According to RingTV.com's Lem Satterfield, former undisputed middleweight and light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins is eyeing to break his own record as the oldest prizefighter to claim a world title, with a likely ring return at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on March 9.
Satterfield reports that Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer and Hopkins are targeting three current light heavyweight belt-holders: Tavoris Cloud (IBF), Nathan Cleverly (WBO) or Beibut Shumenov (WBA). Regardless of who Hopkins' opponent ends up being, Satterfield clearly highlights the hypothetical fight's most significant aspect:
With a win, Hopkins (52-6-2, 32 knockouts), who will turn 48 in January, could eclipse his own record as the oldest man to win a significant crown, a feat the Philadelphia native accomplished at the age of 46 with a unanimous decision over Jean Pascal for the WBC's light heavyweight belt in May of last year.
Whether one values Hopkins' fighting style or not, the fact remains that he is one of the greatest middleweights of all time, a genius-caliber defensive fighter and, essentially, a living legend. That said, Hopkins also appears to have savvy business acumen and has received every conceivable boxing accolade. So, why continue to fight?
It would be fair to criticize Hopkins' performance in his last fight against current lineal 175-pound champion Chad Dawson. In that fight, Hopkins appeared to lack the enthusiasm he displayed in his record-setting win against Pascal (26-2-1, 16 KO), which famously included between-round push-ups as an exhausted Pascal remained on his stool until the last conceivable second.
But before being too critical of Hopkins' forgettable two-fight stretch with Dawson (31-2, 17 KO), one must admit that Hopkins was simply bested by a prime, pound-for-pound level fighter. A lesser boxer would have succumbed via stoppage, and it is natural that Hopkins' offense wasn't exactly flowing given his age.
Now, this is not meant to be an apology for Hopkins' style, which can be maddening because of his sporadic punch output and, at times, questionable tactics. Yes, it would have been better if he'd upped his activity and aggression against Dawson, and it is fair to wonder whether Hopkins is still capable of pulling the trigger at the elite level.
Before discounting Hopkins' comeback, it is worth remembering that he is only two fights removed from a second consecutive spirited (and winning) effort against Pascal, a fighter who while inconsistent, is undeniably talented.
At this juncture, as long as Hopkins isn't headlining a pay-per-view card, there's no reason to complain about him fighting again. Unlike other fighters who toil into their late 40s, Hopkins is still an ace defensive fighter and hasn't taken a frightening amount of punishment.
Furthermore, when scouring the records of Cloud (24-0, 19 KO), Cleverly (25-0, 12 KO) and Shumenov (13-1, 8 KO), it is clear that Hopkins would still rate as one of the better opponents that each champion has faced.
Would it be better for the sport if Cloud opted to fight Jean Pascal instead of Hopkins (assuming Cloud defeats Karo Murat on November 24)? In a word: yes. Cloud-Pascal would produce guaranteed fireworks, and Hopkins, despite his accomplishments, remains somewhat of a stylistic enigma.
And what of Shumenov? Well, if there's any justice in the world, he'll give Gabriel Campillo a third fight. The hard-luck Campillo (21-4-1, 8 KO) has been violated by incompetent judges against both Shumenov (in 2010) and Cloud (in February 2012), and if anyone deserves retribution, it's the classy Spanish contender.
The 25-year-old Cleverly might actually be an interesting option. Cleverly fought in the U.S. for the first time since 2008 when he defeated Shawn Hawk on the Abner Mares-Anselmo Moreno undercard on Saturday. If his team is looking to increase his North American profile, a fight against Hopkins could be a credible option.
Satterfield also quotes Schaefer as suggesting that Cleverly is a distinct possibility for Hopkins' return, though nothing overly concrete seems to have been discussed:
Nathan Cleverly is a very respectful, nice young man, as well. We'll see what's going to happen. I will be going to work in the coming weeks to try to secure a title fight for Bernard, and we heard, yesterday, that Nathan Cleverly is certainly up for it, so we'll see.
All the speculation about Hopkins' possible opponents should be kept at arm's length, at least for now. Until facts materialize and a contract is signed, another Bernard Hopkins fight should be greeted with appropriate reverence and mild intrigue, as long as fans aren't expected to pay upwards of $60 to see it.