On May 21st in Montreal, 46-year-old Bernard Hopkins has a chance to be the oldest athlete in any professional combat sport to become world champion."The Executioner" has been down this road before. From his early days as a once convicted felon to 20 straight defenses as middleweight champ, Hopkins has already established a decorated legacy leaving no doubt in the mind of fans and writers of boxing that he is truly one of the elite. After his lackluster high profile rematch with longtime rival, Roy Jones Jr, many called for Hopkins to hang it up.
As usual Hopkins nearly shocked the world again after fighting the 28-year-old light heavyweight champ Jean Pascal to a controversial draw in Quebec last December.
Pascal managed to drop Hopkins not once but twice in the fight but couldn't handle the craftiness of the man who is now 18 years his elder. Not only is Hopkins facing Pascal in this rematch, he's also facing a record no one thought would be broken set back in 1994 when George Foreman 1-2 punched then champion, Michael Moorer into oblivion and also into the history books. Foreman was 45 years old at the time while enjoying a career resurgence after taking a 10 year absence from boxing.
I was given a recent opportunity to speak to Hopkins and Foreman about this historic event.
Both Hopkins and Foreman share many similarities. Both grew up in different eras but in identical circumstances. Both became hardened individuals at a young age. Foreman grew up as a street fighting bad-ass of sorts in the Fifth Ward of Houston Texas. Growing up in a single-parent home, Foreman spent most of his time in the streets robbing and brawling with whomever got in his way. Hopkins grew up in the Raymond Rosen projects in Philadelphia. At the age of 15, Hopkins was already stabbed three times and turned to a life of crime. At the age of 17 he was sentenced to 18 years in prison for committing nine felonies.
When I asked Foreman what he thought were the similarities between himself and Hopkins he quickly said :
"It's all about pride. That's about it. It's not limited to just pride in yourself, but also your community, your family, and boxing. Those are the similarities we have. He looks in the mirror and he still sees a young kid. Bernard Hopkins-he still thinks he's a kid, you know? I did the same thing. "
Besides mirroring youths, Hopkins and Foreman also have something in common when it comes to being in the ring. When both started their respective careers, each man was known for bringing unprecedented intensity to the door steps of their opponents. After his first retirement in 1977, Foreman came back ten years later with a new style to fit his then 38-year-old frame. Becoming more of a professor than a student of the sweet science helped Foreman regain the heavyweight title seven years later. Hopkins also switched up his original killer instinct style , adding a defensive awareness that has become legendary.
Bernard Hopkins knows how important his date later this month with Pascal means.
After watching the extremely animated "HBO Face Off" segment where Hopkins and Pascal exchanged verbal blows, I asked him about Pascal claiming that Hopkins didn't respect him and if Pascal did anything to gain his respect in the first fight. He replied with:
"He fought when he had to fight to show that he was not folding but I respect all of my opponents to a point but to over respect him-it's like Shane Mosley with Pacquiao. I'm not just going to give you respect. You don't just give people respect when you're in that ring just because they ask for it. "
He then when on to say:
"I need to be in this frame of mind. Spiritually , mentally and physically. I need to be in this frame of mind. Coming in to say I respect you – first of all, what did you for me to respect you in the boxing world? Who did you beat in the world of boxing for me to overly respect you? So at the end of the day respect is not given. Respect is earned."
So once again on May 21st, Bernard Hopkins has the chance to add another prestigious chapter to the legacy he has created when he faces a young lion in the form of Jean Pascal.
"I'm that elder on the block and he's the young on the block and he's disrespecting the block and I'm telling him to pick the trash up. And he's telling me 'Old man get in the house and mind your business. So I have to come out, take my slippers off, put my teeth in and spank him. So that is the respect between the young and the old."
He later added:
"May 21st, you will see the old win."
Photo credit – AP