Bernard Hopkins holding a major title belt in boxing makes no sense. You know it. I know it. Hopkins knows it.
At age 48, boxers are usually beginning their slow decline to an applesauce diet, not stepping on a scale looking like 172 pounds of chiseled rock, as Hopkins did on Friday in preparation for his IBF light heavyweight title defense against Karo Murat.
They say 40 is the new 30, but that shouldn't apply to a man who has been paid to get punched in the face since Ronald Reagan's last year in office. Hopkins lost his first professional bout, going down in a majority decision to Clinton Mitchell. He took more than a year off before his next fight.
In a sport where young boxers often fight upwards of four times per year, his lengthy break was an outlier.
It seems only right in retrospect that the beginning of his career is nearly as weird as his unending victory lap. He won his next 22 fights after taking that early hiatus. He reinvented his technique, becoming a more intuitive fighter and polishing the genetic gifts that made him so intriguing all the way back when.
Reinvention. That's something that Young Hop and Old Hop have in common. The concept has become ever clearer in the lead-up to Saturday night's festivities at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
Hopkins seems more comfortable with his legacy now than ever. Nowhere is that more obvious than in his decision to change his longstanding nickname of "The Executioner" to "The Alien."
"I'm happy to be here, but that's where 'The Alien' comes in," Hopkins told ESPN's Dan Rafael. "You won't hear 'The Executioner.' You won't see me with my hands crossed. 'The Executioner' is retired. I'm an alien because I am of this world, but I'm not from this world."
No, I did not mistakenly pull a quote from Kanye West's interview with Zane Lowe. Though I did have to check twice (or six times) just to make sure.
Like West, Hopkins sees himself as an extraterrestrial being. Someone brought on this earth to be damn good at what he does and to break down barriers.
In many respects, neither man is wrong. West is the most important figure in hip-hop of the past decade, just as Hopkins continues to push the boundaries of logical comprehension within boxing.
I'm not all that concerned with that. What's more interesting is how Hopkins' move from Executioner to Alien signifies an in-ring self-awareness.
It's been nearly a decade since Hopkins has lived up to his moniker. When he knocked out Oscar De La Hoya on Sept. 18, 2004, 32 of his 45 victories had come via knockout—not a bad rate. He's now gone 14 fights without knocking another man unconscious.
Instead, he has adopted a Mayweather-type style as he's inched closer to Social Security. Boxing fans will not be watching Hopkins vs. Murat looking for a Fight of the Year candidate. Unless Murat gets lucky and ends Hopkins' career with a thumping punch, the bout will have all the excitement of a Low Winter Sun plot line.
The Alien will clinch, jab, poke, prod, shuffle, duck and jab again on his way to victory.
Those looking for sports entertainment would be best served flipping over to Game 3 of the World Series or one of the many good college football games on the slate. This is in no way a criticism.
Hopkins fights in a non-appealing way because he has to. Because his right hand doesn't carry the wallop that it did a quarter-century ago or even last week. Humans age, and what has made his run so special is that he's been able to recognize his shortcomings and stay relevant.
Now, if you want to poke holes in his renaissance, it starts with the men standing across from him in the ring. His resume since the last Antonio Tarver fight (2006) is filled to the brim with second-tier opponents, although it's admittedly difficult to find many first-tier light heavyweights. Chad Dawson is by far the most talented fighter he's gone against since, unless you have an affinity for 2010-era Roy Jones Jr.
Hopkins is essentially the Kansas City Chiefs of boxing. He's winning, and begrudging respect comes with that. But he's nowhere near pound-for-pound lists for a reason. He is the King of the Undercard. He'll be fighting on Showtime on Saturday—not Showtime pay-per-view.
And Murat, while a fine fighter, is just another pawn in the game that Hopkins is playing with Father Time. At 25-1-1, the German holds just enough respect within boxing circles to create intrigue but is just vulnerable enough to make him easy Hopkins bait. Murat is small for the light heavyweight division, lacking the type of one-punch threat that could end Hopkins' career for good.
While prefacing his statement in a way to avoid outward disrespect, Hopkins illuminated who Murat is and what this fight means, per Rafael:
I know that there's light at the end of the tunnel. In this case, there's what I consider a super-fight at the end of this, whether it's my division or some other division. But I know one thing—before you get to the Tootsie Roll, you've got to do a lot of licking. That's not in a disrespectful way, but it's in a way of knowing that you got to get down into that box of the Cracker Jacks and you get the prize.
He seems to fashion that prize as a bout with Floyd Mayweather. He told the Daily Mail's Martin Domin he'd like to fight "Money May" next year, eyeing a 160-pound catchweight. Mayweather prefers fighting at 147 pounds, but he did come up to a 152-pound catchweight for his bout against Saul "Canelo" Alvarez in September.
Could Mayweather add even more weight to take on Hopkins? It seems unlikely.
Adding that much weight in such a short amount of time is a massive undertaking for the diminutive Mayweather, and his representation can negotiate from a position of power after the record-setting Alvarez numbers. There's no way he would pack on the pounds to take on a 49-year-old man whose peak coincided with the popularity of taking a bottle of bleach to your hair.
It would defy logic.
But, then again, isn't that exactly what Hopkins has done his whole career?
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