PHILADELPHIA – Bernard Hopkins never believed in three-headed cows until he saw the two-headed calf.
It's a freak of nature, and when Hopkins looked eye-to-eye, and, well, eye-to-eye again, at the mounted head, it made him contemplate what other kind of absurd animal roamed in the wild. Why couldn't a cow with three heads be alive and mooing?
Hopkins has never been afraid to look at life differently from the rest of the pack.
Imprisoned as a teen, the oldest fighter to ever win a major championship at 46, Hopkins long ago stopped worrying about what society thinks. When the critics howl he should quit, or a promoter tells him his last pay-per-view fight bombed, Hopkins just ditches the Prada glasses and button-down designer vest and suit, steps again through the ropes and into a ring.
"I refuse to be the norm," Hopkins said.
Oh, no one would dare accuse Hopkins of conforming. He's always good for a few surprises.
At a 47th birthday celebration this week at the Philadelphia gym where he trains, Hopkins, who usually bobs and weaves around treats, licked the frosting off his cake. For a fighter known for a frugal lifestyle and a bedtime more suited for young children, it was a rare indulgence saved for a special occasion.
"Believe it or Not, Bernard Hopkins is 47," was inscribed on B-Hop's cake.
The event was less a birthday bash and more about the Philadelphia arrival of his wax figure. The likeness was created by Ripley's Believe It Or Not! in honor of Hopkins becoming the oldest fighter in boxing history to win a world title in May 2011. As far as the coolness factor rates, Hopkins' statue fits in somewhere between similar lifelike creations of the World's Tallest Man and the Mexican Vampire Woman.
It was a visit to the Ripley's museum in Hollywood where Hopkins saw the double-headed calf and, in a way, could relate to the outcast bovine.
As Hopkins draws closer toward his career's final bell, the awe of winning major fights in his 40s has morphed into questions of why he's still fighting closing in on 50. After an ugly bout and controversial — and overturned — finish against Chad Dawson in October, Hopkins knows his time, at last, is running out.
With 61 pro fights behind him, Hopkins appears on the brink of stepping away from the sport for good. He has the WBC light heavyweight championship, but no immediate fights ahead. He'd like to fight again in the spring in Atlantic City, N.J., or even in Canada, and a potential rematch with Dawson looms. If that falls through, Hopkins openly talks about challenging IBF super middleweight champion Lucian Bute.
Either way, the time appears right for the ageless Hopkins, second only to Joe Frazier among Philly's greatest boxers, to quit.
Just don't expect him to retire because someone else tells him it's time.
"They can't give you a reason other than, 'You're 47 and you don't need to do it anymore,'" Hopkins said. "I haven't had that type of fight to say that, physically, Bernard Hopkins should stop fighting, or his head is not right, or he can't put three sentences together, or he's fighting to keep his electric on. That hasn't, and would not be, Bernard Hopkins."
The Dawson debacle, though, was as bizarre an ending to a Hopkins fight as any in a career that dates back to 1988. Dawson lifted Hopkins off his feet by standing up, tossing him onto the canvas. Hopkins landed on his back and immediately clutched his shoulder and grimaced in pain. Apparently unable to continue, referee Pat Russell ruled Dawson hadn't fouled Hopkins, stopped the fight in the second round, and awarded the belt to Dawson.
Last month, the California State Athletic Commission overturned the decision and declared the bout a no-decision. The move means Hopkins still has never lost a fight by stoppage in his 23-year career.
"The thing about that fight that disappointed me was the people who seemed to lose confidence in Bernard," trainer Nazim Richardon said.
Hopkins hasn't knocked out an opponent since Oscar De La Hoya in September 2004 — 13 fights ago. His bouts have been decided by decision since with the exception of a draw in the first Jean Pascal fight in 2010 and the no-contest against Dawson.
In the Pascal rematch, Hopkins won and dethroned George Foreman as the oldest boxer to win a world title.
Known as "The Executioner," there's little left for Hopkins to chase.
"It's about maximizing the dollars at this stage of my career, and what does it mean for me and my legacy," Hopkins said.
His legacy is secure as one of boxing's all-time great middleweights.
Outside the ring, he's made a national name for his outlandish comments, like barking at Joe Calzaghe, "I'll never let a white boy beat me," or ripping former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.
No matter the opponent, Hopkins insists he won't announce his retirement until after his final bout. He doesn't want a farewell tour. Hopkins said no one will know heading into each bout if this is really it for the efficient fighter.
Even in his down time, Hopkins keeps winning. A Philadelphia jury this week issued a no-merit ruling in his favor in a breach-of-contract action brought by the estate of Hopkins' former trainer, the late Bouie Fisher. The suit sought $1.3 million in unpaid trainer's fees for several Hopkins' fights from 2004-05. Fisher, who molded a raw Hopkins into a champion, died last year.
The fighter credits what he learned doing prison time for strong-arm robberies for helping him overcome obstacles on the outside.
"The greatest thing I had in prison, was patience," Hopkins said. "Let that clock run down 46 months. That's a long time when you're 17 years old. I had to have patience when this guy's trying to hang himself, this guy's trying to cut himself with a razor blade, and this guy is trying to escape any way he can escape. That's a strong discipline. I just transferred that discipline in there and I took it into my life."
With his dapper attire, millions stashed away, and full use of his senses, he's beaten the odds in the fight game. He's had enough career-defining performances to fill the resumes of multiple fighters.
Hopkins has it all — except for that overwhelming desire to close the book on his career.
"I will go out and I will finish this, whenever it is, the only way I know how," he said.