Lee Groves

10: Best Over-40 Fighters

2. Bernard Hopkins: Record after age 40 – 7-4-1 (0) with one no-contest

While one can argue that Hopkins should be placed lower because of his .538 winning percentage, that perception is mitigated by two responses. First, the post-40 Hopkins has faced consistently tough world-class opposition under the bright lights of world title competition on pay-per-view, a set of circumstances that certainly would lead to losses from time to time. And second, some can argue that his draw against Jean Pascal in fight one and his two losses against Jermain Taylor should have resulted in Hopkins victories, which would have raised his over-40 ledger to 10-2 with one no-contest. If one believes that the Calzaghe loss was questionable, that mark would rise to 11-1 with one no-contest. As it is, Hopkins’ late-career accomplishments are worthy of this high ranking.

Hopkins turned 40 on January 15, 2005 as the undisputed four-belt middleweight champion of the world and the oldest number one pound-for-pound fighter in boxing history. Thirty-five days later he decisioned the 40-1 Howard Eastman to retain those straps but then lost the back-to-back fights with Taylor. When the career middleweight decided to jump to 175 – and to take on Antonio Tarver in his first fight – many observers thought the 41-year-old Hopkins was off his rocker. But it was Hopkins who proved everyone was off theirs by scoring a fifth round knockdown en route to a 118-109 across-the-board decision.

A 12-round win over Ronald “Winky” Wright was followed by a showdown with longtime 168-pound monarch Joe Calzaghe. Hopkins got off to a sensational start by decking “Super Joe” in the first round but the Welshman’s high-volume hustling and the subsequent split decision in Calzaghe’s favor left “B-Hop” and his fans hopping mad.

But just when it appeared that Hopkins was being set up for a final fall, he somehow rose again. Many believed power-punching middleweight titlist Kelly Pavlik would be the first man to knock out the 43-year-old Hopkins but the defiant Philadelphian told everyone willing to listen that they’d be shocked at how easily Pavlik would be beaten.

And beaten Pavlik was, to the tune of 119-106, 118-108 and 117-109. Fighting with a raging defiance that sharpened his already honed boxing skills, Hopkins shredded Pavlik so graphically that the Ohioan never fully recovered. The normally high-octane Pavlik averaged just 39 punches per round, was out-landed 148-55 in power punches and fielded 49 percent of Hopkins’ hooks, crosses and uppercuts. The Tarver and Pavlik twin killings created an air of magic similar to that enjoyed by Muhammad Ali and Roberto Duran, a magic that prevents prognosticators from fully discounting their chances against even the toughest of competition.

Hopkins scored overwhelming decision wins over Enrique Ornelas and an aged Roy Jones Jr. before seeking more history against Pascal. In fight one Hopkins overcame two flash knockdowns in the early rounds – his first tastes of canvas since Segundo Mercado turned the trick twice in 1994 – to conduct a master class in ring generalship. He landed the harder shots and fought more consistently but his “reward” was a majority draw. The furor spawned a rematch, which saw Hopkins comprehensively out-point his 29-year-old rival and yet again gave rise to boxing history. Hopkins was so confident and comfortable that before the start of round seven the ultra-fit oldster did a set of push-ups in his corner.

The last year has not been the best of times for Hopkins, who is finally starting to show his age. In October 2011 Chad Dawson’s shoulder toss and Hopkins’ subsequent fall caused a shoulder separation, a result that initially was ruled a two-round TKO for “Bad Chad” but was changed to a no-contest by the California State Athletic Commission. The rematch six months later saw Dawson completely out-box the 47-year-old legend, though Luis Rivera’s 114-114 scorecard turned what should have been a unanimous decision into a majority nod.

That said, Hopkins has always performed best when the experts are aligned against him and if he rains on “Thunder” Cloud’s parade Saturday he’ll make a strong case for vaulting over the last man on this list.

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