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Hopkins out to make history ... again

April 19, 2014
Bernard Hopkins takes on Beibut Shumenov on Saturday night © Getty Images
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Bernard Hopkins is 49. As he likes to put it, "I'm damn near 50." He usually says that just before he jokes about taking out his teeth and relaxing in his rocking chair.

Forty-nine is an age when most athletes are retired. Long retired. Yet Hopkins remains one of the best fighters in the world, even if he isn't what he was during his dominant days as the middleweight champion of the world on his way to a division-record 20 title defences back in the 1990s and early 2000s.

"I'm from the old school but I'm stuck in the new era," Hopkins said.

"I want people to acknowledge that we're dealing with a special athlete in Bernard," said his longtime trainer, Naazim Richardson. "Thirty is old in boxing. Guys still perform at 30, but it's old. So what he's doing is ridiculous."

The three-time light heavyweight titleholder, who calls himself 'The Alien' because he believes he can't possibly be of this Earth, has set various age-related records: oldest boxer to hold a world title (49), oldest to win a world title - he did that twice, at age 46 and 48 - and oldest to successfully defend a world title (48).

"To be 49 years old, approaching 50, and knocking on the door of being a senior citizen, it's a profound statement of my dedication," Hopkins said.

Now Hopkins, who would like to defend his title at least once past age 50, is going for yet another record - oldest fighter to unify world titles - when he meets fellow titleholder Beibut Shumenov on Saturday night at the DC Armory in Washington, D.C.

While most fighters are long retired by the time they reach 40, Bernard Hopkins is still winning titles at 49 years of age © AP
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Not only is Hopkins preparing for another slice of history, but he also has the audacity to look ahead. His plan doesn't end with Shumenov. Hopkins' goal is to challenge lineal champion Adonis Stevenson and further unify the belts early next year, after his 50th birthday on January 15.

"Fifty is a milestone. I want to defend the title at 50," Hopkins said. "When I turn 50 years old, providing everything goes the way I planned, I want to do one of those big celebrations with a big megafight at 50, like you'd do a big 50-year-old [birthday] party. Can you imagine?"

Hopkins is keenly aware of his age and how it has defined a large portion of his career. He talks about it often and is asked about it often. For years, there has often been a sense before each of his fights that, because of his age, this could be his last fight. He knows it.

"When you watch Saturday, you're going to watch something you've seen over and over," Hopkins said, referring to what he believes will be a methodical victory. "I can't help if you all get bored. You're going to have to write the story. Enjoy and understand that this is history. I'm defending something bigger than a title. My legendary 20-plus-year legacy is more important than anything around my waist."

That history is not lost on Hopkins or those around him.

"Everything Bernard does now is historic. Every interview, every walk out is history," Richardson said. "Every move he makes is history, not just inside the ring, but outside of the ring. He could walk out tomorrow, beat Beibut Shumenov and say I'm done. He owes us nothing and gives us everything.

"A lot of people don't understand our sport and they don't understand that 30 in boxing is old. That's an old fighter at 30. This guy is ancient. You have to sit back and realise how impressive this is. I hope that we can appreciate this guy while he's here. He's here and this is a special situation for him. Every single thing this man does in this sport is history. Every press conference he has, every mouthpiece he puts in his mouth, every bottle of water you give him. Everything he does in this sport now is absolute history and we're a part of it."

Said Stephen Espinoza, who runs Showtime Sports and is an unabashed Hopkins fan, "The word icon is used quite a bit - thrown about very casually - within sports, within entertainment and music. Bernard is one of the few personalities, the few athletes where the term accurately applies.

"He is a legend in the sport. His accomplishments speak for themselves. Anytime Bernard fights it is an event, it's an occasion, and 'History at the Capitol' [the name of the fight] is a very accurate term."

In Saturday's co-feature, welterweight titlist Shawn Porter will make the first defence of his belt when he faces former two-division titleholder Paulie Malignaggi. In the opening bout of the triple-header, middleweight titlist Peter Quillin will make his third defence by facing Lukas Konecny of the Czech Republic.

At the age of 49, Bernard Hopkins is still one of the best fighters in boxing © Getty Images
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When Philadelphia's Hopkins (54-6-2, 32 KOs) is preparing for a fight, he is usually very intense, often with some sort of chip on his shoulder about a perceived slight that he uses for motivation. But as he has gotten older, Hopkins has mellowed, at least by B-Hop standards.

So as he approaches the fight with the 30-year-old Shumenov (14-1, 9 KOs), a 2004 Olympian from Kazakhstan who lives in Las Vegas and was five when Hopkins turned pro, Hopkins has been a bit reflective and is even having fun.

"Everything I do is history," he said. "If you had one more chance to see something that you loved before you never see it again, here I am. You'll have a chance to see history," said Hopkins, who is doing what he is doing at an advanced age without a whiff of involvement in performance-enhancing drugs. "You can tell your grandkids. I'm still having fun. That's the thing that a lot of us miss. I'm having more fun now than when I was in the middle or beginning of my career.

"There were a lot more things I had to go through in my life, but I'm having more fun now than I had in the last 16 years. Since about 40 years old, we're talking nine years later. It's a big deal. I don't want to downplay it.

"Name another athlete in this country that is doing it at this age and winning, not just competing, but fighting the top fighters in the world. This guy [Shumenov] is no run-of-the-mill guy. He's a threat. I'm not fighting a cream puff. This isn't a bum-of-the-month club. I'm fighting real dudes. These guys are hard-core, hungry and top contenders."

Shumenov is indeed a "real dude." He won a world title in his 10th fight and has made five defences, although none against an elite opponent. He has vast respect for Hopkins, although Shumenov's goal is to win and etch a legendary name on his resume.

"I want to fight the best and I am fighting the best," Shumenov said. "I've been dreaming all of my life for this moment. I've been ready to fight at this level for several years. I am fighting one of the greatest ever, who beat so many other legends and great fighters. I am ready to show the world what I'm capable of. I will show the world that I am the best light heavyweight champion."

With a three-knockdown stoppage of Tamas Kovacs, Beibut Shumenov set himself up for a light heavyweight unification fight with Bernard Hopkins on Saturday © Getty Images
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But what does Shumenov, who has followed Hopkins' career for years, think about what his opponent is doing at 49?

"It's truly amazing. It's unbelievable. It's incredible. I don't see where in the past or in the future anybody could do what Bernard does," said Shumenov, who turned pro in 2007 - when Hopkins had already been a pro for 19 years and had 54 fights.

Shumenov and Hopkins both want to unify titles and move on to face Stevenson, who has his own defence to deal with first, against Andrzej Fonfara on May 24.

"My main goal is to unify all the titles, and I'm not thinking ahead," Shumenov said. "I'm only concentrated and focused on my upcoming fight against Bernard Hopkins, and it kind of motivates me more. They're only talking about Bernard facing Adonis Stevenson. It motivates me more. I don't care. It makes me train even harder. It makes me be a better fighter."

Hopkins has been much more vocal about fighting Stevenson.

"One guy I care about is Shumenov or I won't get Stevenson, but Stevenson is the motivation to beat Shumenov," Hopkins said. "It's not barely beat him, it's not struggle to beat him. It's to have the top writers saying they want to see Bernard Hopkins and Stevenson. I want to start that buzz. I can't win and look old. I'm more motivated than ever because I got a chance to do something that's very special - the undisputed light heavyweight championship of the world. I'm not looking past [Shumenov]. I'm looking through him, not because I'm underestimating him. Not because I don't think he's going to put up the best fight.

"My motivation is I'm not done yet. So I don't give ammunition to those to say I should be done. I'm trying to force history to write another book on me. When I'm gone, you all going to get the most boring-est sound bites. Enjoy me while I'm here."

This article originally appeared on ESPN.com

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