Look at the top performers in any physical sport, and you're going to find an abundance of relatively young athletes in their 20's and earlier 30's. Combat sports are no exception, and it's understandable why not. As fighters age, they lose a bit of their reflexes, putting them in greater danger. At the same time, the accumulation of damage to the body increases, making each fight another in a pile of grueling and draining physical tasks. In short, fighting is a young man's game.
Of course, there are always exceptions. In MMA, Randy Couture, who held a UFC title at age 44, is the embodiment of a man bucking that trend. Today, Couture's longtime teammate, the 42 year old Dan Henderson holds a similar position. Yet neither of them compare to one of boxing's greats.
Bernard Hopkins (52-6-2(2); 32 KO) already holds the record as the oldest professional boxer to ever win a world title, as he defeated Jean Pascal two years ago at the age of 46. That alone is enough to put him in the record books. But this weekend, Hopkins attempts to outdo himself, as, at 48 years old, he faces Tavoris Cloud (24-0; 19 KO) for the IBF Light Heavyweight Championship. And the amazing thing about this fight is that Hopkins just might pull it off.
It's tempting to look at this as little more than a publicity stunt with the 48 year old Hopkins against the 31 year old undefeated Cloud - after all, Cloud is on a roll, while Hopkins is coming off a loss to Chad Dawson, and has in fact only won one of his last four fights. But to view it that way is to overlook Bernard Hopkins, and that's a mistake you don't want to make.
Clearly, Hopkins is not the same physical fighter as Cloud. But what he brings to the ring is something no man possesses more of than Hopkins - savvy. Hopkins has been in the game for 25 years, facing many of the world's best along the way. As he has moved up in years, he's also moved up in experience, and it's that crafty veteran experience he brings to his fights. No one in boxing is better at finding ways to win than Bernard Hopkins. And, let's be honest because there's no other way to say this, no one is better at gaming the system than Bernard Hopkins. He knows when to clinch, when to sneak in that extra shot off the clinch, how to do enough to steal the round, how to win when the odds are stacked against him. He also knows how to drag his opponent into that Hopkins style of fight, turning normally aggressive opponents into slow, flat-footed prey.
On Saturday night, against a younger, faster opponent, the odds will be stacked against Hopkins again. But he will bring more to the table than any opponent Cloud has previously fought. Will that be enough for Hopkins to once again battle back time and prove the young men wrong? In all honesty, I think it will be. Look for Bernard Hopkins to slow Cloud down, use those veteran wiles, and become the oldest world champion once again on Saturday night.
Bernard Hopkins vs. Tavoris Cloud takes place live on HBO World Championship Boxing this Saturday, March 9 at 9:30 p.m. ET. Get the full fight card below. And be sure to join us here at Bloody Elbow Saturday night for live fight night coverage.
Cloud vs. Hopkins Fight Card
Saturday, March 9 at 9:30 p.m. on HBO
Bernard Hopkins vs. Tavoris Cloud
Keith Thurman vs. Jan Zaveck
Juan Carlos Salgado vs. Argenis Mendez - Airs at 8:30 p.m. on HBO Latino