Bernard Hopkins is sick of hearing people tell him he should retire.
“You know what boxing reminds me of?” the 48-year-old asked Bleacher Report. “Whether you’re a man or a woman, it’s like a relationship. When she leaves…you realize how great a woman she was. Or for a woman, when he leaves you realize how great a man you had.”
Hopkins said we’ll miss him when he retires. And he’s probably right.
“Boxing is the only sport that would want to retire a fighter such as myself instead of saying, 'Hey, we might not see this again in our lifetime,'” said the current IBF light heavyweight champion. “In five or six years when I retire and it gets to marinate in their heads, they’ll say it flew past them and they didn't catch it.”
For those keeping score, Hopkins has enjoyed two Hall of Fame careers. His long reign as middleweight champion was one of the more impressive title runs in boxing history. He carried some version of the middleweight crown for over ten years.
During that reign, the enigmatic champion strung together 20 successful title defenses, including historically important wins over superstars Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya.
Hopkins is considered one of the finest middleweights ever by boxing historians.
Then came his second career.
After two close decision losses to Jermain Taylor in 2005, Hopkins moved up to capture the light heavyweight crown against Antonio Tarver in 2006 in what many believed was his final bout. Since then, the master pugilist has faced a litany of big-named stars.
Highlights include the decimation of then-middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik in 2008, a grudge match win over previous conqueror Roy Jones, Jr. in 2010 and becoming the oldest man to win a major world title at age 46 when he defeated Jean Pascal in 2011 for the WBC, IBO and Ring Magazine light heavyweight titles.
After suffering a loss to Chad Dawson in 2012, Hopkins rebounded by breaking his own record. He defeated Tavoris Cloud early in 2013 at age 48 for the IBF strap, becoming the oldest boxing champion in history. Again.
For either major parts of his career, his long reign at middleweight or his 168- to 175-pound run, Hopkins would be a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. For doing both, he’s become something even more. Hopkins is on the level of the very elite. He’s a Sugar Ray Robinson, a Muhammad Ali, a Joe Louis.
Bernard Hopkins is one of the best ever.
“It’s really a blessing to know I’ve reached this point in my life and understand it was well worth the risk of coming through the ranks that I came through. The hard lessons, the whole process of getting here... It never gets boring for me. It never gets tiresome hearing it or reminiscing when I talk to people because I hope that big or small everybody can be inspired by it.”
Hopkins said he lives to inspire people.
“I believe in role models. I believe in people of any race and any color that can inspire others to do anything they need to be inspired to do.”
You might wonder what inspires Hopkins to keep going. At age 48, with millions of dollars earned in an incredibly difficult sport, what keeps him going?
Hopkins, who 25 years ago this month lost his four-round pro debut against Clinton Mitchell, said he was motivated by his past. His words are at times a reflection on his own experience. Other times, he seems to be giving sage advice.
“I’m motivated by not giving up. Whether it’s a small thing or big thing, never giving up. Always reach as high as you can reach because if you fall short, you still win because you reached so high that you never lose…you make it out okay.”
Hopkins said he’s never forgotten where he came from.
“What inspires me is years ago when I had a few dollars in the bank that I never had in my whole life…and I got to see for the first time and really understand what it’s like to have something. I know what it is like to have, and I know what it’s like to not have, to be on both sides.”
Success has not changed him, he argued, and he hopes others are paying attention, too.
“Even today, I understand no matter how great I’m doing, there is always somebody that has a fight and I need to keep inspired to do what I’m doing on a physical side and also my image and what I stand for.”
Hopkins faces Germany’s Karo Murat in a 12-rounder this Saturday for Hopkins' IBF light heavyweight title. The Showtime telecast begins live at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
While no one was exactly clamoring for a bout between the seemingly ageless Hopkins and a 30-year-old fighter virtually unknown on this side of the pond, Hopkins said it all boils down to business. He said the light heavyweight division is heating up now, and that he expects his IBF title belt to help him get the big fights he wants in the future.
That’s right, the 48-year-old still believes he still has a bright boxing future.
“Now Adonis Stevenson has knocked out Chad Dawson. Sergey Kovalev has made a name for himself. And now the light heavyweight division has life. I just need to take care of business on Saturday night. That’s it.”
And what of the naysayers? The ones who want him to retire?
“You’re seeing a 48-year-old guy that happens to be in an era that if you’re 48 and you’re doing something respectfully, you’re doing wrong. No it ain’t… If I was in basketball or any other sport, they would be praising me… Boxing is the only sport that would want to retire a fighter such as myself instead of saying hey, we might not see this again in our lifetime.”
And he’s right. Because we might not.
Kelsey McCarson is a boxing writer for Bleacher Report and TheSweetScience.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.