Hopkins knocks out Father Time in championship run
Nov. 07, 2014
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Two months shy of 50, Bernard Hopkins is closing in on the era of his life when he should be thinking about AARP membership. Maybe retire and move to Florida for good with the rest of the Baby Boomers.
Or perhaps Hopkins can push aside the rocking chair for one more fight and sustain the drive he's had simmering inside him for nearly three decades. Hopkins has laid the smack down on Father Time with more authority than he's ever punished a fighter in the ring.
He was better known during championship reigns as "The Executioner," a catchy nickname he crafted for intimidation, not earned because of the careers he killed after scores of fighters were unable to solve his cunning, subtle style.
Outthink, outwork, outhustle.
He's the Old Man Winner of his sport, making even greats like Jersey Joe Walcott or Joe Louis look like rookies for fighting only deep into their 30s. And he's not going away.
Neither is his wit. With the challenger-of-the-month club not providing much of a challenge of late, Hopkins has had more fun sparring with the media that cram his workouts at Joe Hand's Gym.
Hopkins turns into a human rain delay with one recent interview, holding off a Q&A by tapping a tape recorder to make sure it's on before he leans in and starts asking questions that he's heard for the better part of a decade.
"Bernard, how do you look? Bernard, how do you do it? Bernard, how long are you going to keep fighting? Bernard, why haven't you retired yet?"
Hopkins leans back with a smile, satisfied with his own amusement.
"I just say sit back and enjoy the ride," he said.
Hopkins' next stop comes Saturday night in Atlantic City when he faces the knockout-happy Russian Sergey Kovalev in a unification bout with three of the light heavyweight world titles at stake. Kovalev is 25-0-1 with an astonishing 23 KOs and stands tall as a 3-1 favorite in the HBO fight.
It would make for a fantastic Hollywood story: The aging Philly fighter vs. the Russian juggernaut.
All that's missing is James Brown.
"We have a statue of Rocky and he ain't real," Hopkins said of the fictional Philly champ. "What I'm doing, they couldn't write in a movie. No one would believe it. That guy? That old guy? C'mon, man, he can't win! That statue is a symbol. But I'm the walking, talking, living champion."
He still breathes life into a sport in dire need of personalities and big bouts.
And he does it his way.
Hopkins, who turns 50 on Jan. 15, has eschewed booze, desserts and any desire to retire on anyone's terms but his own. He credited a strict diet that never strayed into dalliances with fast food or chain restaurants that could pack unwanted pounds on a stomach as hardened as his resolve to keep training.
On one recent visit, Hopkins said his menu during training looked like this: egg whites, hash browns, oatmeal and a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice for breakfast; pasta with olive oil and garlic, a cup of vegetable soup, garlic bread, and two glasses of sparkling water for lunch.
After about a 15-minute walk, a film session, and rest, he'll have salmon, broccoli rabe and mashed potatoes (hold the butter) for dinner.
Hopkins did most of his own cooking until fight week, when he used a personal chef for the final training days in Atlantic City.
"I will never let falling out of shape defeat me," Hopkins said.
Hopkins, the oldest world champion in boxing history, was defeated twice by Jermain Taylor and failed to win two fights against Chad Dawson. But ask Hopkins about the toughest fighter he's faced in a surefire Hall of Fame career and it's not those two. Or Oscar De La Hoya. Or Félix Trinidad or Antonio Tarver.
"Antwun Echols was a a real tough guy, a really heavy-handed puncher," Hopkins said.
"And he hit you on the break," Hopkins' trainer Naazim Richardson said.
"Yeah, he did," Hopkins said, "but that's OK.
"Tavoris Cloud wasn't a bad puncher. He just never got a good, solid connection on me," Hopkins said.
Richardson nods in agreement as he tapes Hopkins' hands before a sparring session. Richardson, who has sat ringside for Hopkins since the 1990s, knows the ins and outs of Hopkins maybe better than Hopkins himself.
Richardson may truly serve as the magician behind Hopkins' magic. What does Hopkins really get these days out of their working relationship?
"This guy? Nothing," Hopkins said, before he hopped in the ring.
"Man, I'm just trying to go to dinner with him," Richardson quipped.
Hope he likes salmon.
Without even a speck of doubt that Hopkins will win, Richardson was wary of the 31-year-old Kovalev, calling him a "big, young kid who hasn't been intimidated."
"I've only seen him what I call nervous one time ever," Richardson said. "That was because of the position, not the fight. The Robert Allen fight (in 2004) led to the Oscar De La Hoya fight. In that fight, he didn't want nothing to go wrong. He didn't want nothing to mess with that De La Hoya fight."
Never a stylistically crowd-pleasing fighter, Hopkins hasn't knocked out an opponent since De La Hoya in September 2004.
"This guy made me think, made me overconfident that I was fighting this old man," De La Hoya said. "He made me think, if I get by training camp, I don't have to do extra, I don't have to run extra miles, I don't have to train harder. I can take this guy on, he's older than me."
"Psychologically, he made me complacent. He made me cruise by."
Hopkins and Richardson have privately discussed a retirement plan, though it won't come soon. Hopkins wants to fight at 50 with a title around his waist. He is a minority partner with De La Hoya in Golden Boy Promotions. And with his motormouth, a career in broadcasting certainly looms.
"He's done everything in this sport but lose badly," Richardson said. "I've told him to leave the sport before he goes through that."
Whenever it comes, Hopkins' retirement is the day boxing will lose badly.