By Clive Bernath: At the age of 48 Bernard Hopkins will be defending his IBF light heavyweight title for the first time on Saturday night against mandatory challenger Karo Murat in the main event of a Showtime televised card at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Ever since he won the IBF middleweight crown via seventh round tko against Segundo Mercado in 1995, ‘The Executioner’ as he was known then, has not looked back. In fact he not only defended the title a history making 21 times, he is also the oldest boxer to win a recognized version of a world title.
Most 48 year-old nowadays(the one s that I know anyway) have trouble running for the bus but not this one, this middle aged mauler is a very special man for a number of reasons for which I will go into later in this article.
Those of us that have had the pleasure of experiencing Hopkins in full flow at press conferences over the years know only too well that he can talk, and talk, and talk…. But it is not just idle talk, only a fool would ignore what this highly intelligent man has to say. And at Wednesday’s press conference in New York to publicize his history making title defence against Murat, Hopkins again allowed us to delve into his psyche and give us an invaluable insight into why he continues to participate in such a ferocious and sometimes unforgiving sport.
"I’m coming to show you all that not only am I different and I don’t get tired of doing what I do. I love winning opportunities and situations to win,” said Hopkins.
"Saying ’I’m getting old,’ is getting old.
"I’m only doing what some of the greats have done before me in any sport. Hit and not get hit. Doesn’t mean to run.
"I am different. I am not you. So what do you do if you’re a smart man with your bought degrees? You sit, you listen, you learn and you change your own ignorant ways.
"I’m in an almost 10-year [knockout] drought, maybe that’s due to my age. I haven’t had a knockout since I fought De La Hoya(Oscar).
Touching on his former life as a street thug and to the Showtime televised undercard featuring the WBO middleweight bout between champion Peter Peter Quillin and Gabriel Rosado,and the heavyweight clash involving Deontay Wilder and Zachary Ochoa, Hopkins added: "I was loyal in the streets and was loyal in the corporate world. When they come to me for that fountain of knowledge, I have an opportunity and an obligation, to give them the pure water because I’m not polluted.
"[To Peter Quillin, Gabriel Rosado, Deontay Wilder and Zachary Ochoa] You are the future. You hold the power. I’m here making historic fights when they can happen. The bigger the name, the bigger the event, obligations are obligations and if I want to stay in the race at this age, the belt seems to be the carrot that the young guys want to have.
"If you take a page out of every champion’s book, something that can help you in your career, is to learn how to be multi-talented in many things.
"If you could learn the game of chess early, so you don’t go through suffering, you’ll be advanced in your careers because your opponents only have chess boards.
"If you learn to play chess instead of checkers, and wait that 10-15 years, you’ll be mega superstars. You’ll be advanced beyond your peers, because they just have a checkerboard."
"I am a businessman, don’t get misconstrued by anything. Because I have belts lined up in the trophy case.
"I’m an alien, I don’t get old if they’re waiting for that. If it was a dollar to fight him, you’d see me up here promoting like I was getting 20 million. Why? Because I have a better plan. I’m coming to defend my title and look for bigger things next.”
One may well ask what is such an intelligent man of 48 still doing participating in such a ferocious and sometimes unforgiving sport? And you’d be perfectly valid in doing so but as we all know Hopkins is no ordinary man.
Hopkins grew up on the tough streets of Philadelphia. He turned to crime early in his life and by the age of 13 was mugging people and had been stabbed at least three times. At age 17 Hopkins was sentenced to 18 years in Graterford Prison for nine felonies. Whilst there he reportedly witnessed gang rapes and murder. After serving almost five years, he was released from prison in 1988.
Hopkins, deciding the criminal life was not for him started boxing and put his previous life behind him. A short time after leaving prison the then 23 year-old made his professional debut but it was not a successful one, dropping a four round decision to Clinton Mitchell. It was a huge setback for the young man fresh out of prison. After 18 months of soul searching Hopkins decided to pursue his boxing career more seriously and has not looked back since. The result? World titles at two weights, the longest world middleweight title reign in boxing history and the oldest pro boxer to ever to become world champion.
As a boxer and indeed a sportsman that is tremendous achievement enough. That legacy alone would be enough for any man to be proud of but equally for me, his success as a human being is equally remarkable. Hopkins has proved that no matter where you come from, no matter what start you have in life, whatever mistakes you make in life, we can all turn our lives around for the better. Hopkins could so easily have walked back into a life of crime but he used the sport of boxing to pursue so many different and successful paths in his life. If he were not so disciplined, focused and eager to absorb every ounce of education at his disposal, life could have been so different.
Everything Bernard has experienced in life so far, the good and bad has made him the person he is today. He the light heavyweight champion of the world at age 48, a successful businessman, a multi millionaire and a role model to us all, not bad for a street thug from the tough back streets of Philly….
October 24, 2013
All pics supplied by Tom Casino/Showtime