On this day in 1995, Bernard Hopkins stopped Segundo Mercado in seven rounds to claim the vacant IBF middleweight title. It was a rematch of a December 1994 bout between the two, which had ended in a draw.
Hopkins was an unlikely champion. He had been sentenced to prison at 17 and taken up boxing while behind bars. When he was paroled at 21, he was determined to turn his life around.
Hopkins made his professional debut in October 1988, losing a four-round decision to Clinton Mitchell. He waited over a year before returning to action, beating Greg Paige in February 1990. It was the start of a 21-fight win streak, which did not end until May 1993, when he lost by decision to Roy Jones Jr., while fighting for the IBF belt he would eventually win.
Beating Mercado for the IBF belt in 1995 did not turn Hopkins into a major boxing star. But it did give him the foothold that allowed him to climb his way to such status. He would go on to become one of the most celebrated middleweight champions in history. No man has won more middleweight title fights than Hopkins.
Hopkins made 11 successful defenses of the IBF belt, beating solid contenders like John David Jackson, Glen Johnson, Antwun Echols and Simon Brown. In April 2001, he unified the WBC and IBF belts by defeating Keith Holmes.
In September 2001, Hopkins added the WBA strap to his collection when he knocked out Felix Trinidad in Madison Square Garden. It was the future Hall of Famer’s first loss and demonstrated Hopkins was truly an elite talent.
Hopkins became an undisputed champion in September 2004, when he knocked out Oscar De La Hoya. Hopkins and De La Hoya have since become business partners in Golden Boy Promotions.
Over the past decade, Hopkins has shattered all standards for longevity by a professional athlete. No competitor in any sport has been so good for so long after turning 40. He’s been a multiple-time world champion at light heavyweight, still holding the IBF and WBA versions of the title at 49.
Beyond his unprecedented career past 40, Hopkins will go down as one of the top five to 10 middleweights in the sport’s history, a legacy that began 20 years ago today.