COMMENTARY | The conversation about Bernard Hopkins and his greatness no longer should be barricaded by walls of boxing. As far as pound for pound lists are concerned, there remains much debate where he will end up once he finally decides to hang up the gloves. However, when it comes to discussing "old" athletes and remaining competitive well past their perceived prime, Hopkins may quite possibly be most consistently great athlete of all time. With last Saturday's dominant performance over Tavoris Cloud to become the oldest boxer to hold a major world championship, the Philly fighter must enter the discussion of being one of the greatest athletes the world has ever witnessed.
Go ahead, dig into the history of sports and find another athlete in any sport who has been at the top of his game for as long as Hopkins has.
Randy Johnson's name often comes up when discussing an extended tenure of dominance. And for good reason. A ten-time All-Star who consistently threw heat who stands #2 on the all-time strikeouts list, Johnson pitched well into his 40s. However, Johnson's best years were between 1993-2002 and those couple of years he spent with the Yankees. But he was falling apart at the age of 44 and was average at best.
Hopkins has never been average and between the years 1993 and 2002, B-Hop's win percentage was an astounding 95.6% (22-1). Meanwhile, Johnson's win percentage was 75% (175-58). A feat that is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Of course there are other things that factor into Johnson's win percentage such as the performance of his teammates. Hopkins could only rely on his fists.
Other athletes who continued to perform well past their 40s include Jamie Moyer (50, and still going...we think), Roger Clemens (steroid allegations be damned), Nolan Ryan, George Foreman and Jack Nicklaus (played into his 60s). All were great but none stayed at a high level for as long as Hopkins.
You can argue that Hopkins doesn't have to endure a 162 game baseball season or play 82 games of basketball, but he is in a sport that we can all agree is far more brutal than golf, baseball, basketball, hockey and football. Yes, those aforementioned sports have long lasting effects on the body, but the goal of boxing is to inflict pain on another individual until they cannot continue inflicting pain upon you. There are no time outs when times get rough. There isn't another player to help pick up the slack. It's just you and your opponent.
The permanent damage that has left some of our boxing greats a far different human specimen has somehow missed Hopkins completely. He is just as articulate today as he was two decades ago (perhaps more articulate). No, he is not the most exciting fighter on the planet to watch, but he made a decision a long time ago that boxing was chess and not the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots version of checkers.
Hopkins turned pro back on October 11, 1988 at the age of 23. He lost his debut fight by majority decision to a gentleman named Clinton Mitchell. Unlike most of our celebrated boxers, Hopkins started his professional career with a loss but took his craft to another level and reeled off 22 straight victories before running into the buzz saw known as Roy Jones Jr. on May 22, 1993. Hopkins lost a unanimous decision with scores of 116-112 across the board.
It would be the last time Hopkins would lose by a decisive unanimous decision.
20 years have passed since the Roy Jones loss and Hopkins has gone 30-4-2 (2 No Contests). His losses have been as narrow as they come. After defending the middleweight crown a record 20 consecutive times, Hopkins lost in back to back fights to Jermain Taylor. The first was a somewhat controversial split decision (113-115, 116-112, 113-115) and the second was just as close as the first with Hopkins losing by one round on all three judges' scorecards. Where's Jermain Taylor today? Struggling to regain relevancy after losing four out of five fights in 2007-2009. The general consensus is that Taylor is washed up. Hopkins, on the other hand, is far from it.
Another split decision loss to Joe Calzaghe in 2008 and a majority decision loss to Chad Dawson -- which should have been a unanimous decision -- are the only other blemishes on Hopkins' record since losing to Jones two decades ago. Calzaghe has since retired and Dawson is another fighter looking to regain relevancy.
As for Roy Jones, it's no secret that he was the class of boxing for the '90s. But the wheels fell off of his bandwagon the moment Antonio Tarver detonated a left hook on the 35-year-old Jones' face in 2004.
Still not convinced? Here are some things to consider about Hopkins' tenure in the sport.
When Hopkins debuted as a professional...
- Mike Tyson was still the world heavyweight champion.
- Michael Jordan was ringless and still getting beat up by the Detroit Pistons.
- Michael Irvin was a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys
- The young duo known as "The Bash Brothers" (Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire) were pegged to lead baseball into the new frontier and led the Oakland A's to the World Series, where they would eventually lose to Orel Hershiser's Los Angeles Dodgers.
- A 12-year-old Tiger Woods had just broke 70 on a regulation golf course
Considering his age, it is truly amazing what Hopkins continues to accomplish while his professional athlete counterparts who are close to his age are talking about sports rather than playing them. But thanks to Hopkins conscious effort to analyze everything he ingests into his body while refusing to smoke or drink, he has been able to perform while most 48-year-olds struggle to roll out of bed in the morning without something aching.
When will he quit fighting? Only he knows. But who are we to tell him when he should stop considering that he continues to wrap title belts around his 30-inch waist? Nobody, that's who. Until one of us can accomplish something remotely close to what Hopkins has, we may as well shut up when it comes to giving our suggestions on his retirement date.
Until then, Hopkins has proven that he still has "it" and will continue to school these young boys on the art of boxing. Like him or not, finding another athlete who continues to perform at a high level like Hopkins has for a quarter century will be quite the task. It's about time we give him his due.
Andreas Hale lives in the boxing capital of the world and has covered the sport for mainstream media outlets such as MTV.com and Jay-Z's LifeandTimes.com, as well as die-hard websites including FightNews.com. You can follow him on Twitter (@AndreasHale).
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