ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — IBF light heavyweight titleholder Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins strode into Caeser’s Hotel on Thursday with trainer Naazim Richardson in tow prepared to hold court with reporters for an hour in the gambling city the 48-year-old Philadelphia native calls his home away from home.
Hopkins shared, among other things, that it was just over 25 years ago this month that his professional boxing career began as a 175-pounder with a loss on Oct. 11, 1988, to Clinton Mitchell in Atlantic City, for which the loser earned $400 — half of which went to his handlers.
Hopkins was RING and WBC light heavyweight champion in April of 2012 when he suffered defeat for the last time, in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, being dethroned via unanimous decision by southpaw Chad Dawson.
Overall, however, Hopkins remembers the bustling town as the place where he has scored some of his more dominant and dramatic victories, over such notables as Kelly Pavlik, Antonio Tarver, William Joppy and Simon Brown, the latter of whom he stopped in the sixth round.
“You really want to defend your territory. Even though I live in Philadelphia. Philly is what people tie me to,” said Hopkins, who also has a residence in Delaware. “I am motivated by being in a place where it basically began for me. So, yeah, there is some extra energy, and there is some extra incentive to give serious beatdowns.”
Hopkins (53-6-2, 32 knockouts) will return to Boardwalk Hall for Saturday night’s Showtime-televised defense against Germany’s Karo Murat (25-1-1, 15 KOs), a 30-year-old who is fighting on American soil for the first time in his career and who is in his initial title fight.
A man who was just over a month past his fifth birthday when Hopkins lost to Mitchell, Murat has said Hopkins is “growing old,” adding, “You can see mileage” on a man whose deterioration has reduced him to “clinching” and “one or two punches” per attack.
Hopkins dethroned previously unbeaten Tavoris Cloud by unanimous decisionin his last fight to extend his own record as the oldest man to win a significant crown, having first set the record at the age of 46 by outpointing Jean Pascal for the WBC’s title in May of 2011.
But Murat has diminished even Hopkins’ accomplishment against Cloud, whom he called “a dumb fighter,” adding that he “doesn’t have the speed anymore,” and that he “was just trying to get off one punch or a one-two combination, and then, he would clinch.”
Apprised of Murat’s comments on Thursday, Hopkins said he “smells blood” in much the same way that Richardson said that Hopkins did before facing Cloud. Hopkins said he “craves” his first knockout since the one he scored against Oscar De La Hoya with a ninth-round body shot in April of 2004.
“I need a stoppage, definitely. I haven’t had a knockout since 2004, and I don’t want to go 12 rounds just because. My fight is another page to my legacy that you should watch,” said Hopkins. “…You should be engaged to see what happens, because that old thing that people think is a spirit or some cloud that we’ve been taught over the years, is this the night [that he gets old?] That’s my promotion. That’s why I want people to come.”
Hopkins recalled bouts against fighters who thought his age would finally catch up, but “who will never be the same after facing me” such as Pavlik and former 160-pound titleholder Jermain Taylor.
“A lot of guys that I’ve fought, whether it’s here or anywhere,” said Hopkins, “even if they somehow got the win by decision, they really knew that they paid a bigger price for the win, whether they deserved the win or not.”
“It makes it even more hyper when you have a guy that you all know that maybe this is the night. We want that,” said Hopkins. “If this is the night, ‘then Bernard’s got a tough fight with this guy.’ We want the Adonis Stevensons, and we want the Kovalevs.”
Without saying the boxer’s name, Hopkins also implied that a resounding victory could lead to a fight with unbeaten RING 147- and 154-pound champion Floyd Mayweather Jr., who is THE RING’S No. 1-rated fighter, pound-for-pound.
“Let’s get to that now. We want this person. If there’s someone else that wants to do something at 160, that was brought to me, I didn’t bring it to them. I don’t want to look like a bully,” said Hopkins, who praised Mayweather’s victory over Canelo Alvarez last month.
“But, hey, great fighters have moved up two weight classes. I was one of them. I went up from 160 to 175 to fight Tarver. Henry Armstrong did it four or five times. Why are you all spoiling this dude and giving him $40 or $50 million a fight and you all know that nobody in their 20s or 30s is going to beat him. Who is going to beat him when they’re bringing the checker board and he’s playing chess?”
Hopkins believes he can turn back the clock, yet again, against Mayweather, owing to bouts such as that in September of 2001 when his 12th-round knockout of Felix Trinidad represented the 14th of his record 20 middleweight title defenses, tied Carlos Monzon and unified the 160-pound division for the first time since 1987.
“The Mayweather fight. That’s one of them, because I’ve got more reason, knowing that I could do what I did to the other fighters that had ’0′s,” said Hopkins. “I would be an underdog in that, and, in all of the other fights where I accomplished that, I was the underdog. They were all undefeated, starting with 2001.”
Photos by Rich Kane, Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions (1,3); Naoki Fukuda (2)
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com