LOS ANGELES — Bernard Hopkins is in a class of his own where boxing accomplishments are concerned. No active pro boxer has come close to achieving the number of milestones the light heavyweight champ has amassed during his amazing 23-year career.
Hopkins has two all-time boxing records to go with a dozen hall-of-fame-caliber statistics on his resume, but the 46-year-old veteran isn’t 100-percent satisfied with his impressive body of work.
Hopkins, who defends his RING and WBC light heavyweight titles against Chad Dawson on Saturday at Staples Center, spoke about doing something that would merit “iconic status” against the talented 29-year-old contender during a recent media workout.
“Haven’t you already achieved that?” asked one of the boxing writers who managed to find the L.A. Sands Boxing Gym tucked away in the warehouse district on the edge of downtown.
“Nah, I haven’t done it yet,” Hopkins immediately shot back, shaking his sweaty shaved head without looking at the writer. “Maybe knocking out Chad Dawson will do it.”
Maybe? Evidently, being the oldest world champion in boxing history (perhaps any pro sport) and taking on the No. 3-rated contender (according to THE RING) in his weight class doesn’t cut it for the hardnosed Philadelphia native.
Or maybe Hopkins is simply an extremely driven, goal-oriented competitor whose standards just happen to be higher than most.
Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 knockouts) began forging his legacy in the middleweight division, where he became the first undisputed champion since Marvelous Marvin Hagler by unifying all three major belts in 2001.
He followed that feat by breaking Carlos Monzon’s record for middleweight title defenses (14) in ’02. He racked up 20 defenses before he lost his titles via controversial split decision to Jermain Taylor in 2005, a loss that snapped a 12-year unbeaten streak.
However, Hopkins wasn’t finished making history. He jumped to light heavyweight and became the oldest former middleweight champ (42) to win the light heavyweight title by dominating 3-to-1 favorite Antonio Tarver in 2006. Hopkins lost the title via disputed split decision to Joe Calzaghe in ‘08, but he became the oldest living boxing champion ever in May when he regained it by out-pointing Jean Pascal in their rematch.
How do you top that? Most fighters, even great ones, wouldn’t try to.
Even George Foreman, whose record Hopkins broke, grabbed a few “gimmes” after he regained the heavyweight title at age 45 in 1994. Foreman, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003, fought three consecutive unranked (by THE RING) heavyweights — Axel Shultz, Crawford Grimsley, and Lou Savarese — between his 10th-round KO of Michael Moorer and controversial decision loss to top-10 rated Shannon Briggs.
Nobody faulted Big George for making a few easy paydays after his record-breaking victory over Moorer. Few would’ve given Hopkins a hard time if he had chosen a “soft” first defense of his 175-pound titles.
But there’s nothing “soft” about Hopkins and he’s never been motivated by “gimmes.”
“Whatever I do, in this sport and personally, I want to do what nobody else has done,” Hopkins told RingTV.com. “Muhammad Ali didn’t fight into his 40s. That motivates me.
“It’s taken unique accomplishments to keep me going all these years. First it was breaking Hagler’s title defense record, then Monzon’s. Defending my IBF title 13 times to surpass Hagler and then 15 times to surpass Monzon pushed me to do something more.”
It’s telling that Hopkins measures himself against great fighters of the past rather than contemporaries.
“I had to break an old legacy to start mine,” he said. “One record led to another. I didn’t even know it at the time, but when I beat Tarver for the light heavyweight title, I did something that Sugar Ray Robinson — the greatest fighter who ever lived — couldn’t do. (Boxing historian) Burt Sugar told me that. That meant something to me. That added to my drive to make history.”
Of course, once Hopkins makes history, his natural inclination is to break it. He always wants to go one better, which leads the boxing world to the showdown with Dawson on Saturday.
Dawson is a superbly gifted boxer. The slick southpaw is tall, rangy, skilled and fast. In other words, he’s a handful for world-class fighters half Hopkins‘ age. It would be a major accomplishment for Hopkins, the slight betting underdog, to beat Dawson by any means.
However, that’s not enough for Hopkins.
“I need to so something dramatic (against Dawson) in order to outdo my last fight,” he said. “Just to go in there and technically beat him, which I believe I can do, and just get a win (is not enough).
“But to go in there, like the Bernard Hopkins from Philly — smart though, chin down — and take his heart and just change the fight as people are watching, I think that would be something to make people say ‘Wow. Where do we put this guy?’
“‘We gotta look past the pound-for-pound list. We gotta come up with something that sets him aside from the norm.’”
We would indeed. It’s called iconic status. It’s called being an all-time great.