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At 48, Hopkins still chasing championship history

Associated Press

3/8/2013 4:21:28 PM

PHILADELPHIA -- Bernard Hopkins is more grill master than grill pitchman, willing to fire it up for hunks of organic chicken or fresh salmon. Maybe some buffalo.

When he's not always cooking his own meals, Hopkins shifts interests toward tasteful decor. He keeps his eyes peeled -- and behind Prada glasses -- for the latest trends in interior decorating so he can spruce up his Philadelphia condo or other properties.

"I've sort of got an eye for nice things," he said.

And that's a good thing. Because Hopkins can land another accessory that he can't buy at Whole Foods or charge at a swanky retail store. At 48, Hopkins is not only still fighting, he's trying to break his own record as the oldest boxer to win a major championship. His longevity is legendary in a sport that can chew up and knock out the best long before 40, or, at worst, leave an aging prize fighter a battered shell of his prime.

His 63rd career pro bout ahead, Hopkins has no interest in growing into another sad statistic. He vows he'll leave the sport the same way he's spent his career -- on his feet and on top.

At some point, Hopkins will retire. He has to, right? He'll get beat bad and go out with critics howling he hung on too long or win a belt and quit as an I-told-you-so champion.

Either way, Hopkins will eventually decide it's time to hang up the gloves. Hopkins will not fight until he's collecting Social Security.

Then again, Hopkins heard the calls to retire at 40. And at 45. The years go on.

Yet, here he is, still eschewing booze, desserts and any desire to retire on anyone's terms but his own. Hopkins will try to prove he's still championship material when he fights undefeated Tavoris Cloud (24-0, 19 KOs) for a piece of the 175-pound light heavyweight title Saturday night at Barclays Center in New York. Hopkins dethroned George Foreman as the oldest boxer to win a world title when he beat Jean Pascal in 2011. Foreman was 45 years, 10 months when he knocked out heavyweight champion Michael Moorer in 1994. Hopkins was 46 years, 4 months and 6 days in his bout with Pascal.

Hopkins hasn't fought since he dropped the WBC light heavyweight title in a majority decision to Chad Dawson in April 2012. One more loss, and Hopkins could find title fights and premium cable network bouts dry up as a new generation of fighters -- like fellow Philadelphian Danny Garcia -- take charge.

"I know my performance is going to make some people happy," Hopkins said, "and it's going to make some people wish I'd get out of the way."

Hopkins has never been about glitz and knockout power, but of crafting a disciplined career straight from the pages of March Madness. Survive and advance. Never a stylistically crowd-pleasing fighter, Hopkins hasn't knocked out an opponent since Oscar De La Hoya in September 2004 -- 14 fights ago.

His bouts have been decided by decision since, except for a draw in the first Jean Pascal fight in 2010 and an ugly no-contest in the first Dawson fight.

So why keep fighting? Why not retire? Hopkins will answer some form of that question more times in a news conference than all his fights over a decade.

He has no shortage of answers for why he's facing Cloud, from money ("I'm just getting what was there years ago, but they gave to James Toney and Roy Jones.") to finishing off faded promoter Don King's dwindling stable ("I've made a career off his guys.") to proving he's still the ferocious competitor of a decade ago when he successfully defended his middleweight title a whopping 20 straight times ("It takes away from my legacy when I don't win.").

Hopkins was convicted at age 17 of robbery and assault, and spent nearly five years in prison. That time behind bars in the 1980s gave him more reason to want to exercise his freedoms -- like the right to decide his immediate future -- whenever he pleases. Oddly, one more championship belt around his waist is mostly an afterthought.

"I've got 11 belts at home in the trophy case I can look at if I need to look at belts," he said. "It's a trophy. It represents something. But right now, I'm not bigger than boxing, but I'm bigger than belts."

Hopkins has never been stopped, but Cloud could be the fighter who earns that awaited KO against the man better known in the ring as B-Hop.

Nazim Richardson, Hopkins' long-time trainer, favourably compared Cloud's punching power to Antonio Tarver and Felix Trinidad. Hopkins, naturally, beat both of those fighters. Richardson said the only time he ever advised Hopkins to retire was after the Tarver win in 2006, not because of fading skills, but to build on the legacy his star fighter talks so often about preserving.

"I thought if he left then, anybody who left on sports on top, it'd be called, 'The B-Hop,"' Richardson said. "I thought, 'The B-Hop' would be called leaving on top of the sport."

Hopkins is opening his wallet to keep former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier's name on top of the Philly sports scene. Hopkins has pledged to pay the balance on a fundraising effort to place a statue of Frazier at Xfinity Live, an entertainment complex near Philadelphia's three sports stadiums.

Lawyer Richard Hayden, who represents Xfinity Live, has been scouting locations on the site and said the $150,000 needed for the statue, plus a maintenance fund, is close to completion.

"He very generously offered to be the last money in," Hayden said.

Frazier defeated Muhammad Ali in "The Fight of the Century" 42 years ago Friday at Madison Square Garden. Fitting then, that Hopkins is fighting in New York for the first time since be beat Trinidad two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. He just finished a run through Central Park training for the Sept. 15 bout at the Garden when the second plane hit the World Trade Center.

He tried to leave the city but wasn't able to because of travel restrictions. Instead, he trained in the Bronx. He would go on to defeat Trinidad in a unification bout to become the undisputed champion -- a proud moment he said he never really got to truly enjoy because of all the horror and sadness leading to the fight.

"That was a huge night," he said. "In a good way and a bad way I'm part of history."

He looks to make history again in New York, this time as the ageless wonder and the oldest champ.