At the final press conference for the Lucas Matthysse-Ruslan Provodnikov fight last week, I had the opportunity to sit down for a nice chat with boxing legend Bernard Hopkins. Talking with Hopkins is always as informative as it is entertaining. Hopkins built his legacy in the sport from the mid-90s to the early part of this century, when he forged one of the greatest resumes in middleweight history. When he stopped Oscar De La Hoya in 2004, it made him an undisputed champion at 160 pounds.
In his 40s, Hopkins set a new bar for longevity for elite athletes. No competitor in any sport has every competed at as high a level to such an advanced age, unless you want to count automotive sports or golf, which I don’t. At 46, Hopkins became the oldest world champion in history when he beat Jean Pascal in 2011. In 2013, he broke that record by capturing the IBF title from Tavoris Cloud at 48. Shortly after turning 49, Hopkins unified the IBF and WBA titles when he beat Beibut Shumenov.
Last October, just months away from turning 50, Hopkins faced one of the most dangerous boxers in the sport, Sergey Kovalev, in a quest to add Kovalev’s WBO belt to his trophy case. Instead, the monster Russian knocked Hopkins down early and shut him out on the cards. Still, simply taking that fight is one more impressive line on Hopkins’ stellar resume. Boxing has been on a tremendous upswing in 2015 and I firmly believe that Hopkins’ insistence on facing the toughest fighter available last year set a direction that the younger generation has felt compelled to follow.
“Fighting Sergey and being at the age I was—not that my age had anything to do with his performance, or my performance—but just doing it at that point in my career showed the fans and the media that the gig is up with them. By them, I mean promoters and managers who want to just keep matching their fighters with guys they know don’t have a chance…fans deserve to see a fight that is going to be competitive.”
It’s a great legacy for Hopkins to wind down his career with, but his ambition stretches far beyond it. Hopkins is a refreshing story in the fight game, a guy who has been smart with his money and his health. No 50, he talked about the future with the same enthusiasm as a 20-something just coming out of college.
“I don’t want to be remembered as just a Hall of Fame fighter,” he continued. As a partner in Golden Boy promotions and a commentator for HBO, Hopkins will still remain involved in the sport. “But I feel like there is more out there for me, too,” he stressed.
Hopkins mentioned his friend Michael Strahan as a model he wants to emulate, a retired NFL legend who has transitioned into the main stream media. “I could take my health and awareness philosophy and get that message out there…I’m not going to save the world, I can’t win that battle. But I could put that awareness on a bigger stage.”
I could frankly see Hopkins having a ton of success with an afternoon talk show. The personal discipline required for him to achieve the longevity and greatness he did in boxing, while maintaining perfect health and a healthy fortune, make him more credible than the likes of the world’s Dr. Phils. Hopkins is a natural talker, with the ability to create an immediate sense of congenial familiarity with anybody who sits down next to him. He switches deftly from witty anecdote to inspirational appeal and betrays a natural curiosity and wide range of interests.
For now Hopkins seems content to continue in his role as one of the sport’s true Godfathers. He said he might fight one more time, but doesn’t feel the need to at this point. His ambitions motivate him but don’t consume him. “I do believe in a divine plan,” he confessed. “That lets me be patient. I feel like the things I need to do can come to me as long as I do my part.”