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Hopkins Celebrates 49th B-Day, Looks To Stay Champ Til 50

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Very few of us are as obsessive-compulsive as Adrian Monk, the fussy and fastidious detective with multiple phobias played by three-time Emmy Award winner Tony Shalhoub in the hit TV series Monk. But a lot of people have a thing for nice, round numbers, and IBF light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins, who celebrated his 49th birthday on Wednesday, admits to being one of those.

“I do that,” Hopkins admitted when asked if he’s inclined to pump in another three cents of gasoline into his car after it has been filled and the pump reading is, say, $49.97.

Hopkins (54-6-2, 32 KOs) has been a graybeard, figuratively speaking, for at least a decade, and now he qualifies for that designation in the literal sense. In meeting with the media on his latest special day at the Joe Hand Boxing Gym in Philadelphia, B-Hop’s chin whiskers were decidedly more salt than pepper. And that’s quite all right with the oldest boxer ever to win and hold a widely recognized world title, and who views his ridiculously advanced age in a young man’s sport as a mark of distinction that might never be matched or surpassed.

“I’ve been looking at these gray hairs that been popping up for these last 10 years, but even more now,” said a smiling Hopkins, embracing the deepening of his advance into middle age. “I keep saying to myself, `Man, I’m almost 50.’ I should be saying, `You’re 49 first. Enjoy 49 while you can.’ But I can’t help but look ahead to that five-oh. Who, as an athlete, would even dream that? I’m still active, still relevant. Very much relevant.”

If all goes according to plan – and at Hopkins’ age, there is always the possibility that plan could change quickly and perhaps irrevocably on any given fight night – he will take unto himself another slice of the 175-pound championship pie in a unification bout with WBA champ Beibut Shumenov (14-1, 9 KOs), probably in April. Like Hopkins, the 30-year-old Shumenov, a native of Kazakhstan who now resides in Las Vegas, is part of the Golden Boy promotional stable, so that pairing figures to be relatively easy to put together.

And should Hopkins defeat Shumenov, as he has any number of much younger fighters who believed the old man surely had to be running on empty? Well, he said he wants to take on the survivor of another anticipated light heavyweight unification showdown, between WBC titlist Adonis Stevenson (23-1, 20 KOs) and WBO ruler Sergey Kovalev (23-0, 21 KOs), for the right to be hailed as the undisputed champion of the division. It is a distinction Hopkins held when he defeated Felix Trinidad on Sept. 29, 2001, to fully unify the middleweight crown.

Making Hopkins-Stevenson or Hopkins-Kovalev wouldn’t be quite so simple, given the frosty and mostly non-existent relationship between Showtime, which has aligned itself with Golden Boy and thus Hopkins, and HBO, which has dibs on Stevenson and Kovalev. But Hopkins, maybe voicing his own birthday wish, said he anticipates a thaw in the HBO/Showtime Cold War.

“I’m going to have two belts,” said Hopkins, apparently convinced that Shumenov will tumble into the crafty master’s trick bag as readily as had his two most recent victims, Karo Murat and Tavoris Cloud. All the reporters will say, `Well, Adonis Stevenson (who has called out Hopkins) beat the man (Chad Dawson) who beat the man (Hopkins),’ and that’s true. But the fans are going to want to see us fight each other.

“Look, Stevenson (B-Hop’s pick to defeat Kovalev, if and when such a matchup occurs) and Kovalev are going to fight because HBO is going to make them fight. HBO just signed Kovalev to a three-fight deal. I’m going to be there when the Cold War ends, and who knows, it could end tomorrow. If I have two belts, people are going to want to see me fight the other guy with two belts. Rarely in the sport of boxing do you become undisputed. How historic would it be for me to become undisputed light heavyweight champion of the world at almost 50? You’d have to put me in a different history book.”

Hopkins said he wouldn’t even have to “bang that drum,” because the louder banging would probably be done by the Stevenson-Kovalev winner.

“I want to be the best and I want all the belts,” continued Hopkins, who has yet to be stopped or even be on the wrong end of a major beatdown during his legendary, 25-year pro career. “They (Stevenson or Kovalev) can leave over there (HBO) and come over here (Showtime). Or I can leave and go over there, which I already went on record as saying I would do, if it came to that. But I’m in it. I’m relevant. I don’t need those guys to legitimize my career. But if either of them were to beat Bernard Hopkins and do what they’ve been doing to 80 percent of their opponents, which is knocking them out, he’d be an instant star by doing something that’s never been done.

“You hear about these big punchers, and they might have a point. But the end of the day they’re gonna be cautious about how boldly they say it. I’m ready to walk that tightrope with no net. I’ve done that all my life.”

It is a life that Hopkins never expected would be where it is now, and not just that part of it that takes place inside the ring. Remember, Hopkins served 56 months on a strong-arm robbery conviction that strongly hinted at a brief, violent and unglorious end.

Asked if he could even have dared to dream that he would become what he has back on Oct. 11, 1988, when he made his pro debut in losing a four-rounder to one Clinton Mitchell in Atlantic City, Hopkins shook his shaved head and said, “No. Who can plan that far ahead, anyway? I remember when I didn’t think I would live to 18 or 19, and I really believed that. Fifty? If you knew me before boxing, before Graterford (the Pennsylvania penitentiary where Hopkins did his stretch), you would have said,`This kid ain’t gonna make it to 19. Either he’s gonna kill somebody or somebody’s going to kill him.’”

Hopkins is as proud of the fact he didn’t fall into the familiar traps and temptations that clouded his youth as he is of his boxing accomplishments. He dedicated himself to staying clear of trouble, and to his calling, which is why – more than talent – he has lasted as long and as commendably as he has.

“You see this six-pack?” he said, raising his shirt to reveal an impressively sculpted abdomen. “I ain’t even fighting until April. I’m 168 now, and I fight at 175. I should be walking around now at, what, 190? That wouldn’t be embarrassing because you’re supposed to be a little overweight when you’re not fighting.”

Maybe Hopkins is apt to pack on a pound or two after treating himself to some sugary birthday fare, but it won’t be the cheesecake that has been his guilty pleasure on those rare occasions when he took a day off from his extremely health-conscious diet.

“I’m tired of cheesecake,” he announced. “I’m going to switch. But it’ll be something nice.”

Once those calories are counted, though, expect Hopkins to go back to a disciplined countdown of a different sort. Yeah, the late Rocky Marciano was one of the greatest heavyweight champions ever, but Adrian Monk surely would understand that The Rock’s legacy would seem even more imposing if he had made it to 50-0 instead of calling it quits at 49-0.

“Fifty is different from 49,” Hopkins said. “Forty is different from 39. I’m not the same guy today that I was at 25, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think I’m better now than I was 10, 15 years ago, even though I was successful at that time. Younger isn’t always better.”

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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