No athlete has ever won the fight against Father Time. But Bernard Hopkins is sure making him go the distance. Last Saturday, the 49-year-old Hopkins defeated Beibut Shumenov, 19 years his junior, to become the oldest man ever to unify world titles. Last year, Hopkins became the oldest man to win a world title. And later this year, Hopkins could become the oldest man to hold three of the four recognized pieces of the light heavyweight crown.
What’s his secret? Discipline, and lots of it. Hopkins sat down with SI Edge to discuss what it takes to survive this long in an unforgiving sport.
Edge: What’s a typical day for you like, workout wise?
Bernard Hopkins: I’m up at 5:30 or 6 every day. If I run I get a good stretch in for 45 minutes. I might chew on some kind of bar to keep something burning in my system. I don’t run on a full stomach. If I have a gym workout, that will be in the afternoon. It’s extremely disciplined. I’ll get in two, sometimes three workouts per day. I’ll do some yoga and lot of little things here and there.
Edge: What are your meals like?
BH: I’ll eat a big breakfast. Middle of the day I’ll eat a small lunch. I don’t eat late at night. I won’t have a big steak and go to bed. I normally eat three to four meals per day. Some of those meals in between are basically healthy snacks. I eat a lot of trail mix. A lot of fruit. I eat things that can keep the system going until the real meal comes down. If you are an athlete and have an active body, those bars are not going to be enough. Until dinner, it is always wise to eat something in between to keep the system ready to satisfy that craving. You have to be able to eat your meal without wolfing it down. There is a difference between eating when your body speaks to you and when it’s hungry. If you don’t listen to that, if you don’t try to learn your body, your body will control you.
Edge: Do you lift weights?
BH: I don’t. Some fighters do. I was told decades ago, as far back as the amateur days, that weight bulks you up, it makes you look good, but you are not walking the beach. In the ring you need to be mobile, flexible and quick. Muscles are heavy. Muscles will wear you down. Having a lot of muscle is good for lifting cars or pulling tractor trailers. When you are doing things that have nothing to do with reflexes or hand-eye coordination. I love fighting the muscle-bound guys whose bodies look like they were cut out of a mountain in Denver. They miss punches. It’s a problem. I do a lot of resistance weights. The bungee cord is one of my favorite workout mechanisms. You are using the motion of your body. I keep one in my suitcase. Best resistance is your own body
Edge: What’s the heaviest you have ever been?
BH: I don’t know. I can’t remember weighing a lot. I like buying nice quality clothes that take five or six years to go out of style. I like fitting in them for that long. When you still can fit a two-button suit from 2010, that’s damn good. All this stuff is based on respecting my temple. If I respect my car, why would you not respect your insides? I just don’t understand people’s priorities. Here you are, you work your ass off, you gain all this wealth, and you don’t live to see it play out. I just don’t understand how a person does not use that same discipline that they have in other things and not factor that into their life. You only have one life. You have to take care of you. I think different than most people. I don’t take shortcuts. People want to get their stomach chopped in half. They cheat to lose weight. They go against the gods of nature. Man has played God for so long.
Edge: What is your diet like?
BH: I avoid alcohol, drugs, and smoking. I avoid processed food. I have heavily contributed to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods for the last 15 years. They have a lot of my money. I’m making them rich. I read [the label on] everything I put in my body. I’m not a guy who keeps food for weeks and months. I buy fresh and I eat it within a day or two. I eat a lot of salads, a lot of fresh vegetables. I eat a lot of whole wheat pasta. I’m not a meat eater, per se, but I do like venison. I have had it for most of my career. I have a guy outside of Philadelphia who butchers it, slices it, and labels the bags what part of deer is in them. Heart, ribs, could be burgers with the ground-up beef. All these things are not really a diet; they are just knowing the right things.
I was conscious enough to add the right habits to my athletic life. I’m not the most talented fighter of the last 20 years. Roy Jones was talented. But my work ethic overrided all the super talent. I’m confident that they would agree with that 100%. I’ve been able to ward off all the demons that are in this sport. And people see that. I get stopped on the street by lawyers and businessmen who tell me, You inspire me, Mr. Hopkins. I don’t like boxing, but I’m 43, and you inspire me. They get excited, they want to tell me that somehow, someway they might have heard or seen or read about me. It’s great.
Edge: What’s your guilty pleasure?
BH:A good piece of cheesecake. When I’m in Brooklyn I go to Junior’s. They have a good laugh at seeing me eat it like a little kid. I like a little ice cream too. There are so many different ice creams now, though. You can get the low-fat kind, the kind without all the preservatives.
Edge: What size pants do you wear?
BH:I’m a 31. Been a 31 for 10 years.
Edge: At 49, what are some of the extra things you have to do to stay sharp?
BH:I have to constantly work on my reflexes and hand-eye coordination. I do a lot of puzzles. I play chess. I have to use muscles that don’t ordinarily get used a lot. I have to be smarter than my opponents. I have to figure out their styles in the ring. I have to be three or four steps ahead of them. So my mind has to be sharp. I went to a nursing home recently and saw a whole bunch of elderly people throwing a tennis ball against the wall. They have to catch it before it hits the ground. Sometimes they have to catch it with one hand. So I started carrying tennis balls. When I go out, I dribble it like a basketball. I move my feet to keep it from hitting my ankles. You have to keep things stimulated or they will go dead on you. A body that doesn’t move mentally or physically dies.
I don’t have a degree for any of this. What I have seen, though, are friends and mothers and fathers who die early. Or they have to take 10 medications to keep themselves alive. I refuse to be under that many medications for the rest of my life without giving my body a fighting chance to do it without them.