This Saturday night at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, the ageless alien Bernard Hopkins returns to action to defend his IBF light heavyweight title against Karo Murat of Germany. Every time Hopkins gets in the ring at this point, it is a historical, record-breaking occasion.
He is the oldest boxer to ever hold a world title, and at 48, he has surpassed any professional athlete in any sport when it comes to longevity. No other athlete has ever competed at the level Hopkins has this close to 50.
And no, golf and car racing don't count.
Hopkins has reached the point in his career where even people who normally pay no attention to boxing stop to marvel at what he is doing. This is a culture obsessed with preserving the vigor of youth, and the media-savvy Hopkins could potentially morph into a larger public star.
At this point, every successful performance he turns in against a world-class fighter young enough to be his son merely burnishes his legacy.
|Per BoxRec||Bernard Hopkins||Karo Murat|
|Record:||53-6-2, 32 KOs||25-1-1, 15 KOs|
|Weight:||175 pounds||175 pounds|
|Hometown:||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania||Kitzingen, Germany|
One number here seems so unlikely it is tempting to think it must be a mistake. By continuing to win and defend world titles at age 48, Bernard Hopkins is surpassing all longevity records for professional sports.
Hopkins has significant length and reach advantages, and he will exploit them. Murat has had trouble against longer fighters with solid boxing skills. Hopkins is among the most skilled boxers of the past 30 years.
A representative of the proud Philadelphia boxing tradition, Hopkins will be in his own backyard of Atlantic City.
Bernard Hopkins turned professional in 1988 and lost his first fight. He took a two-year break and then returned to action in 1990. By the time Bill Clinton was sworn in as president for the first time, Hopkins had already won over 20 straight fights and established himself as a rising world-title contender.
Hopkins won his first middleweight world title against Segundo Mercado in 1995. Over the next decade, he forged one of the greatest reigns in the history of the division, knocking out Hall of Famers and eventually unifying every available belt.
After losing consecutive decisions to Jermaine Taylor in 2005, Hopkins moved up to light heavyweight and beat Antonio Tarver in 2006 to become a two-division world champion at 41. He has remained a major factor at 175 ever since and in May 2011 beat Jean Pascal in Montreal to become the oldest world boxing champion in history.
Hopkins broke his own record last March when he beat Tavoris Cloud for the IBF belt.
Karo Murat moved to Germany at nine when his family fled Iraq in the wake of the first Gulf War. He is an extremely tough-nosed fighter but limited as a boxer.
That Hopkins continues to be able to beat world-class contenders as he nears 50 is amazing, but Murat is frankly well-picked to make him look very good.
Bernard Hopkins is an elite athlete who seems never to have allowed himself to fall beneath peak physical condition. He has decades of boxing knowledge and experience and still approaches his preparation with the enthusiasm of a determined young contender.
Hopkins has very good length, even at the higher weight of 175, and he has the jab and footwork to exploit this advantage. But he fights well at any distance.
On the inside, he is a master of doing work in the clinch. He is almost always the first one to free up a hand and grab an angle for a punch. He is a wizard at maneuvering his opponents into bad positions while grappling inside.
Karo Murat is an extremely durable fighter with world-class experience. He knows what kind of Rocky Balboa opportunity he is being offered in this fight, and that should motivate him to fight at an inspired level.
Murat fights behind a class European high guard and generally does a very good job of stepping into range and closing off the ring. He is a solid body puncher.
Bernard Hopkins really has very little in the way of weaknesses as a fighter. A big part of his longevity is the fact that he has almost never allowed himself to be vulnerable in the ring.
The only way Hopkins is likely to show any sign of weakness in this fight against Murat is if he suddenly can't withstand a world-class opponent at 48.
Karo Murat stands in front of his opponents in a high guard, and that is not a very difficult puzzle to solve. Nathan Cleverly was able to use a little bit of movement and crisp, aggressive combination punching to prevent Murat from getting off with his own offense.
Murat also fought to a draw with Gabriel Campillo in October 2011. Murat doesn't really have the kind of explosive, fight-changing power that can turn things around with one blow.
He needs to walk an opponent down and pound away at him. Against skilled boxers with reach, this can be difficult for him.
If Bernard Hopkins is still the same fighter he was last March against Tavoris Cloud, this really shouldn't be a very difficult fight for him. Karo Murat was soundly outboxed en route to losing by TKO against Nathan Cleverly in 2010.
A 2013-era Bernard Hopkins has forgotten more about boxing than a 2010-era Nathan Cleverly ever knew.
Hopkins will use his substantial reach advantage to beat Murat up from long range. As a hurt Murat continues to bull forward, Hopkins will let him stumble in. He'll clinch him and spin him into position for punishing uppercuts and hooks.
If Hopkins struggles in this fight, it will be because time has finally caught up to him—and for no other reason.
Karo Murat will win this fight if Bernard Hopkins has suddenly become a 48-year-old man since last March. Otherwise, he has next to no chance.
Murat is a strong fighter and probably deserves to rank in the top 10 at light heavyweight. But Hopkins simply has too much skill and experience and is still well-preserved enough at his advanced age to use that skill and experience against Murat.
Obviously Murat should try to force Hopkins into an aggressive, physically demanding fight. He should push the champion's 48-year-old body to its physical limits.
Maybe if Murat can force Hopkins into a desperate exchange, he can catch him with a two- or three-punch combination that shocks the boxing world.
But unless Hopkins has suddenly aged since last spring, Murat will have little chance of landing on Hopkins enough to hurt him—no matter what he does.
As I have already pointed out during this story, there is little reason to believe Karo Murat can possibly win this fight. At 48, Bernard Hopkins might not be everything he once was, but Murat is far too limited to take advantage of that fact.
I honestly don't think a fighter as smart as Hopkins would have taken this fight if he wasn't quite sure he was going to win it.
To me, the big prediction isn't whether or not Hopkins will win; it's how he will win. If Murat comes forward aggressively nonstop, Hopkins will win by Round 10 TKO.
If Murat decides to retreat behind his high guard in the middle rounds and pretend to be a counterpuncher, Hopkins will win a decision by about nine rounds to three.
Light heavyweight is a weight class that has gotten hot in 2013. Both Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev have created major buzz by winning titles by way of sensational knockout.
It will be interesting to see if Hopkins, as a fellow 175-pound belt holder, will risk fighting either of them next year, as he inches still closer to the half-century mark. Both Stevenson and Kovalev would represent significantly more dangerous opponents than Murat.