PHILADELPHIA – Bernard Hopkins is fighting for all the fading middle-aged athletes everywhere.
For Brett Favre, whose shoulder finally gave out at 41.
For Jamie Moyer, the crafty lefty who likely threw that final 80 mph "heater" at 47.
For Chris Chelios, who had to hang up the skates at the age of 48.
Here's Hopkins, trudging closer toward 46, still prepping for another historic fight. Hardly hobbled or slurring his speech like so many of his peers, Hopkins remains in elite physical condition and in the mix for championship fights.
His next one is a fight for the aged.
If Hopkins defeats WBC light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal on Saturday, he'll become the oldest boxer to win a world title. He's trying to knock out George Foreman from atop the record book: the grill guru was 45 years, 10 months when he knocked out heavyweight champion Michael Moorer in 1994.
"I want everyone to know this is unique," said Hopkins, who turns 46 on Jan. 15.
Unique — and certainly not impossible.
Hopkins, an avid sports fan and caller into Philadelphia sports talk stations, realizes his contemporaries in other sports are hitting the mat and going down for the count. For now, Hopkins is the last man standing.
"Brett Favre got old," he said, laughing. "I'm by myself here. Guess what, I'm looking behind me."
Known as "The Executioner," Hopkins yaps like an athlete in his prime even if the Philly fighter's best rounds in the ring are also behind him.
Hopkins, who once promised his mother he'd retire at 40, went to the scorecard to defeat journeyman Enrique Ornelas last December and won a grueling unanimous decision against Roy Jones Jr. in April. Hopkins did what he needed to do in each fight to win, even as he failed to inspire confidence that another lengthy title run was still ahead — he once had a perfect 10-year reign as middleweight champion.
Hopkins started boxing in a Pennsylvania state prison, where he served five years beginning at the age of 17. He turned pro in 1988 and won his first bout in 1990.
The fighter who boldly talked last year of retiring as the heavyweight champion has backed off that prediction. In fact, Hopkins has hinted that if he loses to Pascal in Quebec City, it might seriously signal the end of his 22-year career.
For real, this time.
"If Bernard Hopkins don't win this fight, and win this fight impressively, there's nothing else to do," Hopkins said. "I won't be a name for an opponent."
He was for the Haitian-born Pascal. The 28-year-old Pascal stood in the ring after his victory over Chad Dawson in August and proclaimed that he wanted to fight Hopkins next.
"It's going to be a good start for me to beat a legend to become a legend one day," Pascal said. "Hopkins was the name out there, was the big name and that's why I chose to fight him because I want to fight the best to prove that I'm the best."
There is a nearly 18-year age gap between Hopkins and Pascal — the biggest difference in B-Hop's career. Hopkins had five bouts where his opponents had been more than a decade younger than him, including a 17-year gap in a victory over Kelly Pavlik in October 2008.
Pascal was only 5 years old when Hopkins turned pro in 1988.
"There's a lot of 40 year olds running around, dropping their canes, putting their teeth in and rooting for me," Hopkins said.
For all the wisecracks about his age, Hopkins is about as serious and dedicated as any athlete in his training. His straightedge lifestyle includes no drinking, healthy eating and going to bed by 9 p.m.
"Instead of looking at 45 as a negative, I'm proud to say that as of today, I'm an example of good fortune and also taking care of your yourself," he said. "And knowing the art of boxing. The art boxing is plain and simple: Hit and not get hit."
Around Philly, he's simply known as B-Hop. He's stayed true to his roots, often training or holding workout camps at the various dingy, out-of-the-way gyms around the city. He has an apartment in the city, buys his groceries at the nearby market, and recites his exact running route which he hits daily without bodyguards or much fanfare. Hopkins offers a quick wave for fans who recognize him as he runs his way through the park.
"When they see me, they know it's B-Hop coming through," he said.
He won't be so popular in Canada. Quebec City is a couple hundred miles from Pascal's adopted hometown of Laval, Quebec.
"I'm at my best when I know that I'm walking into another guy's territory and the only thing he has to be is good," Hopkins said, "And I have to be supergood."
Hopkins claimed Pascal won't lose a split decision near his hometown.
May as well go out and take care of business — and put his name in the record book.
"A lot of people are going to have to adjust their books after this fight, after this one-sided fight," Hopkins said.