Manny Pacquiao is the best fighter in the world. Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the most gifted. Bernard Hopkins is the most amazing.
The 46-year-old wonder defeated RING and WBC light heavyweight titleholder Jean Pascal by a unanimous decision on Saturday night in Montreal to become the oldest man ever to win a major belt. George Foreman was 45 when he stopped Michael Moorer in the 10th round to win the heavyweight championship in 1994.
And Hopkins did it in commanding fashion, seizing control of the fight by the middle rounds with effective aggression – landing more and cleaner punches against a man 18 years his junior — to win the fight going away.
The judges scored it 115-113, 116-112 and 115-114. RingTV.com had it 116-112 for Hopkins.
“I want to go out on a good note,” Hopkins said in the ring afterward, “a positive note. Being a winner. Not punch drunk. Not beat up. Not broke.”
That’s exactly what he’s doing, although he doesn’t seem to be close to going out in spite of his age.
Let’s try to put this athletic marvel into perspective.
Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 knockouts) is now 7-3-1 after turning 40 in 2005. The three losses — close decisions against Jermain Taylor (twice) and Joe Calzaghe – and a draw against Pascal in December could’ve (should’ve?) gone his way. Can you imagine 11-0 after 40?
And his opponents in eight of those 11 fights – Taylor (twice), Antonio Tarver, Winky Wright, Calzaghe, Pavlik and Pascal (twice) – were among the best in the world at the time he fought them.
One could argue that Hopkins has faced the toughest opposition of his nearly 23-year career since he turned 40, which makes his late-career success all the more remarkable.
Hopkins’ all-time record 20 successful defenses of his middleweight title between 1994 and 2005 was one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of the sport. This run – his post-40 success – might be even more impressive.
Let’s also compare his accomplishment to that of Foreman.
Big George, who was relatively slow but still powerful, seemed to be on his way to losing a decision to Moorer when a right hand to the chin ended the fight in sensational fashion. Still, Foreman looked all of his 45 years until the very end.
Hopkins didn’t look old for a second against Pascal on Saturday.
The Executioner supposedly is slower and less athletic than the 28-year-old Pascal yet he regularly beat the Canadian to the punch and was the busier fighter. His best punch was a straight right, which found its mark numerous times and won him rounds.
Also, Hopkins’ reflexes, which one might question, seemed to be sharp. He took a few good shots – including a bomb in the third round – but avoided most of Pascal’s best punches.
He also seemed to take the younger man’s heart. The more he accomplished in the fight, the less confident Pascal seemed to be.
Hopkins actually did some pushups between the sixth and seventh rounds and made faces at Pascal on more than one occasion during the action, which had to unnerve the less-experienced fighter. Indeed, Hopkins seemed to be superhuman.
Two of the three scores were fairly close but really don’t tell the story. This was Hopkins’ fight from about the fourth round on, both physically and mentally.
This wasn’t just a great performance by an old fighter; it was a great performance – period.
And there might be more ahead. Hopkins probably will next fight Chad Dawson, the former light heavyweight champion who easily outpointed Adrian Diaconu on the undercard in Montreal. If he wins, he said, he wants Lucian Bute.
“I’m going to finish strong,” Hopkins said. “I have a plan to end my boxing career … to box as well as I can, win fights and then get to the last bit … and this [his performance on Saturday] is what you see. Before I leave this game, y’all are going to see the best fights of Bernard Hopkins’ career.
“I know that’s a big order providing what I’ve done already. I’m vouching, I’m promising that every fight until I retire is going to be breathtaking.”
No one will doubt Hopkins. Not now.