Boxing

 
              === Just because: Let "Executioner" go for as long as he wins ===
 
 By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Boxing Editor
 
 Cape  Coral, FL  (Sports Network)  -  I confess.  I'd never  been the  biggest
 Bernard Hopkins fan.
 
 In  fact,  it wasn't  all that  long ago  -- while  slaving for another boxing
 master  -- that  I penned a column  titled "Goodbye Bernard, Old Buddy" in the
 run-up to the old man's (he was a month shy of 41 at the time) loss to Jermain
 Taylor in the second of their middleweight title fights in December 2005.
 
 Back then, as his claim to the 160-pound fiefdom was finally loosened after 11
 years,  I  was more than  happy to break from  collective media stride by both
 forecasting  a  second straight  Taylor win  (via stoppage,  in 10 rounds) and
 questioning the idea that his prolonged run there had made him a legend.
 
 The  latter, incidentally,  is a viewpoint I have no shame in maintaining here
 in 2013.
 
 In  my  mind, had Hopkins  retired after meeting JT  once or twice, the resume
 he'd compiled while working the Allen/Hakkar/Mercado circuit -- with a few ex-
 welterweights  thrown  in for  flavor -- would  have warranted lasting respect
 from fans ... but no celebratory plaque in upstate New York.
 
 But what he's done since?
 
 Well, that's another story entirely.
 
 While  I've picked him in exactly half the 10 fights he's had since abandoning
 the  middleweight division seven years ago, I'm still as amazed as anyone when
 I step back and absorb the enormity of what's been accomplished since calendar
 2005 flipped to calendar 2006.
 
 Lest we forget -- as he ramps up to face IBF champ Tavoris Cloud, a bully most
 consider  no worse than  second or third at 175 pounds -- he's a full 16 years
 older  than  a just-past-vintage  Marvin Hagler was  while recording the final
 victory of his career, against John Mugabi, in 1986.
 
 He's  14 years older than a faded Ray Leonard -- who out-slicked Hagler in the
 Marvelous one's final outing -- was when he topped Roberto Duran, then 38, for
 the final triumph of his own career in part three of their series in 1989.
 
 And  he's three years older than the modern standard-bearer for grill-pitching
 old  guys, George  Foreman,  was  when he  landed  the  clubbing one-two  that
 simultaneously  separated Michael  Moorer from both his senses and the IBF/WBA
 heavyweight titles in 1994.
 
 True,  Foreman's last win  came three years later -- at 48 years, 3 months and
 16  days  -- but only the  hardest of the  hardcore saw his split 12-round nod
 over  Lou  Savarese.  And  far  fewer saw  the  trinket  involved,  the  WBU's
 heavyweight belt, as representative of anything remotely resembling elite.
 
 In  yanking the  tail of the meanest  dog in the light heavy yard, Hopkins has
 proven clearly different.
 
 At  an age  when contemporaries are considering Levitra, he's 6-2-1 with a no-
 contest.
 
 And  rather  than spending  his golden  years plucking record-enhancing fruit,
 Hopkins has dismantled legitimate alphabet claimants (Tarver and Pascal), gone
 to  the wire  with a fellow all-timer (Calzaghe) and signaled the beginning of
 the end for a prohibitive big-hitting favorite (Pavlik).
 
 For  those  who've forgotten that  2008 masterpiece, a 43-year-old Hopkins won
 nearly every second of every round against an unbeaten 26-year-old with 30 KOs
 in  34 wins,  splattering egg on the  faces of a 12-writer panel (me included)
 that had gone unanimous in favor of the youngster.
 
 Incidentally,  a  similarly timed panel of  six fighters leaned 4-2 to the old
 guy.
 
 Hopkins followed the Pavlik win with near shutouts of both Enrique Ornelas and
 Roy  Jones Jr., and subsequently emerged belted after two trips to the turf of
 another 175-pound tough guy in Pascal.
 
 Only Chad Dawson has beaten him since Calzaghe -- via a majority decision in a
 fight  judge Luis Rivera scored 114-114, I had 115-113 and the most fervent of
 "Bad" fans conceded was no blowout.
 
 Yet somehow many still clamor for his retirement, just because.
 
 He's too old, they say. Too boring, they insist.
 
 And there's no place for him on today's premium cable air alongside face-first
 transfusion machines vying to be the next Arturo Gatti.
 
 But  with  all due  respect to the  conflicted TV interests  of Bob Arum, they
 couldn't be more wrong.
 
 While anyone with 20/20 vision would agree Hopkins is no human highlight reel,
 the  titillation gap between he and the Brandon Rioses is more than bridged by
 the  guile he displays while subtly negating the weaponry of guys young enough
 to be his kids.
 
 By  eluding  the same firefights  in which the  "Thunders" and "Bam Bams" only
 temporarily   thrive,  the  aptly-tagged  "Executioner"  saves  his  strength,
 maintains  his  faculties and stays closer  to an athletic baseline his fellow
 40-somethings left behind at least a decade ago.
 
 We should all be so lucky to have that long a prime.
 
 And, short of that, we at least ought to appreciate his while we still can.
 
 
 
 This week's fake title-fight schedule:
 
 *  Though  folks in Mexico City  would have you think Saturday's match between
 Lucas  Matthysse and  Mike Dallas  Jr.  is worthy  of sanction  fees --  don't
 believe it.
 
 What'll  take  place at  the Hard  Rock Hotel  and Casino  and be broadcast on
 Showtime  air  is a nice enough  fight, but it's no  more than the WBC's No. 1
 contender  (interim,  schminterim) at  140 pounds  and the guy  in slot No. 33
 according  to the  organization's own  December rankings.  Thus, usage  of the
 phrase  "super lightweight  champion" without  the name  "Danny Garcia"  is an
 affront to any and all TV viewers.
 
 Demand better.
 
 
 
 This week's real title-fight schedule:
 
 No fights scheduled.
 
 NOTE:  Fights  previewed are  only those involving  a sanctioning body's full-
 fledged  title-holder --  no interim,  diamond,  silver, etc.  Fights for  WBA
 "world  championships" are  only included if no "super champion" exists in the
 weight class.
 
 Last                    week?s                   picks:                    1-1
 2013          picks         record:         2-1         (66.6         percent)
 Overall picks record: 464-153 (75.2 percent)
 
 Lyle  Fitzsimmons  is a veteran  sports columnist who's written professionally
 since  1988 and covered  boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and
 posted  online  for  clients  in  North  America  and  Europe.  Reach  him  at
 fitzbitz@msn.com or follow him on Twitter: @fitzbitz.
 
 
 01/23 13:10:55 ET

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