I was no longer surprised that soon-to-be 50 years old Bernard Hopkins lost a lopsided decision to 31-year old Sergie Kovalev on Sunday. I simply thought that Hopkins was stretching himself too far by taking on a knockout artist who had two title belts going into the fight. It’s a good thing though that Hopkins lost to Kovalev by decision because a few years back, the American was considering a match with one of the Klitschkos.
One lesson can be learned from the loss of Hopkins: age does matter in some sports, particularly fighting sports like boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA). And I agree with The Times Sports Editor Perry Gil Mallari that boxing and MMA are both “young man’s games” where aging fighters will have to accept the reality that at one point they have to head for the exit gates.
Sure there are still fighters who are past 40 who are still making it good in the sport like Manny Pacquiao nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez who is 41 years old, and the 43-year old Vitali Klitschko. But they are exceptions to the rule. As for Hopkins, attempting at nearly 50 years old to become part of the elite group of unified champions was asking for the moon.
I am not denigrating Hopkins, because he is truly worthy of admiration and deserves induction into the Boxing Hall of Fame. From being an ex-convict, Hopkins became the unified middleweight champion on September 29, 2001 by stopping in the last round the then undefeated Felix Trinidad. It was the first time since 1987 when the middleweight division had a unified champion (Marvin Hagler).
But then, the last time Hopkins stopped an opponent was more than nine years ago when he beat Oscar dela Hoya in September 18, 2004.
While Hopkins had impressive fights at light heavyweight in the next eight years, including a gallant showing against still undefeated Joe Calzaghe on April 19, 2008 where he dropped the European fighter in round one, I saw the day Hopkins would take a bad beating from a younger fighter who had fearful knockout power. And that fighter was Kovalev, who is still undefeated at 26 fights with 23 knockouts.
The fact that Hopkins (now 55-6-2 with 32 knockouts) no longer had knockout power since the dela Hoya fight should have warned him and his camp to consider retiring, or he risked getting beaten by elite fighters. In boxing or in MMA, the most fearful scenario is when a fighter can no longer keep his opponent at bay with his punches which could result to a one-sided beating or shameful knockout. The reality is as a fighter ages, his reflexes slow down or his nervous system can no longer summon all the necessary muscles to throw a punch, which results to lesser power for every punch thrown. Furthermore, every single blow absorbed by a fighter to the head (or even body) can result to the nervous system getting “jarred” which can make it harder for a fighter to “pull the trigger” for a punch.
In this age where anti-aging science is making advances, it is easy to believe that people in their 50s or 60s can become like people in their 30s or even 20s. And believing that 60 years old is the new 30 is also taking it too far. While I believe (based on my own experience too) that it is possible for a person in his 40s to do things a 20-year old person can do, this only applies sometimes but not most or all of the time. Honestly, can we expect most people in their 40s to emulate 100-percent 20-year olds who make a living out of grueling sports like triathlon, boxing and MMA?
Even younger people can get burned out physically if they don’t know how to pace themselves. And older people can get burned out faster physically if they don’t know how to pace themselves properly. Hopkins need not wait for the day he will burn out.