In December of 2005, when I was submitting occasional columns to my college newspaper, I felt compelled to jot down my thoughts after middleweight boxer Bernard Hopkins, then a ring-weary veteran at 40 years old, lost to an up-and-coming champion named Jermain Taylor for the second time. It was time to applaud Hopkins for a long and storied career, I opined, because after his second one-sided loss to a younger, more talented competitor, it was time to close the curtain on this all-time great.
Talk about jumping the gun.
Nine years later, Taylor has become an afterthought in the boxing world, the answer to a trivia question or two, while Hopkins, at 49, is still one of the most recognizable, decorated champions in the sport, having won titles at every stop on his way up to light-heavyweight. He ditched his longtime moniker “The Executioner” for the more appropriate “Alien,” a testament to his seemingly inhuman resistance to the aging process.
But on Saturday night, it seemed that my nearly-decade old sentiments about the end of an era might finally be ringing true.
On Nov. 8, Hopkins was felled by 31-year-old Sergey Kovalev in a light heavyweight title bout on HBO. Kovalev, one of the most feared punchers in the sport, methodically broke down the defenses of the ageless Hopkins, overpowering him more soundly than anyone else has been able to do in his two-decade-plus career in the ring.
Of course, it makes sense.
Kovalev is a flat-out destroyer. He knocks opponents out with jabs. But few among the boxing cognoscenti were willing to concede that Hopkins might have finally met his match. His guile, supreme conditioning and experience, they said, would be enough to keep the legend of Hopkins alive.
Alas, it was not to be.
After the fight, Hopkins—who has long been known for his candor—sounded, for the first time, like a man mulling retirement. Age—and Kovalev’s crushing right hand—had finally caught up with the old master.
But I’m not ready to write Hopkins off just yet. I’m going to learn from my past mistakes. So what if Hopkins is going to be 50 years old in a few weeks? I still think he somehow has enough in the tank to remain relevant, at least for a few more years.
But if he does decide to hang up the gloves for good, you can’t blame the guy.
If there’s a tougher opponent out there than a massive Russian with sledgehammers for hands, it’s Father Time.
That’s one battle that nobody will win. Not even the aliens among us.
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