The word legend gets thrown around too easily in boxing. Anyone who has won a championship in multiple weight classes seems to qualify for that term. Legends are fairytale figures, or Paul Bunyan type of heroes. They are not supposed to have many flaws. Nobody is perfect in this sport that we love, not even Bernard Hopkins. The man missing two front teeth old enough to live comfortably in a retirement home is the best light heavyweight boxer in the world. When he defeated Jean Pascal via unanimous decision on Saturday, May 21st in Montreal, Canada to become the oldest fighter to win a championship, the legend aura already surrounded him.
It would not have mattered if he lost to the young Canadian because Hopkins at 46 had already lived up to his mythical title. On that night, the legend, the Executioner, became the Boxing Master.
His mere presence in the ring at such a tired age is to most mortal humans an accomplishment in and of itself. But the fact that he is competing at an elite level against fighters that were 17 years younger, like Kelly Pavlik in 2008, and 18 years younger just like Jean Pascal, is downright fascinating. Did I mention that he dominated both of those fights?
As it turned out, the master looked like the younger man against Pascal. He used the jab to set up the overhand right that seemed to land at will. He used his superior defense to disturb any Pascal attack. And he played mind games every step of the way. At one point, Hopkins began doing push-ups in the middle of the ring while he was waiting for Pascal to leave his stool and begin the round.
The master does not win with the most power or the most speed. He wins with the most skill, more substance than style. On Saturday Sensei Hopkins will tutor us again defending the 175 pound title against Chad Dawson, a tall, lanky southpaw. Now, unlike Pavlik and Pascal who made up for their faults with power and athleticism, Dawson is a boxer first. He explores the fundamental ability to hit and not get hit to win. Clean counter punching is his strength.
The time he got messy in a bout against Pascal last year resulted in an 11th round technical decision loss. At 29, Dawson has youth on his side and a secret weapon named Winky Wright in his corner, a man scarred by the sword of the master back in 2007, losing by unanimous decision. Wright was never the same after that but provides for Dawson the necessary wisdom of ring experience. Matter of fact, many Hopkins opponents, Trinidad, De la Hoya, Tarver, Pavlik, even Jermain Taylor, who defeated Hopkins twice by controversial decision in 2005, share Wright’s fate, they were not the same fighter after a Hopkins lesson.
You have to think when it is going to end for the boxing master named Bernard Hopkins. Going into Saturday night, Hopkins is at least 15 years older than five of his last six opponents. Count Dawson at 17 years more fresh. “Fighting young killers,” Hopkins calls it.
There are no records of man who have wrestled a tougher battle in boxing against the biological clock. Hopkins beats everyone. Two decades ago, BM perfected the art of doing whatever it takes to win. Punches landing on thighs and groin head butts are two Hopkins phantoms a referee yet discovered. The Master has tricks. He is too clever – to the point where we know not what we see at times. For grandpa, victory looks almost effortless, gritty not cool, exuding a correct amount of energy to win every round. His taunts angered Pascal and subdued Tarver, they frustrated Pavlik and apparently made De la Hoya quit. Yes, BM has lost but rarely is taken out of his element. Opponents do not force him to submit.
Here we are in the era of performance enhancement drugs, with growth hormones promising a drink from the fountain of youth. Two of the boxing greatest talents (Mayweather and Pacquiao) are divided by blood testing and financial hunger. A fighter born when Lyndon Johnson was President during the Vietnam War reminds us that if you are looking for a master in sport, you have come to the right place, a 46-year-old definition of old school.