1. How big an accomplishment is it for Bernard Hopkins to win a title at 46?
CHRIS MANNIX: This is Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak or Jerry Rice's record for consecutive games with a reception. It's historic. Just look at the boxing landscape: There aren't many fighters thriving in their late 30s, much less mid-40s. Boxing is a most unforgiving sport (ask Roy Jones), where faded skills can frequently lead to disastrous results. And Hopkins didn't poach an alphabet belt from a paper champion, either. He took on the best light heavyweight the division had to offer and he did it in Jean Pascal's backyard. Men his age are often carrying around big bellies and barbecuing in their backyards. Hopkins is winning titles. Appreciate him now because I doubt you will ever see anything like him again.
RICHARD O'BRIEN: The fuddy-duddy, you-kids-get-off-my-lawn old-timer in me wants to remind everyone that a title now (with 17 weight classes and three, four, five sanctioning bodies) doesn't mean anywhere near what it did back in, say, 1952 (eight weight classes, one title each), when Archie Moore took the light heavyweight championship from Joey Maxim at the age of 39. But, then again, who cares? What B-Hop has done is extraordinary.
It's not just that he won a championship, it's how he won it. For the past several years Hopkins has been the fistic equivalent of your aunt Myrtle: a persnickety spoilsport who shushes everyone and reminds them of how it should be done, while serving up lukewarm peppermint tea. Sure, it was fun and gratifying to point to Hopkins as the last of the old masters and to revel in his feinting, shoulder-rolling repertoire. But he didn't exactly produce fireworks. Against Pascal, though, he simply let it roll, as if he were saying, "Here's how an all-timer fights, bro. Try to keep up if you can." Hopkins does a monthly how-to feature in The Ring magazine, and he rolled out every installment against Pascal in a single evening. That took a tremendous amount of preparation, fitness and focus.
How long he can keep it up remains to be seen, but that doesn't matter. What Hopkins produced on May 21 in Montreal was (cliché alert) one for the ages.
BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: It's one of the all-time great achievements in sports, even if it didn't get a fraction of the media attention as, say, Michael Phelps winning eight gold medals. Like Mannix says, Hopkins could have easily written his name into the record books against some anonymous belt holder, but he instead went after a legitimate champion in his prime. He went behind enemy lines -- not once but twice -- to pull it off. He overcame at least one missed knockdown call in the later rounds. And he managed to provide one of the indelible images in the recent history of championship fights: the vision of a 46-year-old man doing push-ups in the ring while his younger, "stronger" challenger stole a few extra seconds on his stool.
Hopkins' supreme conditioning and monastic lifestyle has always been the foundation of his success -- "I have invested in my body like you invest money in a bank," he says -- but the Pascal victory suggests there's something greater at play here than mere nutrition and clean living. Indubitably, we're in the presence of an all-time legend.
2. Who would you like to see Hopkins fight next?
MANNIX: I'll tell you who I don't want Hopkins to face: Chad Dawson. Yes, Hopkins is contractually obligated to face Dawson next. But Dawson bored the Bell Center crowd to tears in his fight against Adrian Diacanu on the Hopkins-Pascal undercard, and I fear a fight with Hopkins won't be much better. I'd like to see Dawson get a little more seasoning under new trainer Emanuel Steward, become more Miguel Cotto-like before he steps in with Hopkins.
Give me Tavoris Cloud next. Cloud has a title (the IBF version) and a heavy-handed style that I think could make for an entertaining matchup. It would be another chance for Hopkins to outclass a young, undefeated lion in the division -- and a chance for Cloud to retire a legend.
O'BRIEN: Promoter Richard Schaefer has indicated that he would prefer to avoid a Hopkins-Dawson fight. Meanwhile, Hopkins -- busy on the Twitter -- has said he has no intention of fighting Andre Ward, David Haye or Steve Cunningham, as he is too friendly with all of them. The name of another Canadian star, Lucian Bute, has arisen, but with Bute under contract to Showtime for two more fights, that doesn't seem likely. Given a blank slate, I'd pencil Hopkins in against Dawson. With Steward in his corner, Dawson appears ready to advance beyond the fighter he was when he lost to Pascal. He deserves the shot at Hopkins.
GRAHAM: I'll take Cloud over Dawson any day. And a summit meeting with Bute in Montreal could attract a stadium-sized live gate. But count me among those who hope the Sergio Martinez rumor gains momentum in coming weeks. A fight between Hopkins and Martinez at a catch-weight of 170 is one of the most delectable matchups out there. Both fighters would benefit greatly from the superfight glare that comes with a true pound-for-pound showdown.
3. Can Andre Ward be the next great American star?
MANNIX: There are very few fighters who have commanded public attention despite a dull, action-less style. One, really: Floyd Mayweather. Ward has all the tools to be a superstar. He's young, skilled and has an Olympic gold medal. But he refuses to take many chances and his hit-and-not-get-hit style, while winning fights, isn't winning him many fans. He's still a virtual unknown outside of Oakland, Calif., and without those SportsCenter-quality knockouts, it's going to be tough for him to build a fan base. Ward will get another chance to shine later this year, when he takes on the winner of Carl Froch and Glen Johnson in Showtime's Super Six tournament final. It would behoove him to take a more aggressive approach, if only for one fight. He might win a few people over.
O'BRIEN: Ward, who basically shut out Arthur Abraham on May 14, has signed a long-term contract extension with promoter Dan Goossen. Big Dan should be very happy. At age 27, Ward is a truly gifted fighter who is still getting better. The 2004 Olympic gold medalist has had some injuries and resultant timeouts as a pro, but he has continued to develop just the same. Is he the next Sugar Ray Leonard? No. But that may have as much to do with the way boxing is presented these days (i.e., no network TV) as it does with talent and style. Ward is a terrifically well-schooled fighter and a very personable, level-headed young man. With the right opponents -- the winner of Saturday's Froch-Johnson fight to start with -- he could become a very well-known and well-respected figure. Whether he's a flashy (or frightening) enough performer to ignite passions beyond the boxing faithful, though, remains to be seen.
GRAHAM: It depends on your definition of star. If you're talking about topping the pound-for-pound list -- he's already No. 6 on SI.com's chart -- Ward is well on his way. If you're taking about crossover stardom, I have my doubts. He is a defense-minded technical boxer -- not to mention a devout Christian who is happily married with a wife and three children. Sadly, and perhaps as a commentary of our times, it doesn't sell. We'll save the moral discussion for another time, but you wonder if Ward might have been born on the wrong continent. (Call him Klitschko Lite.) In the cable TV era, a boxer needs that special something to break through the paywall -- whether it's a hyperkinetic, made-for-YouTube style (like Mike Tyson or Manny Pacquiao) or a built-in fan base (like Oscar De La Hoya). Ward has an Olympic pedigree and a world championship, but eschews risk in favor of precision punching. The hope is he keeps winning and the attention will come, but in today's crowded sports landscape, that's no guarantee.
4. Tom Zbikowski has decided to put his boxing career on hold and concentrate on football. Smart move?
MANNIX: If Tommy Z was in knock-down, drag-out wars in the ring, I'd say yes. But the truth is Top Rank has been carefully matching Zbikowski against inferior opponents, a fairly common practice for marketable stars looking to beef up their records. Zbikowski has never been in any real danger in his fights. And he's been making about $50,000 a pop in each one. Only Zbikowski knows if boxing training would have been an impediment to his football career. Selfishly, I would have like to see him stick it out for a while longer, if only because I had a feeling some cruiserweight title holder would have given him a shot. And I would have liked to see how that played out.
O'BRIEN: You bet. What was it that Rocky said to Adrian on their date to the ice skating rink? "You gotta be a moron to wanna be a fighter, you know. I mean, it's a racket where you're almost guaranteed to end up a bum." Extreme, maybe. But there's a real grain of truth there. Zbikowski is 26 years old and 4-0 as a cruiserweight. He's proved that he's not just a dilettante. He's a talented, well-prepared fighter who knows his way around the ring. But that is a long, long way from a championship or true stardom. And a lot can go wrong on the way. On the other hand, he is a third-round NFL draft pick and a solid member of the Baltimore Ravens. Lockout or no lockout, that's not something to jeopardize. He may come back to the ring, but for now this is the wise choice.
GRAHAM: I never doubted his commitment, but the whole endeavor always struck me as more of a lark. An eminently watchable one, to be sure, but Zbikowski's last-minute addition to the Miguel Cotto-Ricardo Mayorga card seemed like a shrewd grab for the nationwide legion of Notre Dame fans. I'm sure he's curious to see how far he can go with it, but this is a no-brainer: A Raven in the hand is worth two in the bush.