Just two months prior to his 50th birthday, veteran American boxer Bernard Hopkins began his 66th professional bout on Saturday evening when the unbeaten Russian Sergey Kovalev challenged him to unification fight for the WBO, IBF and WBA World light-heavyweight titles. Kovalev, who now lives in the United States, had never previously fought for 12 rounds in any fight but the 31year old demonstrated that he could maintain his superior speed and effective punching over the distance to gain an overwhelming points victory.
Kovalev was recognised as the superior fighter in the division, but Hopkins can never be accused of avoiding opponents throughout this long career as a professional boxer. After leaving jail and then losing his first bout on points, few would have predicted that he would still be defending World titles 26 year later and that none of his opponents have managed to force an early retirement or secure a stoppage inside the allotted number of rounds. However, it is 10 years since Hopkins last stopped an opponent.
A first World title for Hopkins was secured in 1995 when claiming the IBF Middleweight title after accounting for Segundo Mercado in seven rounds. Since that important milestone, the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr and Felix Trinidad have all been beaten by Hopkins although his career has also suffered some setbacks.
Among his six losses prior to Saturday evening’s defeat were two hard fought contests against Jermain Taylor both of which were resulted in 12 rounds points reversals, but which prompted the idea of moving from middleweight to light-heavyweight. Hopkins still continue to win his fair share of fights with the occasional defeat but at an age when most boxers have long since removed the gloves and concentrated on another career, he was sufficiently brave to challenge the feared Kovalev.
Kovalev had previously not boxed beyond seven rounds and had accumulated a record of 23 knockouts in his 26 victories. However, he has never fought any boxers of any real World-class distinction unlike Hopkins and this bout would be the supreme test of his punching power against an opponent with famed durability.
As it happened, Kovalev did managed to floor Hopkins in the first round and the watching public speculated on whether this might be one fight too far for the ageing American. To his credit, Hopkins persevered and although his Russian-born opponent dominated the fight and won every round, lasting the distance was considered another achievement for the veteran.
It had been a one-sided contest and several pundits have since questioned whether Hopkins should continue fighting. Yet he has faced those calls in previous years all of which were suitably ignored and it would be no surprise if his boxing career is extended well past his 50th birthday and for a few years beyond.
For a man with boxing in his blood, a more pay days may still await in the ring.