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A Legend Already, Bernard Hopkins Has Nothing Left to Prove After Sergey Kovalev

Jonathan Snowden@JESnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterNovember 9, 2014

USA Today

There was a split second in the 12th and final round where it looked like Bernard Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 KOs) could do the impossible against Sergey Kovalev (26-0-1, 23 KOs). A left hook briefly shook the 31-year-old Russian, stopping him in his tracks and giving the crowd momentary hope.

But for the 49-year-old legend, who lost a unanimous decision (120-107, 120-107, 120-106), it was too late and way too little. That burst was all he had left. Soon after, Kovalev was on the attack again, landing punch after winging punch, shaking Hopkins to his core in a display of vicious power that was slightly uncomfortable to watch. 

In another fight, the referee might have intervened. It would have been appropriate. In this case, it was better to let Hopkins see it through to the bitter end. He had earned at least that much.

Miraculously, he withstood every blow, ending the bout on his feet, his dignity, if not his brain cells, intact. Rather than hang on for dear life, turning the final minute into a dance routine of sorts, Hopkins stood his ground. 

"I'm crazy. Listen, the fans want to see fights," Hopkins explained after the bout. "...They don't want to see a guy running. I wanted to go ahead and try to the last bit to try and get a shot in and maybe I could change things around."

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Round By Round Boxing @RBRBoxing

Hopkins took some HUGE shots in Round 12, did not go down. He deserves to hold his hands up but he did lose. #Boxing http://t.co/YiEeBm4DRM

The fight-changing counter never came, but Hopkins managed a moral victory, throwing his hands up in the air after the bout despite losing every round on all three judges' scorecards.

The truth is, for Hopkins, Saturday night's fight was the ultimate no-lose situation. He is 49 years old going on 50. Surely, as excuses go, that one occupies a spot near the top of the list?

There was no way for Hopkins to fall short of expectations. A loss will be notched in the record book. Nothing more. But, in a sport like boxing that's built on legend, word of mouth and creative flim-flam, facts matter little. 

Kovalev is called "Krusher" for a reason. Light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson wanted no piece of him. It was truly the most dangerous fight available. For Hopkins, gray beard betraying his age in a way his performances in the ring have not, to step in to face him was an act of either pure courage, pure hubris or both. 

It was certainly an act of profound courage. No, he didn't outlast either the younger powerhouse or Father Time. But he added another chapter to his legendary story, setting the standard for every future "old man" to step into the ring from this day until the last day.

There are no more firsts for Hopkins. He's already the oldest man to ever win a world championship, the oldest to defend it and the oldest to unify two championships as he did against Beibut Shumenov earlier this year. 

Bernard Hopkins Through the Ages
AccomplishmentDateAge
Wins first pro fight2/22/9025
First world title shot (vs. Roy Jones)5/22/9328
Wins first world title (vs. Segundo Mercado)4/29/9530
Named "Ring Magazine" Fighter of the Year200136
Beat Oscar De La Hoya9/18/200439
Won light heavyweight title (vs. Antonio Tarver)6/10/200641
Won IBF light heavyweight title (vs. Tavoris Cloud)3/9/201348
boxrec.com

If there was anything to prove, it was proved years ago.

Here's the thing about Hopkins that's lost at first glance: By the time he came into our lives, winning the middleweight title for the first time against Segundo Mercado in 1995, he was already an old fighter. He should have, according to famous fight doctor Ferdie Pacheco, M.D., in The New York Times, been on a downhill slide to oblivion:

From 30 on, the loss of elasticity and resiliency is diminished—slowly, but progressively deteriorating until death. A boxer who fights after age 30 is helping nature along on its downhill course. A boxer who fights after 35 is pushing on the gas pedal, accelerating toward an early demise and making his trip there uncomfortable. The quality of his life after 40 will not only be speedily downhill but will carry with it the physical marks of his mistake, the marks of his profession.

Instead, Hopkins was truly just getting started. When he had his first high-profile fight, against Felix Trinidad in 2001, he was 36. By the time he beat Antonio Tarver for the light heavyweight belt, he was already an absurd 41.

Every time Hopkins seemed finished, he's risen from the scrapheap to renew his relevance. Consecutive losses to a younger man like Jermain Taylor would have been a clear message to most men. To a 40-year-old Hopkins, it was just that—a sign he should move up a weight class. 

A close loss to Hall of Famer Joe Calzaghe would have been a respectable way to end his career. It was a valiant effort, especially for a 43-year old man. Instead, Hopkins came back six months later to beat the undefeated Kelly Pavlik.

In 2012, Hopkins, then 47, got up off the canvas to give Chad Dawson a tough fight before losing his light heavyweight championship. He returned the next year to beat Tavoris Cloud for the IBF title and resume as if nothing at all had changed. 

What's truly remarkable about all of this is how nonchalantly it was received in the sports media. This was unheard of success for an older athlete, a fighter earning championship glory in the most dangerous contest of them all. 

"Bernard Hopkins, not only are we talking about the fighter who is the best in this era, but can possibly be the best in any era," former Hopkins opponent and currently Hopkins' promoter Oscar De La Hoya told the media during a conference call. "When you talk about comparing the '80s and the '70s and the '60s and 1990 and the 2000s, well Hopkins is a fighter you can say would have competed, if not would have been the best, in any era."

"That's what we're talking about right here. We're not talking about just a fighter, any ordinary fighter. We're really talking about an alien, Bernard Hopkins, who at the age of 49, going on 50, is still fighting the toughest and the very best," De La Hoya added. "This man tells it old school. We will never, ever in our lifetime see a fighter like Bernard Hopkins, probably ever again."

Hopkins survived Kovalev, a worthy accomplishment for his last fight. The urge will be there to step in against a lesser fighter, to go out on a high note. But really, what could be better?

The image of a defiant Hopkins, tilting at the Russian windmill until the very end was a moment that will endure. We don't need more. Over 64 professional fights, he's given more than enough.

It's time now to turn his career over to the historians, to the fans in the forums who will debate his legacy from now until we are all old men. Hopkins belongs among the immortals. He doesn't belong in the boxing ring.

Jonathan Snowden is Bleacher Report's Lead Combat Sports Writer. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes acquired firsthand.

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