Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — He chops at the heavybag in rhythmic, measured punches. Even something so instinctive, so natural, Bernard Hopkins has to put thought into. His meticulous attention to detail is just one of many reasons why the future Hall of Famer has lasted this long in this rugged, harsh sport.
Boxing has a way of eating everything around it. It deflates bodies, bank accounts, fan interest, but it never had a chance to sink its teeth into Hopkins’ marrow.
He’s avoided the sport’s trappings with guile, arrogance, learned experience and mostly stubbornness. And at 49, he’s still going—making more magic.
Some will say he’s slowed down, and to a certain extent, he has. But what 49-year old in the world can do what Hopkins continues to do, at the level he continues to do it? He’s in the ring with fighters 18, 19, 20 years younger than he is, who once idolized him watching his fights growing up.
The doubters don’t nip in his wake anymore. They aren’t again, as Hopkins (54-6-2, 32 knockouts) takes on WBA light heavyweight titlist Beibut Shumenov (14-1, 9 KO) on Saturday on Showtime Championship Boxing in Washington, D.C.
But Hopkins enters this fight in a somewhat new role: The favorite.
“I suppose you do something long enough you get good at it,” said Hopkins, the IBF world light heavyweight champ, with a grin on his face a few weeks ago in preparing for Shumenov. “You know, I think I liked it better when people didn’t like me as much.”
Yes, he’s grown on boxing fans. But it’s a station he’s earned. He railed against the Don Kings and big-time promoters, often times going against conventional wisdom to the cloaked snickers of many around the sport, only to be proven right in the end.
He’s had to endure blatant disrespect when he did things no one expected him to do: Like destroy Felix Trinidad onSeptember 29, 2001, in the greatest victory of his career. Then after executing the perfect fight plan, Hopkins suffered the indignity that night of not receiving the Sugar Ray Robinson trophy, which was supposed to go to the winner. The swirling rumor was King, who was promoting the fight, already had Trinidad’s name etched onto the trophy before the fight took place, and wasn’t about to hand that to Hopkins.
Whether or not that’s true, Hopkins still laughs about it to this day.
In the 30-year-old Shumenov, Hopkins will be facing a rangy, yet beatable foe. Shumenov has never faced someone as experienced and crafty as Hopkins. Shumenov hasn’t lost in five years. He’s also stopped three of his last four opponents.
But he’s never been in the ring with someone like Hopkins.
“For as long as I have air in my lungs, I’ll keep looking for new goals,” Hopkins said. “That’s how I operate. That’s how I function.”
No one questions him now.