Home Columns Don’t say Bernard Hopkins got old overnight

Don’t say Bernard Hopkins got old overnight

Credit: Will Hart - HBO

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Don’t say that Bernard Hopkins “got old overnight”. Don’t say that a a fighter who turns 50 years old in just over two months “got old overnight”. Don’t say that a fighter who has been in the ring 66 times as a professional, over the course of 26 years — a longer career than the age of many of his opponents — “got old overnight”. That’s not what happened to Bernard Hopkins, and that’s not what happened in his fight against Sergey Kovalev.

What happened against Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev, now 26-0-1 with 23 knockout wins, was that the magic came to an end in the form of a fighter who was simply too good and too powerful. Hopkins couldn’t continue doing what he was doing forever, and many of us have taken for granted just how exceptional he has been, and just how unique and spectacular his accomplishments have been in the latter stage of his career.

After originally vowing to never fight past the age of 40, Hopkins changed his legacy entirely in the 10 years since. He rejuvenated himself in unheard of fashion, becoming a dominant fighter in a second weight class and defeating the likes of Antonio Tarver, Winky Wright, Kelly Pavlik, Jean Pascal and Tavoris Cloud. He got his long-awaited revenge over Roy Jones Jr., and gave Joe Calzaghe all he could handle, amassing a 9-3-1 record (with 1 NC) against a who’s who of fighters in and around his division. He became the oldest fighter in the history of the sport to win, defend and unify a title.

Against the likes of Karo Murat and Beibut Shumenov, either of whom would be splattered by Kovalev, Hopkins was able to use his wily tactics and ultimate mastery of the Sweet Science to dictate the fight and assume control. Kovalev would never give him that chance.

Kovalev is a wrecking ball, and from the time he landed a right hand bomb to Hopkins’ temple in Round 1, sending him to the canvas, it was clear that “The Alien” would show his humanity in this bout. It was actually clear a few moments before, as they stood across the ring from each other right before the first bell rang. There, stripped of entourages, pretenses, mind games and posturing, just two men trapped in a ring together, Kovalev was hulking compared to the smaller, wiry Hopkins, and that size and strength difference was far too great for Hopkins to overcome.

It’s not that Hopkins got old overnight, it’s that he’s almost freakin’ 50! It’s that he was going up against perhaps the hardest pure puncher in the sport, a fighter a fraction of his age who was able to overpower him and break him down physically. Still, Hopkins would never be broken down mentally. That would be impossible, no matter the age.

After suffering that early knockdown, Hopkins appeared to bide his time for much of the remainder of the evening, but that’s not the lasting image he would give us. He’s far too proud and defiant for that.

The lasting image was Hopkins staggering Kovalev in the final stanza, going in for the kill and making one last stand. Kovalev recovered and turned the tides, badly hurting Hopkins and leaving him reeling along the ropes and staggering around the ring, the referee looking on closely to see if he had to step in and wave it off in the final seconds. But Hopkins wouldn’t go down, he refused to take a knee or hold on for dear life.

He wouldn’t be broken, even as he took thundering and concussive shots which likely would have felled any other light heavyweight on the planet. He was going out on his feet, and on his shield if necessary, and he gave the raucous fans in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall a sensational close to the fight — and perhaps a rightful close to his career.

Hopkins has said he will ponder his future and whether or not he’ll ever fight again, and nobody would be surprised if he did continue fighting. Clearly, he can continue competing and winning as well.

Regardless of what’s to come though, his stubborn 12th round refusal to go out meekly or quietly, in the face of a brutal Kovalev onslaught, is the storybook ending and the lasting memory which perfectly encapsulates Bernard Hopkins and what he represented in the ring.