Last night saw Bernard Hopkins make history, becoming the oldest man to win a major boxing world championship with a unanimous decision over Jean Pascal. Hopkins was 46 years, 4 months and 6 days old when he took home the WBC, IBO and Ring Magazine titles, besting the old mark held by George Foreman (45 years, 10 months) when he knocked out Michael Moorer in 1994.
The image that jumped to many MMA fans' minds in that moment was not George Foreman, but one of the many triumphs of Randy Couture.
The fact that they're both "old men" who achieved success at the championship level in combat sports makes the comparison easy. Couture was 43-years-old the night that he returned to the UFC after being absent from the sport for over a year and upset Tim Sylvia to capture the UFC heavyweight championship. Add the fact that they're both superb tacticians whose best moments come in neutralizing the offense of their foes and frustrating with their complete control of the cage/ring and it seems like a perfect pairing.
But that's where the similarities stop.
While Couture was finishing up his tour of duty in the U.S. Army and becoming an Olympic team alternate in 1988, Bernard Hopkins was walking to freedom from Graterford Prison. Couture had a career coaching wrestling while Hopkins jumped directly into the ring, looking to boxing as one of the few alternatives to a life of crime.
On the personal level it would seem that Couture and Hopkins were as diametrically opposed as possible. The hard working golden boy living the American Dream and winning state championships in high school compared to Hopkins, sent to prison at age seventeen after a life of robbery and having been stabbed three times in his early teens. Randy had the advantages of wrestling training at the highest level while Bernard figured things out in the ring.
The way the careers evolved seem to show an amazing difference as well. Hopkins has fought 444 rounds as a professional boxer, yet has never been stopped in a fight, Couture saw his chin become more and more susceptible to being dented in his later days.
When I say that Hopkins is the best "old man" I've seen in my time watching combat sports, it's not because Couture didn't amaze. It's that Hopkins is thriving with almost no missteps as he ages.
I'll turn to Scott Christ of Bad Left Hook briefly:
He's so good at what he does that I don't even know if future generations will understand his greatness. You really do have to see him do what he does, in real time, to start getting it. He overwhelms good fighters mentally. He's dirty if he has to be. And for some reason, he can't be beaten. Not really. The only man who's ever really beaten Hopkins -- really beaten him -- is the 1993 version of Roy Jones Jr, and I'd say that's a pretty damn good career.
Last night I watched him, at 46 years old, pick apart a 28-year-old world champion. It was his best performance since he wiped the mat with Kelly Pavlik in 2008. By the middle rounds, he had a good fighter once again wrapped around his finger. In case Pascal wasn't being beaten mentally, Hopkins dropped to the mat before the start of a round and did push-ups. You know, just in case that was necessary.
I'd like to add that, while it was amazing to watch Hopkins' performance, the HBO commentary team did Bernard a disservice. They acted throughout the bout as though this was a Hopkins the world had not seen, one who fought an "exciting" style. But, this was very similar to the Hopkins that fought rounds 5-12 against Pascal the first time, the same Bernard that owned Kelly Pavlik in 2008, the same Bernard that uglied up the fight and stopped Oscar De La Hoya in 9 rounds in 2004 and the same Bernard that busted up the undefeated Felix "Tito" Trinidad to become undisputed middleweight champion in 2001.
This was the Bernard Hopkins that always seems to show up, the psychological master with a cracking right hand and subtle but beautiful defense. The man who bet $10,000 on himself to beat Trinidad and the man who stared down press row after dominating Pavlik was no different from the man who did push-ups to show a fading Pascal that the old man was going to be there all night and was nowhere near tired.
The "old Bernard Hopkins" was the Bernard Hopkins of old, and I've never seen a more amazing performance from an old man in my life.