When Bernard Hopkins was 36 and going for the undisputed middleweight championship against Felix Trinidad in 2001, much of the talk leading into the fight was that Hopkins was too old to get the job done against his much younger opponent. Yet Hopkins knocked Trinidad out in an upset and unified the division for the first time since Marvelous Marvin Hagler did it in the 1980s.
When Hopkins was 41 and set to challenge for the lineal light heavyweight championship against Antonio Tarver in 2006, even more people said he was too old. Yet Hopkins dropped Tarver and dominated en route to a lopsided decision.
When Hopkins was 43, he was, of course, too old when he faced young stud Kelly Pavlik in 2008. Yet Hopkins laid a beating on him in one-sided decision.
When Hopkins traveled to Montreal in 2011 for a rematch of a controversial draw with light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal, Hopkins surely was too old at age 46.
Yet Hopkins outboxed Pascal for the historic decision that allowed him to regain the title and break George Foreman's record of becoming the oldest fighter in boxing history to win a world title.
After losing to Chad Dawson in a 2012 rematch, Hopkins got another shot at a light heavyweight title when he faced Tavoris Cloud in March. At 48, Hopkins put on a masterful boxing clinic and once again won a title, breaking his own record as the oldest fighter to win a title.
Hopkins' age has been a major part of his legacy, but even he gets sick of hearing about it sometimes.
"Saying 'I'm getting old,' is getting old," Hopkins said.
But it's a major part of his fights, and he knows it. For this bout, Hopkins announced that he was retiring his longtime nickname of "The Executioner" in favor of "The Alien," a nod to his otherworldly accomplishments in a young man's sport.
"I'm happy to be here, but that's where 'The Alien' comes in," he said. "You won't hear 'The Executioner.' You won't see me with my hands crossed. 'The Executioner' is retired. I'm an alien because I am of this world, but I'm not from this world."
Maybe that's the case because less than three months from his 49th birthday, Hopkins, the oldest fighter to hold a world title, will once again climb into the ring against a much younger man when he makes his first defense against mandatory challenger Karo Murat of Germany on Saturday night (Showtime, 9 ET/PT, with preliminary bouts on Showtime Extreme beginning at 7 ET/PT) at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.
"Everyone the age of 40 and over had better be on my side, or I'll kick their a--," Hopkins joked.
In the co-feature, middleweight titlist "Kid Chocolate" Peter Quillin (29-0, 21 KOs) of New York will make his second defense against Philadelphia's Gabriel Rosado (21-6, 13 KOs) and, in the opener of the tripleheader, heavyweight hopeful Deontay Wilder (29-0, 29 KOs) of Tuscaloosa, Ala., the 2008 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist, faces Akron, Ohio, journeyman Nicolai Firtha (21-10-1, 8 KOs) in a scheduled 10-rounder.
To add a little perspective to show just how old Hopkins (53-6-2, 32 KOs) is in boxing terms, at 48 he's closer in age to Hagler, who is 59 and has been retired since 1987, than he is to the 30-year-old Murat (25-1-1, 15 KOs), who was 5 when Hopkins turned pro in 1988.
"I can't call a trainer to ask him, 'What did you do with your 50-year-old fighter to get him ready for a world championship (fight)? What did you do when you were getting a 50-year-old ready for a title?' This is uncharted territory," said Naazim Richardson, Hopkins' trainer. "Even the great living trainers, Buddy McGirt, Freddie Roach, I can't call any of them and say, 'What did you do with your 50-year-old?'"
The fight -- originally scheduled for July 13 but postponed because of Murat's problems obtaining a visa -- will be Hopkins' 34th world title bout (second most in history behind Julio Cesar Chavez's 37), taking into account alphabet and lineal championship fights. Yet even after so much success, so many historic victories and having earned tens of millions of dollars, Hopkins still finds a way to motivate himself through months of hard training.
It's one thing to get pumped up for fights with big names. Hopkins' resume is littered with them, including Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya, Jermain Taylor, Tarver, Pavlik, Roy Jones Jr., Pascal and Dawson.
But Murat? He is unknown in the United States and barely that well known in Germany. He is, by far, the least recognizable opponent Hopkins has faced since a Philadelphia homecoming fight against Enrique Ornelas in 2009, when Hopkins was shaking off the rust of a 14-month layoff.
Hopkins said he drove himself through training because he knows a loss probably means the end of the road, but a win means at least one more big fight. That's what Hopkins wants.
"I know that there's light at the end of the tunnel," Hopkins said. "In this case, there's what I consider a super-fight at the end of this, whether it's my division or some other division. But I know one thing -- before you get to the Tootsie Roll, you've got to do a lot of licking. That's not in a disrespectful way, but it's in a way of knowing that you got to get down into that box of the Cracker Jacks and you get the prize.
"You've got to get through these things. These things are just part of business, whether you like it or not."
Murat, in the United States for the first time, said he has followed Hopkins' career since he was 12 or 13 and respects his many accomplishments, but plans on retiring him.
"I will be at my best," Murat said through a translator. "When I am messing up his old bones it will make me a star in an instant."
Murat said when he sees Hopkins fight, he sees an old fighter.
"You see the mileage on him," Murat said. "To me he looks like a 48-year-old. He doesn't have the speed anymore he may have had at 30. He tries to clinch a lot and to win the fight through his experience and that's it.
"I'm happy to get this chance. I'm 30 years old now, and I'm physically and mentally on top of my game. The time is now to beat Hopkins. When Hopkins fought Cloud, a lot of people already said that the time had come, that he's going to lose and going to retire, but he schooled him and showed the world that he's still ready and a good 48-year-old boxer. But I'm going to surprise a lot of people and, as I see it, he had his first pro fight in 1988 in Atlantic City and so he has to see that the time has come. We are fighting again in Atlantic City. So it will be a good closing out for him to finally retire by my hands."
Hopkins has heard all that before, and has long explained that the reason he has been able to continue fighting at such a high level so late into his career -- the 25th anniversary of his pro debut, a four-round majority decision loss to Clinton Mitchell in Atlantic City, was on Oct. 11 -- is because he's fanatical about taking care of himself between fights. He doesn't get hit much during his fights and he maintains his weight and conditioning between bouts.
"(Murat) is coming to fight the guy that is 48, but just because the car is a 1965, doesn't mean it's old," Hopkins said. "Check the mileage, check the engine and then check the wear and tear. The year is old, but if you check the engine, it's like new.
"I'm now in another era because I've outlasted so many others. I outlasted the James Toney era, the Kelly Pavlik era and now I'm in the Adrien Broner and Danny Garcia era. I am of a new era with an old soul. I represent the old soul of doing things the right way. Living the right way. Thinking the right way. Treating my mind, body and soul the right way."
Hopkins has said he doesn't plan to still be boxing at 50, so he needs to get that big fight sooner than later, be it against the other top guys at light heavyweight, lineal champ Adonis Stevenson and titleholder Sergey Kovalev, or a showdown with a top super middleweight such as champ Andre Ward or titlist Carl Froch. Hopkins has even suggested an unlikely move down in weight for a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr., who would have to come up.
"I look at myself ending my career with a super fight, and people are going to remember that," Hopkins said. "But this here (fight with Murat), to me personally, is not a super-fight in boxing but is a super fight to me because there's no other fight if this fight is not completed the way it should be. So I know how important it is for me to get to that.
"This is just an obstacle. My obstacles can be kind of nagging sometimes, and I got to get through the obstacles. It isn't going to be too long, but just get past this one and then I have the freedom by the rules to be able to at least have multiple months to be able to make some big fights in between. Not waste time looking for one, but at least knowing that there'll be one on the horizon."