WASHINGTON, D.C.: Bernard Hopkins, boxing’s oldest world champion at age 49, isn’t getting knocked out by Father Time just yet. Instead, he’s going the distance to give old age a tremendous fight.
Hopkins, the International Boxing Federation light-heavyweight champion, risks his world title on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) against World Boxing Association champion Beibut Shumenov of Kazakhstan.
“This is an opportunity for me to represent the 40-and-up club,” Hopkins said. “People at that age are very much alive in this world and they are backing me.
“I have a chance to do something very special.”
Hopkins, who defended his middleweight crown 20 times in his prime, is providing one of the great second acts American sport has seen in a sport that has taken a huge toll on much younger fighters.
“He’s a special athlete,” said Hopkins’ trainer, Naazim Richardson. “Thirty is old in boxing. So what he’s doing is ridiculous.
“Everything he does is history. Every bag he hits is a part of history. Because what he’s doing has never been done. Bernard is the oldest athlete to hold a title in any sport.”
Gordie Howe played in the National Hockey League at 52 while long-time Oakland Raiders kicker George Blanda played 26 National Football League seasons before retiring at 48 and Martina Navratilova played top-level tennis at 49.
But Hopkins is a world champion, the oldest to unify boxing titles if he beats his 30-year-old rival Saturday. And if he gets the bout he wants, he could become an undisputed champion next January when he turns 50.
“I want to defend the title at 50,” he said. “Fifty is my incentive. So I can’t win and look old.”
Hopkins says decades of fitness and looking out for his body and continuing his career as he aged rather than retiring and making a comeback have been keys to his fortitude.
“I think my longevity has a lot to do with the early preparation in my life and my career. I took care of myself for the last 20 years and I’m reaping the benefits now,” Hopkins said.
“A lot of it has to do with just what I do and don’t put in my body. A lot of long-term discipline and staying the course and not derailing many times during down time or binging on things that aren’t good for you. I think that plays a big role in longevity.”
‘He’s a super human’
Hopkins, 54-6 with two drawn and 32 knockouts, has not stopped a foe inside the distance since Oscar de la Hoya nearly a decade ago. He wins with movement, skill and technique, a throwback in some ways, chopping down foes over 12 rounds.
“You’re not seeing the microwave era of boxing,” Richardson said. “What you are seeing is what we call the art of boxing, the sweet science. This guy is really putting pieces in place and breaking down opponents systematically.
Shumenov, 14-1 with nine knockouts, was five when Hopkins fought his first pro fight.
“He is a super human,” Shumenov said of Hopkins. “It’s unbelievable. Truly amazing.”
Hopkins credits his tough upbringing on the city streets of north Philadelphia with spurring him on at an age when most athletes are settling down.