MONTREAL – Decades ago, a poor Bernard Hopkins ran through the streets of his hometown in North Philadelphia to evade the police, or someone who was trying to catch him for something he had just done.
A couple decades later, Hopkins ran those same streets again as a multi-millionaire boxer intent upon making history.
He did just that on Saturday when he pounded out a unanimous decision over Jean Pascal before 17,560 fans at the Bell Centre to become, at 46 years, four months and six days, the oldest man to ever win a world boxing championship. With the win, Hopkins claims the World Boxing Council light heavyweight belt more than 16 years after he won his first world title, earning it by scores of 116-112, 115-113 and 115-114.
He walked to the ring to the sound of his own voice crooning Frank Sinatra's classic, "My Way." He hit the ground and did pushups in the seventh round when Pascal was late getting off the stool. And he fought a guy young enough to be his son on more than even terms before stamping himself in the history books by surpassing George Foreman as the oldest world champ. Foreman was 45 when he knocked out Michael Moorer to win the heavyweight title in Las Vegas in 1995.
Hopkins nearly didn't make it here. He spent a term in a Pennsylvania prison for strong-armed robbery and vowed as he left he'd never return. Remarkably, he turned his life around and became an elite athlete obsessively focused on treating his body right.
He never drinks or smokes and is so disciplined that he spent many of his previous training camps working out in Miami's trendy South Beach area, filled with hot night clubs, pretty women and temptations that have destroyed many men.
"How many boxing managers are going to let their fighters train in Miami Beach?" Hopkins said.
He promised his late mother, Shirley, that he wouldn't fight past his 40th birthday but couldn't bring himself to quit when he realized he still had so much to give to the sport. He's now 7-3-1 after his 40th birthday and piling on achievements to one of the greatest careers in boxing history.
"If I would have kept my promise, you never would have gotten to see the great fights I had right after that promise," Hopkins said, holding a chain that he wears around his neck with his mother's photo on it. "To me, it's a tradeoff. I'm glad I didn't stay retired. I did retire, but I'm glad I didn't stay retired, because I would have been miserable as hell three, four, five years later knowing that there were a lot of guys out there with history attached to it who I could have beaten."
Hopkins was the master craftsman throughout the fight. Pascal wound up hard, trying to take Hopkins' head off with just about every punch. Hopkins, though, either made him miss entirely or was able to neutralize much of its power.
Pascal was unable to seriously hurt Hopkins, who said he thrives on dismantling the attack of young, aggressive fighters such as his opponent.
"He loads up on every shot and I know Pascal does that," Hopkins said. "He loads up on those shots because he knows he's a puncher. He thinks he's a puncher and he wants to blow the house down, like the big, bad wolf. ... He gets so excited and he has the testosterone going so high. He's like, 'Boom. Boom. Boom,' and me, the old fox, wanted him to do that. I just leaned here, I leaned there and leaned there and you have a couple of misses."
A glum Pascal, who was 12 when Hopkins won the International Boxing Federation middleweight title in 1995, conceded Hopkins' point. He said he was going for the knockout early and noted he'd probably try to adjust his tactics.
"Every time I throw, I try to hurt people," Pascal said. "Maybe I need to change and be more slick."
Nobody in boxing is more slick than Hopkins, who said he opted to train for the rematch against Pascal in his old haunts in North Philadelphia. He said he wanted to remind himself of old times, when life was a struggle and everything came hard.
He didn't look appreciably different physically than he did at 26, but he was considerably smarter. He displayed all the tricks in the book, managing to hold when he needed a break, to maul Pascal on the inside exchanges and to generally control the pace and flow of the fight.
Foreman, watching on television at his home in Texas, said he was thrilled to see Hopkins break his mark.
"If my record goes down you want to see it go down that way," Foreman said. "If it was the Olympics, Bernard gets the gold medal and breaks the record for the world championship. This was the best I've seen him, the way Bernard took charge of the fight with a young strong champion like Pascal. Long live the king."
Hopkins isn't ready to bow out yet and will meet Chad Dawson, a former light heavyweight champion who defeated Adrian Diaconu in the main preliminary bout.
Dawson, working for the first time with trainer Emanuel Steward, tried to adopt a more offensive style, and expressed confidence he'll be ready to deal with anything Hopkins brings.
"At the end of the day, I have time on my side and I'm younger and faster," Dawson, 28, said.
Hopkins has heard that one before, for years, from guys like Dawson and Pascal. And more often than not, they've left puzzled about what happened, why they couldn't solve the riddle of boxing's star senior citizen.
"I do want to fight a major fight before the end of the year and I do want to keep the engine running," Hopkins said. "I'm that aging car, the '65 Lincoln with suicide doors. I got to keep the car running and keep it oiled and going around the block. I don't have to drive it too far, but I want to keep the engine running. If you sit around for six months, it's too much for me. No matter how great I look at 46, trust me: 46 is 46. I have to keep that engine running. Even if I don't bring it out of the garage, I have to start it up."
When he does, it seems great things happen. He wouldn't put a limit on how long he'll fight but did point out that he won't become an opponent and wind up taking beatings.
He'll get out before boxing shoves him out. That time, though, doesn't appear to be coming any time soon.
"He's a legend and a great champion," Dawson said in tribute.
And, unbelievably perhaps, the legend continues to grow. The curtain isn't ready to fall on this show yet.
- Bernard Hopkins
- Jean Pascal