by Kevin Iole
No professional athlete, let alone a boxer, can last for 24 years at the pinnacle of the business without great genes, good fortune and a competitive streak that runs deeper than any normal person could possibly understand.
Former middleweight and light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins turned 48 on Tuesday, the same day he announced he would fight Tavoris Cloud on March 9 in Brooklyn, N.Y., for a 175-pound title.
The bout with Cloud will come nearly two full years after Hopkins set perhaps the most unbreakable record in sports when he became, at 46 years, four months and six days, the oldest world champion in boxing history.
Bernard Hopkins, 48, will continue to make history March 9 in Brooklyn, NY. (Getty Images)But if, as expected, Hopkins beats Cloud, he will regain a world title at 48 years, one month and 23 days.
Hopkins’ training discipline is legendary. When he was released from a Pennsylvania prison in 1988 after serving a bit more than five years on a strong-arm robbery conviction, he vowed he would never go back and would turn his life around.
He has done each, and actually has been on the good side longer than he was on the bad side.
It is his disdain for losing, though, that drives him to greatness at even such an advanced age. He dropped a majority decision to Chad Dawson last April in a highly competitive fight.
It was an extraordinary performance by a 47-year-old against one of the sport’s young elites, but Hopkins took no joy in coming close.
“That was so tough for me to take that I didn’t have sex with my wife for six months,” Hopkins said. “I didn’t want to do anything. It’s just a thing where, I hate to lose. I hate to lose at anything. I’m a guy who is very competitive. To lose, to me, is devastating. It was especially so knowing I could have done things I had worked on and trained for.
He’s one of the great fighters of this, or any era, and has accomplished more than he had any reason to believe when he lost his pro debut a month before George H.W. Bush was elected president.
He concedes he’s no longer the athlete he once was and has to make concessions to his age.
As he plowed through his 30s and rolled past his 40th birthday, he growled at anyone who would suggest he may be limited by his age. He openly admits that he isn’t the same physically, which makes his success in the ring all the more remarkable.
“You lose something every year,” Hopkins said. “Every year, some fighters lose two points, some lose three points and some lose five points. Every year as the page turns and it’s a new year and you’re a year older, you do lose a percentage of yourself. That’s just the way and the nature of life. Some deteriorate quicker than others, though.”
Hopkins held off his deterioration because he thought about it long ago. He treats his body as a shrine, and has for years. There is no offseason when it comes to dieting and eating right. He doesn’t drink, smoke, do drugs or even indulge in high-fat food.
His defensively oriented style hasn’t always won him raves as the most exciting boxer, but he’s managed to avoid taking serious punishment. He’s fought some of the greats, including Roy Jones Jr., Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad and Antonio Tarver, among others, and he’s never been beaten up.
Beaten, yes. But beaten up? Not even close.
He could have been, had he wanted to or, more importantly, needed to, another Arturo Gatti, a legendary brawler who was willing to take five to give one in order to win a fight.
Hopkins (52-6-2, 32 KOs) didn’t fight that way because he trained maniacally, studied the sport intently and lived boxing. He did nothing that would negatively impact his body and his potential as a boxer.
That’s allowed him to be competitive as he hits the stretch run for his 50th birthday. It was inconceivable just a few years ago that any boxer could compete at a high level at 50.
Bernard Hopkins, left, lost his last fight, an April 2012 bout against Chad Dawson. (AP)
As his reflexes, speed and quickness diminish just a bit, it makes it harder to compete against slick fighters such as Dawson. But an aggressive, attacking opponent such as Cloud (24-0, 19 KOs) remains perfectly suited for him.
“I’m prepared for war like I was when I was 25,” he said. “I’ll be prepared just like I was when I was 35. I know my body will take that, if I need to do it. I know that mentally and physically, I’m preserved enough that I’ll be able to withstand anything that a storm will bring in that ring.
“You’ll see a technician in the ring. Styles make fights and this is the perfect style for me at this point. This ain’t Chad Dawson. It ain’t a guy 6-2, 6-3, tall, rangy, where you have to set up shots. It became a fight that wasn’t exciting. This one? It will be. This is perfect for me. I’m 48. You know he ain’t going to be running from no 48-year-old man. He’s coming to fight and I can’t wait.”
The fight with Cloud, though, is just the beginning. As competitive as Hopkins is, and as close as he is to 50, there is little doubt that in 2015, the 50-year-old Bernard Hopkins will be fighting for some sort of title.
It’s nothing other than amazing.