Story & photos by John DiSanto – PhillyBoxingHistory.com
Boxing writers and fans alike have stopped trying to figure out the secret of longevity for Bernard Hopkins. The legendary champ, now quickly closing in on birthday number 49 (January 15th), is still going strong and will bring his magical mystery tour back to Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City this Saturday for a defense of his IBF light heavyweight title against Karo Murat, the German-based mandatory challenger.
Not too much is known about Murat (25-1-1, 15 KOs). He lost by TKO to Nathan Cleverly in September 2010 and drew with Gabriel Campillo the following year (October 2011). He holds a previous win over Campillo and the rest of his record is dotted with just a few other recognizable names.
The only notable stat on his resume seems to be his age, 30.
That’s more than 18 years younger than Hopkins!
However, Hopkins (53-6-2, 32 KOs) has proven such age gaps are meaningless, with his ability to hypnotize and defeat younger foes, who on paper, should be more than capable of sending the grand old champion into retirement.
But that has yet to occur, and does not figure to happen on Saturday.
Although it is true that Murat could be in the right place at the right time when Hopkins’ engine finally seizes in the ring, it is not clear that he has the skill set to take advantage of such an opportunity.
Some fighters get old overnight.
This is not the case with Hopkins.
He’s been “old” for years in terms of a boxing career, and has been happily playing the age card for quite a while already.
In doing so, he’s surprised everyone, including maybe even himself.
He continues to fight long past all expectations, and still performs at an incredibly high level. No other fighter in recent history has been able to do what he does.
And although we have all given up trying to figure out how Hopkins keeps doing it, the champ himself is still offering explanations.
“I’m an alien,” Hopkins said. “I’m from this world, but I’m out of this world. I’ll come out in a spaceship.”
At a recent workout, Hopkins methodically tapped the heavy bag with slow and soft punches, saying: “This is the way I’m supposed to fight.”
“But this is the way I fight,” he said, picking up his pace and ripping the bag with a sharp combination. “Reflexes. Stutter-step. Shoulder up. Get down low. Straight arm.”
At 48 years and nine months, Hopkins still has all the moves. Maybe he is an alien.
Hopkins resumed his workout, but kept his monologue running.
“Bernard,” said Hopkins referring to himself in the third party. “He outlast Roy Jones. He outlast James Toney. He outlast a lot of people in my generation. Now I’m going into two different eras. Ten years and then another ten years again. I’m in my second
or third era. I’m in the Broner era. I’m in the Garcia era. That’s the good part of being different. The negative of being that way is that it comes with a lot of things. Blessed on one end, but then haters on the other end. They can’t understand. So they got to blame the old excuses on why I’m here. Why I’m still doing it. Why won’t I just go home? Why don’t you just stop? Stop making history. I know you’re tired of making history. Why don’t you just stop? When is the last time I listened to somebody and not listen to myself first? They really going to be checking my blood after this fight. They’re going to say, ‘This guy really is alien. He really is the alien!'”
During the workout at the Joe Hand Boxing Gym in Philadelphia, Hopkins donned a rubber alien mask and posed for photos.
“No more Executioner,” Hopkins said of his previous nickname. “He left two fights ago. I’m the Alien.”
Alien mask off, and deep into his workout, Hopkins looked around the gym. The Joe Hand Gym looks brand new. It’s bright and clean, with none of the smell or decay of the typical Philly boxing gym. Instead of moldy fight posters lined ceiling to floor, like the other gyms, this one looks like it was put together by an interior decorator. A handful of colorful modern boxing posters share the wall space with large black and white banners of past Philly ring legends. It’s an interesting and orderly mix of the old and the new.
“When you look around Joe Hand’s Gym,” Hopkins said. “Yes, you see me. You see Oscar. You see Ike Quartey. You see Trinidad. But you look around this gym and you see the old fighters. Gypsy Joe Harris. Georgie Benton. Bob Montgomery. Harold Johnson. When you start looking at these old legends of Philadelphia……This is what I represent.”
Hopkins looks around, squinting to see the banners down at the other end of the gym. More Philly legends, as far as the eye can see.
“I’m of the new world, but I have an old soul,” Hopkins said. “You ever heard somebody say, man he or she got an old soul? I know what old soul means. It’s said in the African American community a lot. The old soul. I’m representing the old soul. Doing it the right way. Living the right way. Thinking the right way. Treating my mind, body and soul the right way to be able to be here. Look at these old pictures. Gil Turner, Jesse Smith, Boogaloo Watts. Throwbacks. I would love for it to (still) be 15 rounds. But the reality is, they (contemporary boxers) are too soft for 15 rounds.”
“I’m from the old school,” Hopkins said. “And if you look at the old school fighters, they fought way past 30. I got the old soul. I represent all the old ones.”
Hopkins definitely has more in common with his Philly boxing forefathers than he does the current crop of top fighters. His work ethic and attitude is clearly old school, even though his paydays are strictly modern day.
“As far as I’m, concerned, it ain’t how much money you make when you fight that makes you special,” Hopkins said. “It’s 20 years from now when we count the same money and see what you got left. See, I believe in now, today. But let’s visit 10 years from now and see who’s still living respectfully. So I don’t get caught up in who’s a star, who’s not a star. This guy’s making a dollar. This guy’s making fifteen dollars. So he’s more important than him? Come back fifteen, twenty years from now and let’s count our coins together and see who got what. No names, no blame. Let’s see then. Because I think like a squirrel.”
Hopkins has been atop the boxing world for many years now.
He first became a champion in 1995. That was the middleweight title. He collected additional belts at 160, scored a break through TKO of Trinidad in September 2001, and went on to set the record for successful middleweight title defenses. He kept his crown over 20 defenses before losing by a whisker to Jermain Taylor in July 2005.
The light heavyweight championship was his next accomplishment. He took a piece of it with an upset of Antonio Tarver in June 2006, and collected other 175-pound belts against Jean Pascal (May 2011), and most recently against Tavoris Cloud (March 2013).
If observers have given up wondering how he keeps going, some still ponder, after all his success, why he keeps going.
For Hopkins, the answer is simple.
“How many chances in my life, or anybody’s life, do they get a chance, over and over again, to prove (themselves),” Hopkins said. “I’m glad to be on a stage right now, because I get the chance to show, in action, just how special I am. I’m the same guy that takes care of his body. That don’t get beat up in the ring. That don’t take abuse. That don’t gain 30-40 pounds in between fights. Always ready to go, even when I don’t have a date for a fight. I got to keep reminding them that on January 15th, I’ll be 49. Who else could be in this position? They don’t know me, and that’s a good thing. Because that keeps me going. He’s pushing 50. Wow! That’s something to brag about. And they can’t understand!”
No we can’t understand it.
This has never happened before, and it flies in the face of everything that we know about boxing.
No one understands it, but we’re happy to sit back and enjoy the ride, even if that ride is on a spaceship.
To read more about the Philly fight scene – past and present – visit www.PhillyBoxingHistory.com.