BERNARD HOPKINS — He’s 51 and closing in on “it’s about time for me to leave.” He remembers the Jimmy Carter years, would probably be gray if he had any hair, and if he forgets where he left his car keys once in a while, well, when you get to his age, things start to disappear unexpectedly.
The long-running saga of Bernard Hopkins started in 1988 with his first pro fight, a majority decision loss to Clinton Mitchell. Twenty-eight years and more than 60 fights later, he’s still earning a paycheck the hard way. If there was a mandatory retirement age in the fight game, Hopkins would have ridden off into the sunset 10 or 15 years ago. Instead, he’s like the neighborhood bully who is always looking for a fight. And it’s funny how he keeps finding them.
Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 KOs) is scheduled to fight Joe Smith Jr., (22-1, 18 KOs) in a 12-round light-heavyweight fight on Dec. 17 at the Forum in Los Angeles. The fight will be televised live on HBO World Championship Boxing and is being presented by Oscar De La Hoya and Golden Boy Promotions. It’s a chance to see if there is still anything resembling a spark in the Hopkins furnace.
“I know Hopkins isn’t a fighter who is going to turn old overnight,” De La Hoya said at a recent media workout in Philadelphia promoting the fight. “I don’t think that’s going to happen to Hopkins. I see him as a guy, 51 years old, still doing this because he can, because he takes care of himself. I think he’ll be more than ready for this fight.”
Ready in what way, that he’ll go the distance again? That’s not a win, that’s an episode of “Survival,” another sleeper, a nasty habit Hopkins can’t seem to shake.
Still, along with an ability to slip punches and avoid any kind of serious contact with leather, Hopkins’ biggest asset might be attrition. While most fighters come and go, Hopkins came and stayed. He’s outlasted the top fighters in the world if you don’t count Roy Jones Jr.
So just how long has it been since Hopkins stopped anyone in the ring? The last time he made it a short night was when he KOed De La Hoya back in September of 2004. That’s been 17 fights spread out over 12 years without a knockout. For most fighters, that’s a career. For Hopkins, that’s a stretch of bumpy road.
Funny thing about age. It has no sense of humor. It likes to sneak up behind you and slap you across the back of the head when you’re not looking. Suddenly, you’re 10 years older than you were yesterday.
In his prime, Hopkins was a damn good fighter. Unfortunately, his prime started slipping away 15 years ago. Now in his AARP years, he’s more of a sideshow than a main event.
You get the feeling Hopkins knows it’s retirement time better than anyone. Both he and De La Hoya are saying this is his last fight, that it’s time to step away. De La Hoya even joked that Hopkins signed a contract that states, “I promise this is my last fight.”
Sure it is.
“I feel this is the right time,” Hopkins said. “I’m glad I reneged on that (planned retirement) ten years ago because I’ve added to my legacy even further, and no one is complaining.”
We don’t want to hurt the old man’s feelings.
Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel