When George Foreman challenged Michael Moorer for the heavyweight championship of the world in Las Vegas in November 1994, I airily boycotted what I anticipated would be the shameful spectacle of an old man being beaten up for public pleasure.
On Saturday, when Bernard Hopkins attempts to one-up Foreman's shocking knockout win and replace Big George as the oldest man to win a major belt, I will be ringside.
There are justifications for these contrasting stances.
For one thing, in 1994, I was a boxing fan; now, I am a boxing writer.
For another, 46 doesn't seem as old to me now as it did when I was 26.
More importantly, age has long since ceased to be a major factor in appraising Hopkins' in-ring performances. Oh, sure, he fights more sparingly now than he did, seeking to slow his opponent down to his more leisurely pace, a concession of sorts to his advancing years as well as an indictment of the ability of a younger generation to answer the questions the wily veteran poses.
But whereas Foreman left the ring for a decade, during which time he found the Lord and a taste for hamburgers, Hopkins has kept on going, having long reneged on a promise to his late mother that he would retire at 40. And Foreman had never before faced Moorer and looked ripe for the picking against the young champion. Hopkins, however, has locked horns with Jean Pascal prior to this upcoming bout in Montreal, fighting to a controversial draw in a contest that the old man dominated over the final two-thirds.
On Saturday, Hopkins will seek revenge and a victory he feels was unjustly denied him following that first encounter, and in doing so he will enthusiastically embrace, and seek to replicate, the performances of past veterans.
"This fight is more about history than redemption," he has said. "I want to be known as the modern day Archie Moore. Moore also went up to Montreal when he was over the age of 40, faced a younger hometown favorite [Yvon Durrelle] and knocked him out. It means more to me to break the age record and prove that I am representing not just the older fighters, but older athletes in any sport."
There is, the former middleweight and light-heavyweight champion insists, no particular secret to his longevity, other than the fanatical dedication with which he has pursued his career and run his life since being released from the spell in jail that transformed him.
"This fight is more about history than redemption. I want to be known as the modern day Archie Moore." - Bernard Hopkins
"The way I took care of my body after leaving the penitentiary twenty-something years ago, it is discipline, never taking anyone lightly, never having an excuse for not being in shape," he explains. Unlike many fighters, he does not have to spend half his training camp shedding extra poundage accrued since his last fight. "That's not me. I'm letting everybody know there's no secret out there on me. It's just discipline, and sometimes it's hard for others and sometimes it's not. For me, it's not."
He no longer places a time limit on his career; he says he will know it is time to call a halt to his career "when I get beat up." Win or lose on Saturday, the day on which the crafty Hopkins gets "beat up" seems unlikely to be close - although the two knockdowns he suffered in the first encounter with Pascal may yet hint at a growing vulnerability.
Foreman was 45 when he beat Moorer. Hopkins is 46. But although annexing Pascal's light-heavyweight belt would make him the oldest man to win a major title, it would not make him the oldest man to hold one. That honor belongs to Moore, who was just shy of his 48th birthday when he made the final defense of his light heavyweight championship against Giulio Rinaldi in 1961.
It would not be a surprise if, late in 2012, Hopkins decides to try and claim that record too.
When and if he does, I'll almost certainly be watching.
Follow Kieran Mulvaney the rest of the week on HBO's fight week blog, Inside Fight Week [http://www.insidefightweek.com/]
Posted 12:00 AM | May 19, 2011
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