Despite all he's accomplished, Bernard Hopkins remains underappreciated

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

I'm not sure what is more remarkable, that Bernard Hopkins has gone 9-4-1 with a no contest since turning 40, or the combined record of the opponents he's failed to defeat during that time.

In the four losses and a draw Hopkins has had in the last nine-plus years, the record of his opponents going into fights with him is 147-2.

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He was 40 in back-to-back losses to Jermain Taylor, who was 23-0 and 24-0 at the time, in close bouts for the undisputed middleweight title. He was also beaten by Joe Calzaghe (44-0) when he was 43 and by Chad Dawson (30-1) when he was 47. He drew in his first bout with Jean Pascal (26-1) when he was 44.

What Hopkins, 49, has been able to do since 40 is among the greatest feats in sports history, and it has received far too little attention.

He'll meet Beibut Shumenov on Saturday in an IBF/WBA light heavyweight title unification match in a Showtime-televised bout from the DC Armory in Washington, D.C., and almost certainly will compete when he's 50 years old.

He's not as good as he was pre-40, unquestionably. His winning percentage post-40 is 67.9; it was 94.8 before he turned 40.

That said, the caliber of his opposition has not declined noticeably from what it was prior to his 40th birthday, which is frequently the case. Since turning 40, he's faced at least six men who were on various pound-for-pound lists: Taylor (twice), Antonio Tarver, Winky Wright, Calzaghe, Kelly Pavlik and Dawson.

The only opponents he's met since turning 40 who weren't very highly regarded at the time were Howard Eastman, Enrique Ornelas and Karo Murat.

Hopkins has never been implicated in performance-enhancing drug scandals, such as over-40 greats Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. Nor has his body type or fighting style changed dramatically.

He was known as one of the fittest athletes in the game when he won his first world title at 30, and he remains one of the most fit now that he's just seven months from his 50th birthday.

He still lives a Spartan lifestyle. He doesn't smoke. He doesn't drink. He doesn't do drugs. He doesn't stay up late. His training routines would put many fighters young enough to be his son to shame.

He hasn't gotten bored with the countless sit-ups that are required of his job, or the early alarm clock warnings for road work. There are few visible concessions to age.

The great former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes fought until he was nearly 53, but he was mostly fighting has-beens and the dregs of the sport in his last 12 or 13 years.

Hopkins, though, has maintained a steady diet of elite opposition and continues to succeed.

Shumenov could barely contain himself when speaking about Hopkins' accomplishments at such an advanced age.

"It's truly amazing," he said. "It's unbelievable. It's incredible. I don't see where in the past or in the future anybody could do what Bernard does."

Hopkins is very much aware of, and motivated by, his legacy. He's long sought to prove his critics, be they real or imagined, wrong.

He pushes himself to set records that won't be touched, to be the subject among boxing fans decades after he's gone.

"I have my own agenda, and trust me, in that agenda is to one day be part of a long conversation about where do they put Bernard Hopkins, because we can't just put him with all of the other historic legendary boxers," he said. "So, I want to make y'all have a really hard time, whether you're here or not, whoever's in the future, figuring out where to put this. I have to do the work now to be able to do that later.

"That's the thing: You work now, you enjoy later. That's how it's supposed to be."

If he beats Shumenov, he'll have two of the four major belts with the likelihood he'll get a shot at the third, the WBC championship held by Adonis Stevenson.

Because of the political warfare between Showtime and HBO, he may never get a crack at becoming the undisputed light heavyweight champion again, however.

Evander Holyfield was once undisputed champion at both cruiserweight and heavyweight. Hopkins was the undisputed middleweight champion at one point, but even if he beats Shumenov and then Stevenson, he'd be missing the WBO belt held by Sergey Kovalev.

Given that Kovalev is committed to HBO, it's unlikely that he'll ever get that opportunity.

But even if he doesn't win another fight, what he has accomplished in his sport at such an advanced age is beyond remarkable.

Genetics play a major role and he's been blessed with the type of genes that allow him to do what might otherwise be regarded as a ridiculous thought. He has the fierce work ethic needed to take advantage of those great genes.

And no one is more motivated to be remembered fondly than Hopkins.

"I can't take it fight by fight because that's boring," he said. "That's like going to work and not knowing if you're going to get fired each day. My thing is, I always have long-term goals just to stay alive, but they are realistic goals."

Realistic, perhaps, for a genetic freak, but unrealistic for mere mortals.

Hopkins has recently taken to calling himself "The Alien," which is a nod to the fact that what he's doing in such a physically demanding sport at 49 years old is not of this world.

He deserves a lot more attention than he's getting for this feat, win or lose on Saturday.

His is one of the more remarkable stories in sports. And each time he competes, it only becomes more so.

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