First, the caveat:
Purely from the perspective of its immediate importance in the world of boxing rankings, what Bernard Hopkins did at age 48 to Tavoris Cloud in New York on Saturday night was of less significance than what he meted out to Jean Pascal when Hopkins was a mere 46 years old a little less than two years ago.
Pascal, after all, was widely considered the man at light heavyweight, and Hopkins' comprehensive victory on that May evening in Montreal allowed the Philadelphian to usurp that position. But since then, the veteran has surrendered that title to Chad Dawson, and the fact Dawson dropped down to super middleweight to be taken apart by Andre Ward doesn't change that equation.
So Hopkins is still not the light heavyweight champion, but he is once more a light heavyweight titlist (which we note and celebrate even as we are supposed to spend all our waking days railing against sanctioning bodies' very existence. So be it). Had Hopkins been 20 years younger, Saturday's main event might have been regarded as a technically brilliant if not always aesthetically pleasing triumph over a lesser contender. However, Hopkins isn't 28, but a full two decades older -- and that, of course, is the point.
For all its achievements, for all its moments of brilliance, Hopkins' career is now defined by its longevity, and arguably has been ever since his seminal victory, when he stopped Felix Trinidad in September 2001 to become the undisputed middleweight champion of the world.
"I have a history of destroying young champions and never having to see them again," Hopkins said after his win over Cloud. And in that vein, it's worth noting that Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya and Kelly Pavlik are all among the relatively young guns he has dispatched in the past 10 years or so and who are now retired; at the time of their last fight, they were all younger than Hopkins was when he overcame the Puerto Rican, and he has since added an additional decade-and-counting of ring victories.
As a way of grasping the length of The Executioner's presence on boxing's biggest stage, consider some of the following:
When Hopkins first challenged for a world title, a tilt for a vacant middleweight belt that he lost to Roy Jones Jr. in May 1993, Bill Clinton was president of the United States, George W. Bush had not declared his candidacy to be governor of Texas and Barack Obama was a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School.
Osama bin Laden had not yet moved his base of operations to Afghanistan.
The U.S. national debt that year was almost 12 trillion dollars lower, and summer Arctic sea ice extent was approximately 1 million square miles greater, than they were in 2012.
J.K. Rowling was an unpublished writer. George Clooney played a recurring guest role on "Roseanne." Jennifer Lawrence was not quite 3 years old. Justin Bieber was not even a zygote.
O.J. Simpson was a popular former NFL running back and "The Naked Gun" co-star. His automobile association was with rental car commercials not Ford Broncos.
As a consequence, nobody had heard of Kato Kaelin.
Monica Lewinsky would not become a White House intern for two years.
There was no Viagra.
There was no ESPN.com -- or, indeed, very much .com at all. No Amazon, no Google, no Yahoo, Facebook or YouTube. No iPod or iPhone or BlackBerry. There would be, for at least a few more months, only one ESPN network. Max Kellerman's only TV outlet was on a New York public access station.
Oscar De La Hoya had just run his professional record to 7-0. Floyd Mayweather Jr. was a 106-pound amateur. Manny Pacquiao was living in poverty in Manila. Mike Tyson was in jail. Evander Holyfield had 100 percent of both his ears. What is today the biggest venue in boxing -- the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas -- was in the process of being built.
And all of this, recall, was when Hopkins first challenged for a title. He made his professional debut before that -- when Ronald Reagan was still president and the Soviet Union still existed. But the remarkable element of Hopkins' career is not solely its length, per se, but the period over which it has been conducted at the highest level. The Philadelphian made reference in the wake of his win over Cloud to the fact he has left his contemporaries Roy Jones Jr. and James Toney in his dust. And indeed, whereas boxing fans everywhere cringe at every mention of Jones' next fight and Toney long ago waddled into irrelevance, Hopkins has adapted to age rather than yielding to it, his years of experience more than compensating for any inevitable physical decline.
While one might whimsically imagine a yet more aged Hopkins still fighting when, to quote Sheldon Cooper, we are transported to work at the Thinkatorium by telepathically controlled flying dolphins, even he apparently now has his sights set on the finish line. In the immediate aftermath of victory on Saturday, he joked that he wouldn't be around for more than five years. By the time of the postfight news conference, he had acknowledged that he wouldn't be in the ring when he turned 50. Come Sunday morning, he was telling the Associated Press that, "If I'm not motivated, and the competition is not there, if it's a meaningless fight, it's time to roll, man."
Time will tell. After all, Hopkins had already famously promised not to fight past age 40. Still, even popes retire these days -- something else that has changed since Hopkins started boxing. If Saturday were to prove the final time we see him in the ring (and it says here that it won't be), it would be a fitting finale, a Jedi master schooling a wannabe Padawan before riding off into the sunset -- a performance by the aged to cap a career for the ages.