Hopkins win keeps him on course for undisputed light heavyweight title

Monday April 21st, 2014

Bernard Hopkins ran his record to 55-6-2 with Saturday's victory over Beibut Shumenov.
Luis M. Alvare/AP/AP

WASHINGTON -- Make a list of the greatest individual accomplishments in sports. Now tell me where Bernard Hopkins winning his second piece of the light heavyweight crown at 49 -- 49! -- ranks.

Is it below Michael Phelps eight gold medals at the 2012 Olympics?

Is it underneath Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game in 1962?

Is it behind Jesse Owens four world records in 70 minutes in 1935?

Each of these accomplishments -- and so many more -- deserve recognition. But no list is complete without mention of Hopkins, who, after boxing circles around Beibut Shumenov on Saturday, now holds two pieces of the 175-pound title. At an age when most athletes are long since retired, Hopkins is dominating. At an age where most men are wearing a spare tire around their waists, Hopkins is still slipping comfortably into 31-inch waist pants. In a sport cruelly unforgiving to its aging stars, Hopkins is unblemished and sharp as a tack.

Hopkins feat isn't impressive. It's mind blowing.

"Absolutely amazing," said Hopkins promoter, Richard Schaefer. "He keeps on turning back the clock, making history. Fight after fight he turns in performances against these guys who could be his son."

Consider what Hopkins did on Saturday. Shumenov isn't Roy Jones. He's a titleholder because the judges robbed Gabriel Campillo in 2010. He's retained his title despite an 18-month layoff that stretched from the middle of 2012 to the end of 2013. He doesn't have much power, even less defense, and fights a style that's easy to figure out.

He was average. Maybe a little above. But Hopkins made him look so much worse. He tucked his chin and snapped off stinging jabs. He lunged forward and rocked Shumenov with hard right hands. A short right in the 11th round put Shumenov on the canvas. For every hard shot Shumenov landed -- and they were few and far between -- Hopkins landed two of his own. Hopkins landed 49 percent of his punches (ironic, huh?) and 51 percent of his power shots. A man closer to collecting social security than turning 30 didn't take a single heavy breath, didn't show the slightest hint of fatigue.

"I train so hard," Hopkins said. "No matter how you feel about my personality, I want [people] to know before I leave this game that I gave it my all. The pound-for-pound best fighter in the world is Floyd Mayweather. Behind Andre Ward, who I believe is second, and should be, I am not too far from the top three."

He could get there. Sitting in front of a row of reporters after the fight, Hopkins layed out a plan for his future. Adonis Stevenson, the lineal light heavyweight champion who also holds the WBC strap, is next. Stevenson moved from HBO to Showtime specifically for a shot at Hopkins and, if Stevenson can get past Andrzej Fonfara next month, he is going to get it.

Hopkins says he is not just ready to fight Stevenson. He is willing to go to Canada -- Stevenson's adopted country, where he has routinely sold out arenas with raucous crowds -- to do it.

"Wherever I can make the most money," Hopkins said.

Ah, money. That's what Hopkins is about these days. Money and legacy. And rightfully so. Hopkins knows he is one loss away from possibly being shoved out of the sport. Hopkins is a huge ratings draw -- his last two fights on HBO drew well over 1 million viewers and his 2013 win over Murat attracted 999,000 -- but hardly fights a crowd pleasing style. Like with Floyd Mayweather, a large part of Hopkins appeal is his pursuit of history. A 49-year old chasing the unified light heavyweight title attracts viewers. A 49-year old coming off a loss... not so much. For Hopkins to continue to enjoy seven-figure paydays, the wins have to keep coming.

For his legacy, too. Hopkins is adamant about becoming the undisputed light heavyweight champion, a path that would take him through Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev. Hopkins is already a first ballot Hall of Fame fighter. He is arguably the greatest middleweight of all time, having made a record 20 defenses of his 160-pound title. He has been in more world championship fights (32) than anyone but Julio Cesar Chavez.

Yet, still nearing 50, he craves more. Already a boxing great, Hopkins wants his accomplishments to transcend sports.

"I think [winning a title at 49] is up there," Hopkins said. "I'm up there with the Miami Heat maybe winning three straight, with Michael Jordan, with the Dallas Cowboys, the Steelers in the 1980's. I believe it's up there. I want to do as much as I can where you have that discussion of where I fit in sports [history] period. I'm going to give myself, my legacy and my name the utmost opportunity to have a strong debate."

There's another opponent Hopkins wants: Floyd Mayweather. The idea of Mayweather (who has never fought higher than 154 pounds) and Hopkins (who has fought almost exclusively at 175 pounds since 2008) seems like a pipe dream. But Hopkins believes that if he can get down to 160 pounds, Mayweather could be interested.

"The farthest I can go down depends on how much time I have," Hopkins said. "I can do 165 or 168 real comfortably. I came in 172.3 pounds [for the Shumenov fight] on purpose. I looked at everyone's faces. They were saying "How can a guy fight at light heavyweight at 172 pounds?' But I did it on purpose. I remember when I fought Oscar De La Hoya, Bob Arum made it clear that I would not get the fight unless it was at 158 pounds for my middleweight championship. I came in at [156]. They thought I was going to be weak. They thought I overtrained. I did this for a statement."

And Mayweather?

"We'll do a 50-50 promotion," Hopkins said. "He will be fighting for his 50th win and I'll be 50. Think about that?"

Unrealistic? Maybe. But people have counted Hopkins out before. And look how that turned out.

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