Bernard Hopkins now wants to be known as "The Alien," not "The Executioner." It's a good nickname change, since Hopkins hasn't executed anyone in a very long time, unless you're counting Kelly Pavlik's confidence or Antonio Tarver's relevance, and even those fights were now five and seven years ago, respectively.
48 years of age and turning 49 in January, Hopkins (53-6-2, 32 KO) returns to the ring on Saturday night in Atlantic City to face Germany's Karo Murat, a B-list contender in the light heavyweight division who happens to be mandatory challenger for the IBF title that Hopkins rather easily lifted from Tavoris Cloud earlier this year.
While Murat, 30, is a credible and competent professional, he is no match for Hopkins on paper. While Hopkins is small in stature for a light heavyweight, Murat is little for the weight himself, at 5'10" with a 70" reach. He's probably thicker and physically stronger than Hopkins, but Bernard has never lived on strength or power. Or speed. Or even defense.
Hopkins, of course, has excelled in the sport's most crucial cutoff factor for greatness: the mental game. Never intimidated and never too proud to muck up a fight or even act the role of the perennial victim, flopping around the ring and crying foul, Hopkins has been inside of his opponents' heads for almost every fight of his notable pro career.
Murat (25-1-1, 15 KO) says he'll shock the world and not fall prey to Bernard's tricks, but a lot of guys say that. Jean Pascal said it. Tavoris Cloud said it. Pavlik, Tarver, and Winky Wright all said it. And by the way, this is just counting the guys from Bernard's "second career," because his time as a middleweight is now frankly irrelevant. Bernard Hopkins has basically had a pair of Hall of Fame careers now, one as a middleweight and one as a light heavyweight.
Hopkins has never tried to make himself "exciting" in a manner that would land him on Jim Lampley's Gatti List, and while he bristles at being called boring, Hopkins is smart enough to know that he's always promoting, and that when he slyly compares himself to Sugar Rays Robinson and Leonard, saying those two all-time greats would be considered boring by today's standards, he's putting himself in their class, and making the case for his elite of elites standing without just outright saying it.
Bernard won't try to do anything exciting on Saturday night, either. He's not going to go for a stoppage and he probably won't happen upon one, either, unless Murat is injured. Bernard hasn't stopped anyone since 2004, when as a middleweight he knocked out blown up welterweight Oscar De La Hoya with a legendary body blow that put the "Golden Boy" down for the count.
Put simply, Bernard can't punch anymore, and he knows it, so he doesn't try for big, damaging blows. He peppers his way through fights with solid connects, roughs up opponents if they get close to him or he gets close to them (either way works), and breaks their spirit by making himself the most frustrating son of a bitch in the sport, save maybe for Floyd Mayweather, who knows the same tricks Hopkins does and adds physical elusiveness to the equation, as well.
We're talking about an all-time great who hasn't shown signs of real wear and tear, in part because he's never taken a bad beating in his career, matched up with an also-ran in Murat. So no, it's hard to paint this fight as something interesting, because in most ways, it isn't. The reason to tune in for this one is to see Bernard Hopkins do what Bernard Hopkins does. Bernard won't lose for two reasons: Murat isn't good enough, and Bernard, at 48, isn't old enough to make up for that.