Bernard Hopkins turns 59 years old today. Usually, fighters of that age celebrating a birthday would be remembered for far-flung fights in the 1990s. For sharing the ring with the likes of Roy Jones Jr or for fighting on a Mike Tyson undercard. Hopkins did those things of course, but it in a career that continued until 2016, he also faced off with modern gladiators like Sergey Kovalev, Joe Smith Jr, Tavoris Cloud and Chad Dawson. Nobody spanned eras at the elite level like Hopkins.
Unusually for a fighter who would go on to such feted accomplishments, he debuted with a defeat. Forgotten light heavyweight Clinton Mitchell scored a four-round majority decision win over the man they would one day call ‘The Executioner’.
It is no secret that Hopkins would move on from this stuttering start in spectacular fashion. By the time he retired, ‘Alien’ was a record-breaker. The first four-belt middleweight champion in history. A prolific light heavyweight kingpin, holding titles with The Ring, IBF and WBA over the course of several reigns. At the age of 48, he would become the oldest world champion of all time.
To celebrate his birthday, here are the six fights that made Bernard Hopkins.
Roy Jones Jr UD12 Bernard Hopkins, 22nd May 1993
IBF Middleweight Championship
Characteristically considering how he debuted, the first landmark bout in Hopkins’ career ended in defeat. This heavily-hyped middleweight title clash was not his coronation, but that of Roy Jones Jr.
Hopkins was an unwilling foil, doing his best to beat some sense into Jones’ idiosyncratic brilliance. But it was all for naught as the Philadelphia man was summarily outboxed by the Penascola pugilist. Hopkins vowed never to be so thoroughly bested again. He would not lose another fight for another 12 years.
Bernard Hopkins TKO7 Segundo Mercado, 29th April 1995
IBF Middleweight Championship
The Ecuadorian had taken ‘B-Hop’ to a controversial split draw the previous winter. But Hopkins would not leave anything to chance in the rematch. He was dominant from first bell until the seventh-round knockout which brought him a first world championship at the third time of asking. Hopkins was already 30 years of age and few could have predicted that his best days were still well ahead of him.
Bernard Hopkins TKO12 Felix Trinidad, 29th September 2001
WBC, WBA, IBF and The Ring Middleweight Championship
The moment Hopkins went from boxing’s best-kept secret to one of its standard bearers. Aficionados had long admired the scholarly defensive master as he dismantled opponents across 13 world title defences.
This victory came in Don King’s middleweight unification tournament, a plan he had devised specifically to crown ‘Tito’ Trinidad as champion. Instead, the Puerto Rican lost his WBA belt and the last vestiges of his immense prime. Hopkins was massively ahead on the scorecards going into the last round, but stopping Trinidad put a firm exclamation point on his greatest performance thus far.
Bernard Hopkins KO9 Oscar De La Hoya, 18th September 2004
WBC, WBA, IBF, WBO, The Ring Middleweight Championship
After beating Trinidad, Hopkins was finally getting the attention his skills had long deserved. But there were few opponents out there that could match the Puerto Rican for superstar profile. Arguably, outside the heavyweight division, Oscar De La Hoya was the only one who could out-do Trinidad on that score.
The bout was made all the more intriguing by De La Hoya holding the WBO championship, meaning the bout would crown the first undisputed middleweight king of the nascent four-belt era. The belts are less memorable than the finish though. A crunching body shot left boxing’s biggest name crumpled and ‘The Executioner’ looking every inch of his nickname.
Bernard Hopkins UD12 Antonio Tarver, 10th June 2006
IBO and The Ring Light Heavyweight Championship
A pair of defeats to Jermain Taylor ended Hopkins’ title reign at a record ten years and two months. It is a landmark that still stands to this day. But Hopkins moved on to bigger things, quite literally.
By now he was 41 years of age and few gave him a chance when he skipped super middleweight and moved all the way to light heavyweight to face lineal champion Antonio Tarver. They needn’t have worried. Conditioning coach Mackie Shillstone sharpened Hopkins into a finely-tuned machine. That machine was too much for Tarver, who was expertly outboxed and left without his titles.
Bernard Hopkins UD12 Roy Jones Jr, 3rd April 2010
We end at the beginning as the Hopkins story comes full circle. A lot had happened in 17 years. Hopkins had got better, Jones had got worse. But that did not blunt the sweet taste of revenge for the man they now called ‘Alien’.
While Jones had befuddled Hopkins in the first fight, now ‘Superman’ had found his kryptonite. It came in the form of the unstoppable Philadelphia warrior stood in front of him. This bout was ill-tempered, foul-filled and attritional. At the end of it, Bernard Hopkins stood tall. Inconceivably, ‘The Executioner’ would enjoy two more reigns as light heavyweight champion after this, in a career than finally ended in 2016 when he was 51 years old.