The truly amazing Bernard Hopkins fights tonight in his Philadelphia hometown against middleweight contender, Mexico´s Enrique Ornelas at the Liacouras Center, Philadelphia. The bout is in effect a tune up fight for Hopkins´ rematch with Roy Jones Junior, which has been penciled in for March next year at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Bernard is 44 years old, prehistoric for a boxer, and yet in his last fight in October last year he put on what was in my opinion THE best performance of his stellar career, thrashing the hugely regarded and previously undefeated reigning world middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik on points.
Is Hopkins unique in still being at the top of his game in his fifth decade in the hardest of all sports?
Well, almost. There are two other ring legends with similarly amazing achievements.
Archie Moore was 39 years old and had been a top light heavyweight contender for a decade before Joey Maxim finally gave him a shot at the crown in 1952. Moore won by a landslide, and then held the title until he was almost fifty, never losing it in the ring. He also made two unsuccessful attempts to lift the world heavyweight crown when well into his forties.
George Foreman launched an unlikely comeback to the ring after ten years of retirement at the age of 37. At 42, and after 24 consecutive comeback victories, he went toe to toe with a young and undefeated Evander Holyfield for the world heavyweight crown, losing a decision. That in itself was a hell of an achievement, but George decided to stick around, and through the mid to late nineties George Foreman was as tough and as dangerous as any heavyweight out there. Avoided by Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis, George received a second chance to win back the crown he had first won way back in 1973, and in an unforgettable night in Vegas 1994, he knocked out Michael Moorer in ten rounds to become world heavyweight champion again at the age of 45, a record for any division. George fought on for three more years, only losing his last fight to Shannon Briggs on a controversial split decision.
Hopkins (49 – 5, 32 ko´s) is 4-3 since turning 40, but that statistic is deceiving. All three of his losses, the two middleweight title fights with Jermain Taylor, and last years light heavyweight clash with Joe Calzaghe, could have conceivably gone the other way. His wins have been pivotal in keeping Hopkins ´profile as high as it is today. Howard Eastman was at his peak when Hopkins beat him badly on points. After the back to back losses to Taylor, Hopkins schooled Antonio Tarver over twelve rounds, when Tarver was rated as the best light heavyweight in the world. He followed that up with a decision against Ronald ´Winky` Wright, the same Wright who hadn’t lost in eight years and was arguably, pound for pound the best fighter in the world at that time. The loss to Calzaghe came next, closely followed by the master class against Pavlik. On the evidence of that New Jersey night, the Philadelphian still has plenty left in the tank.
Enrique Ornelas (29 – 5 19ko´s) is currently ranked 6th at middleweight by the WBC. His biggest fight prior to tonight’s contest was a split decision loss against Marco Antonio Rubio in a WBC middleweight final eliminator. That was on the same Atlantic City bill as Hopkins victory over Pavlik. Interestingly, Ornelas´ brother is Librado Andrade, who failed in his attempt to win the IBF world super-middleweight crown last Saturday night, getting knocked out in four by Lucian Bute.
At 6´1´´, the Mexican is as tall as Hopkins, and has fought at super-middleweight on many occasions, so Hopkins won’t have much of a size advantage.
But the difference in experience is vast. Hopkins made 21 successful defenses of the world middleweight title, and still he´s not done. His desire and hunger are still there. Hopkins lives like a monk. He goes to bed at eight o´clock at night, and rises at four. He never smokes or drinks. As Muhammad Ali used to say of his opponents, Enrique Ornelas has two chances; slim and none. It’s hard to see any other result than a points landslide for Bernard Hopkins, the Archie Moore of this millennium.