‘The Executioner’ Is Out To Prove That Age Is Just A Number

By Anwar S. Richardson
Updated: July 20, 2007

LAS VEGAS — Father Time would have worn a robe and carried an hourglass, but instead, Bernard Hopkins wore a white linen sports coat with a matching T-shirt, jeans and white sneakers to his news conference Thursday.

Hopkins, 42, is determined to use Winky Wright as proof there is life after 40 for a professional athlete. He wants to be mentioned in the same sentence as Roger Clemens, Jerry Rice, Nolan Ryan, Barry Bonds and George Foreman, athletes who excelled well past the typical sports retirement age.

In order for Hopkins (47-4-1) to be mentioned among those elite athletes, he must get past Wright (51-3-1) in their light heavyweight bout Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The fight will air live on HBO pay-per-view at 9 p.m.

“I’m going to kick his [butt],” Hopkins said. “I want to say it right now, so nobody can say it was said after the fact. Let’s make that clear now, so when the fight is over, you can say Hopkins predicted it.”

It is not a prediction Wright agrees with, but he concurs that Hopkins deserves credit for performing at a high level at his age.

“More power to him. I know I won’t be fighting over 40,” said Wright, 35. “This is a hard life. For him to be doing this over 40, I cannot lie to you, it’s a great achievement. You definitely have to respect him.”

Even former opponent Jermain Taylor, 28, agreed with Wright.

“I give that man my respect for what he does. He’s amazing,” Taylor said. “He’s showing me that if you take care of your body, do right, and age, when people say that you’re old, you’re not that old. I respect him for that.”

Hopkins’ legacy began as he dominated the middleweight division for 12 years. He had 20 successful title defenses during that time span, which included notable wins against Glen Johnson, Antwun Echols, Tito Trinidad, William Joppy and Oscar De La Hoya.

His first major setback occurred in July 2005 after a split-decision loss against Taylor, ending his streak. He followed with a loss by unanimous decision in the rematch.

With his career in a quandary, Hopkins decided to move up from 160 pounds to 175 in June 2006 to fight Tampa light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver, who was nicknamed “The Legend Killer” after consecutive wins against Roy Jones Jr. Most expected Hopkins to lose against the bigger and stronger opponent, but he dominated to pull off a shocking win by unanimous decision and add to his legacy.

“The smart ones should have figured out, ‘Why did he go up from 160 to 175?’ I knew why I was doing it, but people didn’t understand it. They thought it was a desperate situation, I wanted a big payday, or I lost my sanity,” Hopkins said. “My strong point has always been to never put myself in a situation that I’m not comfortable in.”

After his victory, Hopkins believed he had enjoyed a rewarding boxing career and announced his retirement. Hopkins said he would enjoy his minority ownership role in Golden Boy Promotions, De La Hoya’s company, and even had a retirement party to celebrate his achievements.

But like many boxers, Hopkins’ retirement barely outlasted Michael Buffer’s ring introductions.

After several months of working outside the ring, Hopkins grew bored and decided to fight again.

“Yes, for others [the Tarver victory] was the perfect ending, but I have to be comfortable, and I have to be in a position where I say to myself, five years from now, when I won’t be back … I have to be able to say to myself, well into my 40s, that I was satisfied completely with my career to the end,” Hopkins said.

“If you have a fight in you, and you’re not in denial of what’s there in front of everybody’s eyes and you can fight on, then you should fight. No one is saying I shouldn’t fight. They’re saying, ‘Why are you coming back when you ended so brilliantly?’”

Wright vowed to send Hopkins back into retirement during Thursday’s news conference. Hopkins predicted his age will not prevent him from knocking out Wright during Saturday’s bout.

Only time, and maybe Father Time, will tell.

“I don’t want it to become an embarrassment [for boxing] by me beating up the young guys and then make boxing look so dead where you got a 42-year-old senior citizen beating up guys that shouldn’t be beaten,” Hopkins said.

“I’ll leave if [my winning] embarrasses boxing, but I doubt it. I think it will show something real unique, and I think it would be really a great accomplishment for me and a lot of other people that say 40 years old is not a death sentence, no matter what you do.”