Winning IBF belt could bring closure to Bernard Hopkins' storied career

DAVID MAIALETTI/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Bernard Hopkins works out in advance of his fight next month against Tavoris Cloud.
DAVID MAIALETTI/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Bernard Hopkins works out in advance of his fight next month against Tavoris Cloud.
Posted: February 20, 2013

BERNARD HOPKINS knows he is old.

He knows, still fighting at age 48, that he is an outlier, that most boxers his age would be taking a huge risk entering the ring. He knows this because it is always the first question he is asked, and it has been for almost 15 years.

"I don't mind that question, I get it all the time," Hopkins said on Tuesday at a media workout at Joe Hand Boxing Gym. Hopkins is training for his HBO-televised challenge of undefeated IBF light-heavyweight champ Tavoris Cloud, scheduled for March 9 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"How long they been calling me old?" Hopkins asked, directing the question at trainer Naazim Richardson. "I am convinced. I am an old, dusty dude. You can keep telling me this and I will keep agreeing with you. I was being called old at 35."

Hopkins came to terms with his age long ago. He knows he is ancient, but he also knows he isn't washed up. Hopkins has never been knocked out, and, even after a 12-round majority decision defeat at the hands of Chad Dawson last April, he maintains that he can hang with a younger generation of fighters.

On the brink of 50, Hopkins continues to box simply because no one has stopped him. Because he still can. His fire for the sport continues to burn and the tools are still there. While other aging boxers have broken down physically or mentally - some at the hands of Hopkins himself - Hopkins presses on because of his brains and his discipline.

"I didn't outlast them. They could have kept going," he said. "But why didn't they keep going, continue their career? Their feelings or their spirit might be broken. That is hard to fix."

He added: "I am so competitive. If I know I got the body and I got the skills to do it, then why not?"

Younger fighters have dubbed Hopkins "The Godfather." While it doesn't have quite the same ring as his better-known moniker - "The Executioner" - he embraces the nickname. Hopkins isn't desperate for a payday or trying to cling to the past. There are no grand illusions of big-picture relevance.

He is just looking to fill in the final pages of what he calls his "history book." And if he can knock some overconfident youngsters down a few pegs in the process, it's all the better.

"The torch has already been passed," he insists. "I am not even in the equation - because I've been there, done that."

"The torch has always been passed, just every now and then I'm going to show the young bucks that the path to longevity is to look at what I do, what I did."

In many ways, Cloud (24-0, 19 KOs) is the ideal fighter for Hopkins (52-6-2, 32 KOs). At 31, he is the type of powerful aggressor the defensively gifted Hopkins made a career of preying on. Most important, Cloud possesses a belt that could provide closure for Hopkins' Hall of Fame career.

In 2011, Hopkins became the oldest boxer in history to capture a world championship when, at 46, he dethroned then-WBC light-heavyweight champ Jean Pascal. After losing that belt to Dawson 10 months ago, Hopkins can break his own record by taking the IBF light-heavyweight crown from Cloud.

But it's not a belt. It is this belt. Hopkins' first world championship, won in 1995, was the IBF middleweight title, which he held for a decade. Just the mention of an IBF title evokes sentimentality from the aging legend.

"It is a full circle," he said. "Going back now to 1995, when I won my first world title in Landover, Md., and now fighting for the IBF title in 2013, it is kind of surreal. The numbers make it seem like I am older than I am."

Hopkins said he cares about his legacy because, as a student of the sport's history, he understands it. On March 9, for at least one more night, he will touch gloves with a much younger opponent because he is sure that he will put up a good fight.

Maybe being reunited with the IBF title will be enough for him to close his history book. Maybe it won't. Until he knows, Hopkins will relish times like Tuesday, sitting ringside getting his hands taped, surrounded by reporters.

"You normally don't see this for a guy that is pushing 50," he said. "That is a lot of respect and a lot of credibility."

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