Father Time is a fighter's most unforgiving opponent, one that will beat you down (Oscar De La Hoya) or deliver years of punishment when your skills fade (Roy Jones Jr.). Its record is unblemished, though against Bernard Hopkins it's being forced to go the distance. Last Saturday night in Montreal, Hopkins, 46, defeated Jean Pascal by unanimous decision to win the WBC light heavyweight championship and surpass George Foreman as the oldest man to claim a world title. It was bell-to-bell brilliance from Hopkins, who wobbled Pascal in the third round and outlanded (131 to 70, according to CompuBox) a man 18 years his junior. "He has a lot of tricks," says Pascal. "He's a great champion."
His peers long gone or faded, Hopkins (52-5-2) continues to fight like a man in his prime. His secret, he says, is simple: clean living. Hopkins doesn't smoke, drink or ingest anything unhealthy. He keeps a steady weight—in 23 years he has put on just 15 pounds—and works so hard that his trainers often have to slow him down. "You can't hustle boxing," says Hopkins. "You don't work, it will finish you." Always a showman (he dropped to do a few pushups before the seventh round), in the twilight of his career Hopkins has replaced his slick, defense-first style with a more aggressive approach, determined to mix it up. "I'm going to keep fighting like this until I leave this game," he says. "I'm going to give everyone some shows."
Now that would be something. Hopkins has a master's degree in tactics (he watches hundreds of hours of video and has an encyclopedic knowledge of opponents' tendencies) and a Ph.D. in head games. "Four-round fighter" was how Hopkins described Pascal; at the post-fight press conference a battered Pascal defiantly declared he had proven that he wasn't. Maybe not. But neither was he—nor is anyone else in the sport—a match for Hopkins's craft and experience. "Sometimes I have been boring," admits Hopkins. "But I'm bringing back old-school boxing. You haven't seen anything yet."
Hopkins once promised his mother he wouldn't fight past 40. Now, in what can only be good news for a sport starved for stars, he says he hopes to fight until he's 50. He is contracted to make his first title defense against Chad Dawson later this year and is eyeing super middleweight champion Lucian Bute and the winner of Showtime's Super Six tournament in 2012. Father Time will keep coming, but Hopkins won't stop punching back.
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At the height of his success, former pound-for-pound king Roy Jones Jr.(below left) swore he would never be a fighter who stayed too long or ended up broke. Today he's both. Last Saturday in Moscow, Jones, 42, was knocked out in the 10th round by 31-year-old Russian cruiserweight Denis Lebedev(below right). It was the third straight loss for Jones, whose electrifying hand speed is gone and whose recent brutal knockout losses have left him reluctant to engage. Privately, friends have urged him to retire, though Jones refuses to commit. One reason: Last month The Detroit News reported that Jones owes the IRS more than $3.5 million. Jones's career as a contender is over, but the frightening reality is that foreign fighters like Lebedev can boost their résumés by cashing in on his name.
Photographs by ROGERIO BARBOSA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
AGING RIGHT Old maybe—and definitely old school—Hopkins (right) outclassed and rocked the younger Pascal.
SERGEY PONOMAREV/AP (JONES AND LEBEDEV)