With his career winding down, Bernard Hopkins is wise to choose opponents more carefully, says US boxing expert Kevin Iole.
Bernard Hopkins is 48, older than five sitting governors, four current US senators and is only three years and five months younger than President Obama. He doesn't move as nimbly as he once did, and isn't the complete fighter he was in his heyday.
Disaster lurks around the corner for every fighter – that's the risk any boxer, whether 18, 28, 38 or 48, takes when climbing between the ropes – but it looms much larger for a guy who has been fighting professionally longer than burgeoning star Adrien Broner has been alive.
The old adage in boxing that a fighter can age overnight has repeatedly proven true.
But Hopkins has been doing things others have told him he couldn't do for about a quarter century now, and he'll probably continue that trend Saturday by mesmerizing Tavoris Cloud in their IBF light heavyweight title in the main event of an HBO-televised card in Brooklyn.
The Hopkins of 28 would have toyed with Cloud. The Hopkins of 38 would have beaten a straight-line hard puncher like Cloud with few difficulties. The Hopkins of 48?
If Hopkins beats the 24-0 Cloud on Saturday, it's not going to be easy. Cloud is a hard puncher, as witnessed by his 19 knockouts, and he's extraordinarily aggressive.
The prime version of Hopkins would have toyed with a guy like Cloud because he intimately understood how to use Cloud's aggressiveness against him, and he had the body that would allow him to do it.
Cloud showed in his last fight, a hotly disputed decision victory against Gabriel Campillo on Feb. 19, 2012, that he is vulnerable to slick boxers.
At this stage, Hopkins is going to have trouble with athletic guys who have nuance to their games. But guys like Cloud, who rely on power and volume punches, are those he's mostly likely to beat at 48.
"I have the better fighter's IQ and I am also the better-conditioned fighter," Hopkins said. "I believe that when I go in that ring and Cloud is thinking something else, he's going to be very, very surprised. It's natural. He's in his early 30s, I believe, fighting someone that's almost double his age, I mean, it's natural, it's natural that a person will say, 'Whoa! Hey man, you know, this isn't going to happen to me. He's a couple years younger than my father or mother.' So that is the reality of numbers, yes, you can't mess with that.
In 2011, Hopkins defeated Jean Pascal in Montreal to become, at 46, the oldest man to ever win a major world boxing title. In the following two years, he's had a pair of disappointing bouts with Chad Dawson.
Dawson and Hopkins fought to a no-contest in 2011, but Dawson scored a clear victory in the April 29, 2012 rematch.
Dawson, though, is precisely the kind of fighter who is tough for a 48-year-old Hopkins to fight: he's young, in his prime, athletic, with a good jab and, when he's motivated, a high output.
Hopkins briefly complained after his loss to Dawson about the scoring, then soon caught himself. He knew that was a fight he didn't win.
But he's as ferocious a competitor who has ever lived, and he's not content walking away from the game with that kind of performance.
The thing that always made Hopkins so great was his determination to prove his critics – those real and those imagined – wrong.
"What drives me is that ... I'm not satisfied, even though I know I've [got] a lot to be grateful for, and I am," Hopkins said. "Trust me, I am. God knows I am. ... So I'm the type of person, again, when I'm not satisfied, I keep driving."
Hopkins is one of the savviest men in the game, a throwback to Archie Moore, a guy who can win a fight with his mind as well as with his physical tools.
He sought the fight with Cloud on Twitter when Cloud's proposed match with Pascal fell through. That is telling in and of itself, because Hopkins really wants to fight until he's 50 and he's not going to take a bout at this point which might threaten that.
All sorts of doom and gloom was predicted for him in 2001, on his last trip to New York for a fight, when he met the seemingly invincible Felix Trinidad. Hopkins was 36 then and a massive underdog, and there were more than a few folks who feared for his safety.
Hopkins, though, wiped the mat with Trinidad in what remains his career-defining victory.
Just like he did then, Hopkins is once again confident in spite of overwhelming odds against him.
Every fighter, of course, will at some point be too old to compete.
But if Hopkins says he's able to do it, it's probably not wise to doubt him.
Award-winning veteran sportswriter Kevin Iole is the national boxing and mixed martial arts reporter for Yahoo! Sports. Kevin previously covered boxing for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and other publications, writing on some of the biggest names and bouts in the sport.