HE TRIED to tell us, but we didn't listen. Bernard Hopkins, 43, asked us to trust him when he said that after more than 20 years of clean living, of driving past McDonald's and Burger King on his way to Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, he felt a decade younger than his age. He begged us to believe that Kelly Pavlik was a one-dimensional fighter tailor-made for Hopkins's slick defensive style, that when the heavy-handed middleweight champion came in to throw one big punch, Hopkins would counter with four. He tried to tell us that after analyzing hundreds of hours of film, he had uncovered the secret to Pavlik's success. But we didn't believe it. Any of it. That's why we—the media, the naysayers—felt Hopkins's cold stare just moments after he handed Pavlik his first loss in a unanimous decision last Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. "I'm tired!" shouted Hopkins, his lips quivering and tears welling up in his eyes. "I'm tired of proving myself."
After his performance against the 26-year-old Pavlik (34--1), Hopkins (49-5-1) doesn't have much left to prove. Many had expected Pavlik to punctuate his meteoric rise with a knockout of the man who has never been knocked out, but it was Hopkins who reclaimed the spotlight. Showing power and speed reminiscent of his own reign atop the middleweight division, from 1995 to 2005, Hopkins overwhelmed Pavlik, winning by at least eight points on each of the judges' scorecards.
It's been more than two years since HBO threw Hopkins an emotional retirement party (the retirement lasted all of a year), but it now looks as if Hopkins will be around for a while. His logical opponent would be the victor of the November fight between Roy Jones and Joe Calzaghe. No matter who wins, there will be a revenge angle for Hopkins: He lost to Jones in 1993 and to Calzaghe last April. "I want to fight Roy again before I die," says Hopkins. "And I'll go to Wales to fight Joe."
For Pavlik the loss to Hopkins may be demoralizing, but it is far from disastrous. Against middleweights Pavlik's strength is his power, but in the light heavyweight matchup with Hopkins, that power wasn't much of a strength. "He hit me with one right hand," says Hopkins, "but it didn't do anything." Hopkins, says Pavlik's trainer, Jack Loew, "was awfully big in there. I don't think 170 pounds is our weight class."
Back in the middleweight division Pavlik can still expect significant fights. Defending his WBC title against mandatory challenger Marco Antonio Rubio, likely early next year, would set him up for a potential unification fight with undefeated IBF champion Arthur Abraham. "No middleweight is going to beat this guy," Hopkins says of Pavlik. "Kelly could be one of the best middleweight champions ever."
High praise coming from a man who already ranks as a middleweight great. After Saturday night you can pencil in Hopkins's name on the light heavyweight list too.
ONLY AT SI.COM
Chris Mannix breaks down Kelly Pavlik's future.