As temples go, Hopkins still young

The temple Bernard Hopkins speaks of is not a structure reserved for religious or spiritual activities.

It is a body. His body. A 42-year-old body you wouldn’t equate with the guy dripping sweat through his headband while killing himself to get through a 30-minute treadmill jog at a 10-minute mile pace.

Most humans spend decades trying to avoid Father Time. Hopkins prefers to rip the old geezer’s beard off and smash his hourglass into pieces.

“They should really think about seriously taking a test on my DNA,” Hopkins said. “Something split inside my system that, you know, I guess extended where I am at. … I figured this is genetics.”

His longevity in boxing is not due to the science of heredity. It’s more the science of dodging a moving fist, which Hopkins has done well enough to create one of the sport’s all-time great resumes.

Hopkins defends his Ring magazine light heavyweight title against Winky Wright on Saturday night at Mandalay Bay, a fight promoted as much around Hopkins’ age as the promise you should write that $49.95 pay-per-view check without fear of being put to sleep by a torrent of defensive counterpunches.

It’s a pretty stiff price to pay given the fighters’ history of being more elusive than aggressive and the fact HBO officials and each camp’s promoters and trainers and fighters shamelessly tripped over themselves at Thursday’s news conference promising a slogan of “Come to Fight” really means someone will.

(Hint: If you have to sell action that hard, there’s a good chance there won’t be much of it, or didn’t you watch De La Hoya-Mayweather?)

But if you’re among those fascinated by what few freaks of nature that sports offer, go ahead and ante up.

“The man wants to prove he’s not too old to fight,” Wright said. “But 42 is 42 and, at some point, it’s going to catch up to you.”

Some point has been slow to arrive for many in sports.

George Blanda had his finest NFL season at age 43. Gordie Howe scored 103 points in a hockey season at 41. Michael Jordan scored 40 in a game to match his age at the time. Jack Nicklaus won his sixth Masters at 46. Jerry Rice. Nolan Ryan. Satchel Paige. They all blew out 40 candles and kept going strong.

But boxing is different. Skill and instinct diminish over time for all athletes, but perhaps nowhere do they expire quicker and in such a callous manner as in the ring.

It is what makes Archie Moore winning a light heavyweight title at 39 and holding it for several years so notable, what makes George Foreman being heavyweight champ at 45 so memorable, what makes Hopkins ruling the middleweight division for 10 years before moving up in weight past his 41st birthday and taking out Antonio Tarver last June so extraordinary.

“In my last pro fight at age 27, I retired in the second round,” said Freddie Roach, Hopkins’ trainer. “Now, I lost a 10-round decision that night, but I knew it was over in the second and never fought again. Unfortunately, it doesn’t show up until fight night. When it’s over, it’s over, and you know it.

“(Hopkins) is in better shape at 42 than I was at 24. He hasn’t shown any signs of losing a step or with his reflexes. But, again, that’s in the gym. In training. Not on fight night.

“Has he lost a half step? If he has, Winky will probably win the fight. But I don’t think he has. Bernard is as ready as possible.”

One truth to emerge from the steroids era is that while fans have always tolerated some amount of cheating, their trust in athletes plummeted to the point they could no longer believe in logic. It’s tougher for them now to appreciate an athlete such as Hopkins, harder to completely embrace the idea of someone reinventing his body in a clean manner and actually appearing bigger and faster and stronger than ever at 42. But he has and is.

Boxers age rapidly with each beating they take, and the process only escalates when mixed with a radical lifestyle. In these ways, Hopkins has purposefully avoided stepping into all such traps.

His reward: the temple.

“I just don’t want to have this good-looking new body to walk around in and look handsome,” Hopkins said when explaining his retirement that really wasn’t one. “I want it to generate more history and put more of a stamp of approval on the Bernard Hopkins’ legacy.”

Whether it’s worth your $49.95 to watch is debatable. Heck, you can look at pictures of the Parthenon for free.

Ed Graney can be reached at 383-4618 or at egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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