When Bernard Hopkins’ professional boxing career began nearly 25 years ago to the day on Oct. 11, 1988, with a loss to Clinton Mitchell in Atlantic City, N.J., Karo Murat was just over a month past his fifth birthday.
Since then, Hopkins (53-6-2, 32 knockouts) has gone on to become an undisputed middleweight champion with a division record 20 defenses, and, later, earned the RING light heavyweight championship.
In his last fight, a 48-year-old Hopkins dethroned previously unbeaten Tavoris Cloud by unanimous decision to extend his own record as the oldest man to win a significant crown. Hopkins first set the record at the age of 46 by outpointing Jean Pascal for the WBC’s title.
But during a conference call on Thursday, Murat, now 30, vowed that Hopkins’ career would end the same way that it began — with a loss in Atlantic City.
“I’ve always followed his career, (since) I was 12 or 13 years old. I appreciate his accomplishments,” said Murat, (25-1-1, 15 KOs), who will challenge for the IBF 175-pound belt owned by Hopkins on Oct. 26. “He was the undisputed champion at middleweight. He’s now a world champion at light heavyweight. I have all of the respect in the world for him … I respect him for winning the world title at age 48.”
And then, just as quickly, Murat disrespected his elder.
“But I have to say one thing: You can see the mileage on him. To me, he looks like a 48-year-old. He doesn’t have the speed anymore that he may have had when he was 30 years old. He tries to clinch a lot, and to get over in the fights with his experience. That’s it. I respect him, but I will try to beat him.”
A resident of Germany, Murat is 3-0-1 with two knockouts since being stopped in the 10th round by former WBO beltholder Nathan Cleverly in 2010. Referring to Hopkins’ most recent win, Murat put the blame on Cloud.
“I saw a dumb fighter when Cloud fought Hopkins, and that’s why he lost to a 48-year-old man. As a person, you see that he’s growing old because of his gray hair and his gray beard. I saw, in the fight with Cloud, that Hopkins has experience that few other boxers have,” said Murat.
“But I also saw that he was just trying to get off one punch or a one-two combination, and then, he would clinch. Clinching is a state of his game. When he was the middleweight champion, you didn’t see that much clinching. You saw him beating people with speed and with ease. Nowadays, you see the clinching and one or two punches. He’s growing old.”
Murat will be making his U.S. debut in his first title bout just a few miles from Hopkins’ native Philadelphia, and in a city where Hopkins has triumphed over such notables as Kelly Pavlik, Antonio Tarver, William Joppy and Simon Brown.
Nevertheless, Murat said that he is confident that he can be successful against Hopkins where so many others have failed.
“I’m in really good shape. I’m happy to get this chance. I’m 30 years old now, and I’m physically and mentally on top of my game. I know that the time is now to beat Hopkins. When Hopkins fought Cloud, a lot of people said that the time has come and that he was going to lose and that he was going to retire,” said Murat.
“But he schooled Cloud and he showed everybody that he still is a good, 48-year-old boxer. But I’m going to surprise a lot of people. As I’ve said, he had his first pro fight in Atlantic City, and so we will see that the time has come. We’re fighting again in Atlantic City, so it will be a good closing out for him to finally retire at my hands.”
Photos by Boris Streubel-Gettyimages
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com