facing the press section, looked down on the assembled media, many of whom have been covering Hopkins for many years, and said, "I'm tired of proving myself."

His lips were quivering and he was on the verge of tears, overcome by the emotion of what he had just done.

"I could box another two to three years," Hopkins said. "I think this was my best performance -- better than Tarver, better than Trinidad, better than Oscar [De La Hoya]. I am extremely happy tonight. Ninety percent of the media picked Pavlik. I always appreciate naysayers. That is what motivates me -- when people are against me. I don't wish I was like that, but that's the way it is."

Pavlik had no answers in the fight and none afterward either.

"I just couldn't get off," he said. "I don't know why. It was not his slickness. I just couldn't throw a jab, a double jab. I couldn't do what I was used to doing. We'll go back to the drawing board. It just wasn't me tonight. I will be more comfortable going back to 160."

For years, Hopkins had entered the ring wearing an executioner's mask, but he left it behind for the past few years. But Saturday, he returned to it, perhaps a sign of the execution that was to come.

In recent fights, Hopkins (49-5-1, 32 KOs) had started oh, so slowly. But against Pavlik, he started fast, outlanding and outthrowing Pavlik 34-26 in the first round. He never let up.

Hopkins threw more punches than Pavlik in nine of the 12 rounds, and outlanded him in 10 rounds. In the end, Hopkins landed 172 of 530 blows (32 percent), according to CompuBox. Pavlik connected on just 108 of 463 (23 percent).

It was an extraordinary performance for boxing's elder statesman, who won 119-106, 118-108 and 117-109. ESPN.com had it 119-107 for Hopkins.

"He's a great fighter, but I knew my style and quickness were underrated and I was going give him problems," Hopkins said. "I wanted him to lead so I could do what I love to do -- counterpunch. He kept coming forward, which was an advantage to me. He was really heavy-handed. I could feel his power, but he never hurt me. I didn't get hit flush."

Round after round, Hopkins took it to Pavlik, whose middleweight championship was not on the line because they met at contract weight of 170 pounds, five below the light heavyweight limit.

Hopkins landed combinations, gave Pavlik a mouse under his right eye and answered every time Pavlik mustered any kind of offense.

Before the eighth round, when it was already clear that Pavlik (34-1, 30 KOs) had virtually no chance to win, his manager, Cameron Dunkin, who was seated at the end of one of the media rows, acknowledged that Pavlik had nothing.

After both fighters had a point deducted by referee Benjy Esteves, Pavlik for hitting behind the head in the eighth and Hopkins for holding in the ninth, Hopkins closed the show as strong as he started.

In the 12th, he wobbled Pavlik with a booming right hand and had him on the verge of going down. All the way to the final bell, Hopkins was firing hard shots, trying to stop his man.

"I wanted to stop him because I had been playing it safe [in other fights] because of my age," he said. "I wanted to pick it up, step it up, and I really wanted to stop him. I was definitely going for the knockout, but he's tough.

"I want anyone I fight next to know I am going for the knockout. That's what I was trying to do tonight."

Hopkins, who like Pavlik earned at least $3 million, has designs on facing old nemesis Roy Jones, who beat him in a 1993 middleweight title bout.

"I would fight Roy in a heartbeat. I would even go to England and fight [Joe] Calzaghe if he beats Roy [on Nov. 8]," said Hopkins, who lost a close decision to Calzaghe in April. "But wouldn't the fight against Roy be huge?"

Although Hopkins was thinking of Jones, he was also aware of what Pavlik was going through.

After the fight, which will be replayed Saturday night (midnight ET/PT) on HBO, Hopkins went over to speak to Pavlik.

"Don't let this fight destroy you," Hopkins told him. "You're a great middleweight champion. You have a great heart. Keep your head up. Keep fighting. You have to learn one thing. You have to learn that slickness that black fighters have and then you'll really be a great champion. I don't want you to quit. If I have to go to your house and take you to the gym, I will."

It was classic Hopkins, the master, still schooling his pupil even after the fight.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.