by Eric Raskin
Nearly every conversation on press row during the undercard for a major fight eventually turns to predictions for the main event. On October 18, 2008, in Atlantic City, the night Bernard Hopkins fought Kelly Pavlik, I had that “So, what do you think is gonna happen?” chat with probably a dozen different people. I remember one of my fellow writers picking Hopkins to win. For all of the others, the debate was whether Hopkins, then 43 years old, would make it competitive and last the distance against the 26-year-old middleweight champ or finally become a knockout victim.
Pavlik, after all, was undefeated in 34 fights with 30 knockouts. And Hopkins was coming off a close loss to Joe Calzaghe in which he ran out of gas, stalled for time, and generally resembled his actual age more than he ever had before.
Of course, we all know what happened in the ring. Hopkins outboxed and befuddled Pavlik at every turn. “The Ghost” was battered both mentally and physically. By the late rounds, the dialogue had shifted to whether Pavlik would last the distance or get knocked out.
Pavlik did go the full 12, but he was never quite the same afterward. Hopkins, meanwhile, soon went on to become the oldest man ever to win a world championship.
It was remarkable what happened over the course of the 12 rounds Hopkins and Pavlik shared, it was remarkable the opposite directions they went, and it’s remarkable where they are now, a little more than four years later.
This past weekend, Pavlik announced his retirement at just 30 years of age. (Disclaimer: It’s a boxing retirement. Its permanence is far from assured.) A few days earlier, Hopkins celebrated his 48th birthday at a press conference announcing his March 9 HBO-televised bout with Tavoris Cloud.
Who could have imagined, going into the Hopkins-Pavlik fight at Boardwalk Hall four years ago, that Pavlik would be retired before Hopkins would? And not just that Hopkins would fight on beyond Pavlik, but that he would still be among the best in his division, engaging in meaningful fights, taking on opponents half his age rather than cashing out with depressing seniors’ tour fights against faded fellow legends?
Hopkins’ longevity is virtually unparalleled in the history of the sport.
But that’s not to say it can’t be duplicated in the future.
To remain an elite fighter deep into your 40s requires extreme discipline and a style built around technical excellence and mental acuity more so than physical gifts. Who among today’s fighters might be the next Hopkins? Two guesses:
1. If he keeps fighting just once or twice a year, don’t be shocked to see Floyd Mayweather still on pound-for-pound lists past his 40th birthday.
2. If he maintains his motivation the way Hopkins has, count on Andre Ward to still be frustrating elite opponents deep into the next decade.