Jean Pascal (left) and Bernard Hopkins size each other up. (Photo Credit: Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters /Landov)
Bernard Hopkins is 46 years old, an age at which most fighting men are thumbing through scrapbooks, watching grainy videos of their finest moments and discussing their careers in the past tense. But Hopkins still hits and gets hit for a living. And on May 21, he’ll step into the ring to fight a man young enough to be his son.
“Trust me, I don’t need to box for money,” Hopkins told BET.com on Tuesday in New York’s famed Times Square while promoting his light-heavyweight title rematch against world champion Jean Pascal of Canada. (They fought to a draw in Quebec last December.) “I’m doing fine. I fight because no matter what I have in the bank, in real estate and in bonds, this is what I do. This is who the hell I am.”
Hopkins made his pro debut in 1988—when Pascal was six years old. Hopkins, a Philadelphia native, was sent to prison at age 17 and learned to box while behind bars. He’s been clean ever since while compiling a boxing resume that is Hall of Fame-worthy, thanks to victories over Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, Antonio Tarver, Winky Wright and Roy Jones Jr., among others. The fire still burns inside Hopkins because he’s fighting for history. If Hopkins, born Jan. 15, 1965, defeats Pascal, he’ll become the oldest world champion in boxing history. George Foreman was 45 years, 10 months old when he knocked out Michael Moorer to become world heavyweight champ in 1994.
“Once you get a taste of history, you can’t let go,” says Hopkins, sharply dressed in an off-white checkered sport jacket, black shirt, gold tie, black slacks, black hat and black glasses. “I could fight until I’m 50 if I want to. Father Time will tell me when to leave. But you know what? Father Time loves me.”
There is no general retirement age for boxers. State athletic commissions provide what regulation the sport has. While one state could refuse to allow, say, Evander Holyfield, the 48-year-old former world champion, to fight there because of his age, it’s not hard to find another state that would approve the fight. It’s also worth noting that Hopkins has fought in the U.S. nine times since turning 40. Hopkins-Pascal II is being staged in Montreal not because of objections from U.S. boxing commissions but because Pascal is from Quebec and promoters expect the rematch to attract a sellout crowd.
What concerns Hopkins these days is not questions about his age, but his legacy. Pascal angered him at a Montreal news conference by saying Hopkins should be tested for illegal drugs. With typical boxing hyperbole, Hopkins said Tuesday, “Don’t be surprised if he dies in that ring in May. Don’t be surprised if I kill him.” That’s just a 46-year-old boxer’s way of telling an opponent to respect your elder.
Cecil Harris is the author of three books, including Charging the Net: A History of Blacks in Tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters.