Nine years ago today at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, Bernard Hopkins inaugurated the second chapter of his legendary career when he beat Antonio Tarver for the lineal light heavyweight title. After forging one of the best resumes in the history of the middleweight division, Hopkins had dropped back-to-back fights against Jermain Tarver in 2005. Both fights were close and could (should) have been scored for Hopkins. Still, at age 40, it seemed safe to assume that his Hall of Fame career was winding down.
But that was hardly the case. Hopkins came back at age 41 and defeated Tarver by wide margins in 2006. At the time, Tarver was among the hottest fighters in the sport. In his previous two fights he had won back his title from Glen Johnson and then beat Roy Jones Jr. for a second time, after knocking Jones out in 2004.
Tarver was hardly a youngster himself at the time of this fight with Hopkins. But at 37, he was the younger man and had fought far fewer fights, so the mileage on his tires was much lower. He was a 3 to 1 favorite heading into the fight. It’s worth noting, however, that Tarver had been forced to drop 40 pounds after playing fictional heavyweight champion Mason Dixon in the film Rocky Balboa.
Against Hopkins, Tarver was lethargic and sluggish, mostly looking for one big punch at a time. Hopkins used steady movement to deny Tarver a clean, stationary target. Hopkins harassed the southpaw Tarver throughout the fight with his lead right. Tarver was ruled as knocked down in Round 5, when his glove touched the canvas. By the end of the fight, Tarver’s eye was nearly swollen shut.
Hopkins would drop the light heavyweight title by split decision to Joe Calzaghe in 2008 but then recapture it in 2011 from Jean Pascal, at the incredible age of 46. He would lose that title to Chad Dawson in 2012, but come back again to capture the IBF title from Tavoris Cloud in 2013 and the WBA belt from Beibut Shumenov in 2014.
In November 2014, just two months shy of turning 50, Hopkins lost a one-sided decision to WBO champion Sergey Kovalev in a unification fight. He was knocked down in the first and lost every round. Still, to even be in the ring against a monstrous champion like Kovalev at such an advanced age defied reality. Hopkins’ career establish new benchmarks for success for older athletes in any sport, unless somebody wanted to count golf or auto racing, which I don’t.
Tarver has remained a pretty good fighter post-40, as well. Last December, at age 46, he knocked out experienced heavyweight contender Jonathon Banks.