Photo: AP Images
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Bernard Hopkins clearly has a future as a broadcaster. He’s known as much for his bluster as the decade he spent methodically devouring the middleweight division.Maybe his future is in full-time boxing promotion. He can sell a fight, give tips to rising stars on healthy eating and frugal saving, and still earn a nice living in the sport he loves.
But all of that can wait.
At an age where most athletes are retired, coaching or lining their wallets signing autographs at the local mall, boxing’s golden oldie is one knockout from history.
If the 46-year-old Hopkins defeats WBC light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal on Saturday in Montreal, he’ll dethrone George Foreman as the oldest boxer to win a world title.
Hopkins, who boasts the motor skills and drive needed to compete, turned 46 on Jan. 15. Foreman was 45 years, 10 months when he knocked out heavyweight champion Michael Moorer in 1994. Hopkins will be 46 years, four months and six days old in his rematch with Pascal.
“You’re dealing with the guy that’s not the norm,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins has always been unconventional, and defeating Father Time — alongside Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, and Roy Jones, Jr., through the years — may be his biggest achievement yet. Hopkins has his blueprint for the next two years set. He plans to convincingly defeat Pascal, then fight three more times and retire as the champion.
Of course, the call is out of the same playbook written by a boxer who promised his mother he’d retire at 40.
Hopkins (51-5-2) has something to prove after a lackluster finish in the first Pascal bout. The Haitian-born Pascal knocked down Hopkins in the first and third rounds; Pascal tagged him with a left in the third to put him on the canvas.
Hopkins rallied, though, and won on the American judge’s scorecard. Judges from Canada and Belgium ruled for Pascal (26-1-1). The WBC ordered an immediate rematch — in Pascal’s hometown.
Known as “The Executioner,” Hopkins realised he can’t leave the decision to the scorecard.
“I want to instigate and agitate a little bit up there,” Hopkins said. “You understand what I’m saying? Broad Street Bullies.”
The Philadelphia native has long considered himself the city’s fifth franchise. He’s a die-hard fan of the big four and will wear Flyers’ Hall of Fame centre Bobby Clarke’s jersey to the ring.
The jersey won’t be the only souvenir he’ll bring with him from home. Hopkins has possession of the title belt.
Hopkins, who served five years in state prison, kept it after the 28-year-old Pascal playfully handed it over at a press conference. He has the title on display at his Philadelphia condominium.
He figures it’s time to move it around his waist.
“I know I’ve got to make it official on paper,” Hopkins said.
Foreman said he’ll be watching the fight on HBO and is rooting for Hopkins to break the mark. Foreman, who turned into a grill pitchman when he retired, predicted Hopkins would win.
“I’m expecting Bernard to load up in the latter end of the fight, and go for the knockout, break that record, and break it fair and square where everybody can see it,” Foreman said. “The first fight is going to have to be erased. The decision was not of quality. The second time around, Bernard will get a knockout.”
Hopkins swears there’s no secret to his longevity, no magic formula or pills that keep him in top shape. His straight-edge lifestyle bans junk food and booze, bedtime is 9 p.m., and he takes a daily run through Philadelphia’s parks and past scenic Boathouse Row.
Unlike so many ageing fighters, Hopkins shows no outward sign of the effects of those punishing blows to the head.
“I don’t stutter,” he said. “I don’t slur my speech.”
He’s right. In fact, his mouth works fine.
Hopkins was heard loud and clear last week when he unloaded a series of racially tinged insults at former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. As disciplined as he’s lived at staying fit and squirrelling away his millions, Hopkins has been loose with his lips. He has curiously lashed out at McNabb for years, questioning his heart and leadership, and attacking his upbringing as reasons to dislike him. Hopkins said McNabb has “got a suntan, that’s all.”
Hopkins was criticised for the unprovoked remarks. McNabb’s agent released a statement blasting Hopkins’ “willful ignorance.”
“I’m not trying to make news, man,” Hopkins said. “I’m just trying to tell you the truth.”
The truth is the controversy took away from the focus of Hopkins’ run at the geriatric record book.
“This could add another page to the historic legacy that I will leave behind one day,” he said.
And that day is …?
“I don’t know when that day is,” he said. “I don’t look for the ending of anything until there’s signs that the end is near. I just think positive, but not in denial. When you start thinking in denial, you start getting strange looks.”
He may silence the doubters with a win, of course. But he’ll just never push his personal mute button. Because the McNabb bashing was about more than a personal vendetta. It’s a gear in boxing’s regular hype machine.
“It got everybody talking, huh?” Hopkins asked, laughing. “I guess they’ll watch the fight.”
Maybe not everyone.
“Well,” he said, “McNabb ain’t gonna watch it.”
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