ATLANTIC CITY: Unlike other boxers who seem to age a little with each punch they absorb, Bernard Hopkins is still a marvel to watch at 49 years of age.
The Philadelphia native is gearing up for his 66th professional bout as he tries to increase his record as the oldest world champion in boxing history.
He will be two months shy of his 50th birthday when he seeks to defy Father Time once more by squaring off against Russian Sergey Kovalev in a light heavyweight unification fight on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) at Boardwalk Hall arena.
“This isn’t about being an athlete, a boxer or whatever it is. This is something separate. Me as a man. I’ve been here since 1965. I have been special ever since. I still have the hunger to prove myself,” said Hopkins who hopes to add Kovalev’s World Boxing Organization title to his World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation 170-pound belts.
George Foreman was the oldest titleholder until Hopkins showed up on the scene. Foreman last fought at 48 and won his last title at 45.
Hopkins turned pro in October 1988 when Ronald Reagan was president, fighting for a quarter century.
“I don’t mind putting my wits up against anyone’s wits today,” said Hopkins on Thursday. “When I step into the ring I am at war with everybody.”
Hopkins, who grew up on the crime-plagued streets of north Philadelphia, is the second of eight children and the son of a city rubbish collector.
Hopkins was arrested more than two dozen times and stabbed three times. Boxing was his way out of the projects. But not before he served time in prison for armed robbery. He was paroled at age 23.
Hopkins hopes to dispose of Kovalev, who is 21 years his junior, and then defend his title at age 50.
But the Russian slugger is Hopkins’ most dangerous challenger in more than a decade.
“All roads lead to this fight. This is a huge fight in my career and in my life,” Kovalev said on Thursday. “Bernard Hopkins is a legend. He is a professor of professional boxing. This fight is dangerous for me but this fight is also dangerous for him.”
Kovalev has only one minor blemish on his career, a technical draw. In his 25 wins, only four opponents have lasted more than four rounds.
“In the beginning of my career, I was ready to fight anywhere at anytime. No one knew me in America and I built my career from zero. I fought any place, any opponent,” Kovalev said.
Kovalev, who goes by the nickname “Krusher” has earned a reputation as a hard puncher. In 2011, Kovalev fought and beat Roman Simakov who suffered brain injuries and died three days later.