Friday, March 8, 2013

Can Bernard Hopkins Continue to Beat Father Time On Saturday?

By Peter Silkov

Father time must be sick of Bernard Hopkins.  He’s been trying to grab hold of the Philadelphian legend for well over a decade now, but Bernard has wiggled, twisted, jabbed, moved, and dodged away from times clutches again and again.  Indeed, there have been occasions in the past few years when it’s seemed almost as if Hopkins has private access to a time machine of some sort; such has been his avoidance of the inexorable ticking of the clock. All in all, Bernard has led Father Time a merry dance over the past decade. On Saturday 9th March, he will attempt, yet another, age-defying performance when he takes on Tavoris Cloud, for the latter’s IBF World Light-Heavyweight Championship. If Hopkins were to succeed against Cloud on Saturday, then he would break his own record of being the oldest man at any weight, to win a genuinely recognised version of a ‘World Championship’.

      It is almost two years now since ‘the executioner’ gave one of the performances of his career to beat Jean Pascal, for Pascal’s WBC World Light-Heavyweight title. The pair had previously fought to a controversial draw. Hopkins at forty-five years old, surprised many with his energy and willingness to mix it at times with the far younger big punching champion.  Many thought the fight could have gone either way despite Hopkins having suffered two early knockdowns. In the rematch, some months later, Hopkins surpassed his previous performance to out-think, out-box, and at times out-punch Pascal on his way to scoring a clear points win. Hopkins became, at forty-six years, five months, and six days, boxing’s oldest ever world champion.

Now, Hopkins will attempt to better his feat against Pascal, with a win over the undefeated Cloud, who is at thirty-one, seventeen years Bernard’s junior. The Philadephian veteran will, however, be facing two opponents come Saturday night. Hopkins will also be squaring up yet again with Father Time.

 Hopkin’s longevity is truly extraordinary and has been overlooked by many. Even in an era in which fighters are generally fighting on till a later age, due to using modern training methods and fighting less frequently, Bernard is still boxing at the top level a full decade beyond what would be considered normal.   Much of this is due to the single-minded attitude, which the Philadelphian adopted on his release from incarceration in his early 20s, to begin his professional boxing career, after precious little amateur experience. This attitude and dedication allowed Hopkins to become a student of the game, and with his throwback approach, he built himself into a great fighter.  Over the years the student became a professor and a master counter puncher. Hopkins style has perhaps not always pleased everyone, but its gained the results, keeping him at the top of the game long after most of his contemporaries have either retired or simply faded from contention.  While his former conqueror, the more naturally talented Roy Jones, Jr. is widely considered shot and unable to compete with the top level, the executioner is still able to challenge the elite in his division, despite being four years Jones senior.   

The biggest question with Hopkins is for how much longer he can continue to elude the touch of Father Time?  Since the Pascal fight, Hopkins has engaged in two rather unsatisfactory encounters with Chad Dawson.  Their first fight was ruled a no- contest following Hopkins being injured after Dawson had thrown him into the ropes in the second round.  In the rematch, both men’s styles again refused to gel and Dawson came out a points winner after a mauling mess of a contest. When he faces Cloud on Saturday, Hopkins will seek to answer the question of whether the Dawson debacle revealed the sun beginning to set on his boxing career, or if it was more a case of styles, making for a bad fight.

Tavoris Cloud certainly has a style, which could suit Hopkins far more than Dawson’s. Cloud is an aggressive box-fighter, with a good punch, that likes to come forward and brawl, in a style much closer to Jean Pascal, than Chad Dawson. Hopkin’s being the master counter puncher and thinker that he is, and has been in the ring now for the best part of two decades, Hopkins when on form, relishes a fighter that comes to him.  Against Cloud, the Philadelphian veteran will probably seek to ride an early storm, then, as the fight progresses dip into his bag of tricks and experience, and skills honed over three decades of pugilistic study, to teach yet another young lion a lesson or two in the hardest game.

If Hopkins can reproduce the kind of form that he displayed twice against Jean Pascal, then the boxing world could see another night of history on March 9th.  Cloud could find himself out-thought and out-hustled by the ring’s master hustler. Who can forget Hopkins ducking down onto the ring canvas between rounds in the second Pascal match, with the fight evenly balanced, and doing an impromptu set of press-ups?  Most likely…not Pascal.  From that point on, it was Hopkins fight! But the Jean Pascal fights are almost two years away now, and two years can be a very long time for any athlete, especially a forty plus year old boxer.

The possibility of Hopkins suddenly falling apart against a strong young fighter such as Cloud becomes more real with every passing year and with each fight that Bernard takes as the years continue to mount. There is almost an inevitability that Father Time will one night catch up with this man who for so long has escaped his grasp, and teach him a harsh lesson. Hopkins would tell you that he is an exception to the rule, and that there will be no sobering payback for his age defying feats.  Furthermore, Bernard has stated several times that he expects to continue fighting successfully at the top level until he is fifty years of age, before he finally retires.  If there is one boxer whom you would be tempted to put money on, doing just that, then his name would most likely be Bernard Hopkins.  After all, he is less than two years away from being fifty.

On Saturday night Bernard Hopkins will try and continue his age defying dance within what can be one of the most brutal and unforgiving of all sports.  It will perhaps be only the more cynical amongst us who won’t be rooting for him to keep the dance going. 
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