Age relative to veteran boxers Hopkins, Johnson

Age has always been a relative concept in boxing.

Many fighters are shot by the time they’re 30, the accumulation

of punches from all the bloody brawls taking their toll. They’re a

bit slower, a bit heavier, a shell of a once-proud fighter trying

to hang around for one last payday under the lights.

Then there’s Bernard Hopkins and Glen Johnson.

Hopkins won the light heavyweight title at age 46 on May 21,

supplanting George Foreman as the oldest boxer to win a major

championship. On Saturday night, the 42-year-old Johnson meets Carl

Froch for the 168-pound title in Atlantic City, N.J.

”I know there are people still skeptical about what I can do at

my age, but I actually get excited when people mention my age and

focus on my age,” Johnson said this week. ”That means they are

not focused on my skills and what I bring to the table.”

Make no mistake, the table is full.

Hopkins and Johnson are tacticians, defensive geniuses as adept

at sidestepping punches as they are delivering them – even though

most fans would prefer sheer recklessness.

They’re cerebral fighters, an oxymoron to those who believe the

sport is little more than an act of barbarism. They study their

opponents the way a financial planner might examine the tax code,

looking for loopholes that they can exploit for their benefit.

Perhaps most importantly, they take care of themselves outside

the ring.

They stay in shape between fights, eating the right food and

hitting the gym, which makes it easier to sharpen their skills once

training camp starts. They’ve also steered clear of vices, the

drinking and drugs that have wrecked so many careers and lives.

”People ask, ‘What’s your secret?”’ said Hopkins, who got a

late start in boxing after he was convicted at age 17 of robbery

and assault, and spent nearly five years in prison.

”They’re waiting for me to say, ‘I’m that good,’ but I am here

because I invested in myself and made a determination not to get

caught up in the high life of being a celebrity,” Hopkins said.

”You have to treat yourself like a temple.”

The fighter from Philadelphia once made a record 20 consecutive

defenses of the middleweight title, setting a standard that may

never be approached. Hopkins was voted Fighter of the Year by the

Boxing Writers’ Association of America way back in 2001 – a full

decade ago – and moved up to capture the light heavyweight title

for the first time five years ago.

Then came a close, split-decision loss to Joe Calzaghe in 2008,

and an uninspiring victory over Enrique Ornelas a year later. By

the time he fought Roy Jones Jr. for the second time in April 2010,

”The Executioner” appeared to be nearing the end of his

career.

But in his most impressive performance in years, he boxed

circles around 28-year-old Jean Pascal in his hometown of Montreal.

Not only did Hopkins win the fight on all three judges’ scorecards,

he also earned the grudging respect of his biggest critics.

”Bernard fought a wonderful fight,” Johnson said. ”I knew he

was definitely going to win the fight, but I didn’t know if he was

going to get a decision. Kudos to him.

”He’s definitely an inspiration to us old guys.”

Johnson has inspired plenty of people in his own right.

Nicknamed ”The Road Warrior” for his willingness to fight

anywhere, the smiling, amiable native of Jamaica unsuccessfully

challenged for world titles in 1997 (against Hopkins), 1999 and

2003 before finally breaking through the sport’s upper

echelons.

Consider it evidence that he’s only getting better with age.

”He’s been there, done that, seen every style there is to see

and dealt with every style and pretty much beat every style,” said

his trainer, Orlando Cuellar.

Johnson fought Chad Dawson, one of the sport’s biggest talents,

to a pair of close losses over the past few years. Then he dropped

down to 168 pounds as a late replacement in the Super Six World

Boxing Classic, and routed a younger Allan Green last November.

Now he’s facing Froch in the tournament semifinals, with a date

against Andre Ward – a 27-year-old fighter- awaiting the

winner.

”An old man (recently) showed us what’s possible when there’s

still some greatness left in an old body, and there’s still some

greatness left in this man,” said Johnson’s promoter, Lou DiBella,

referring to Hopkins’ resounding victory and his own fighter’s

title shot.

”He’s really, in a bizarre way, in his prime at 42 years

old.”