I confess. I'd never been the biggest Bernard Hopkins fan.
In fact, it wasn't all that long ago -- while slaving for another boxing master -- that I penned a column titled "Goodbye Bernard, Old Buddy" in the run-up to the old man's (he was a month shy of 41 at the time) loss to Jermain Taylor in the second of their middleweight title fights in December 2005.
Back then, as his claim to the 160-pound fiefdom was finally loosened after 11 years, I was more than happy to break from collective media stride by both forecasting a second straight Taylor win (via stoppage, in 10 rounds) and questioning the idea that his prolonged run there had made him a legend.
The latter, incidentally, is a viewpoint I have no shame in maintaining here in 2013.
In my mind, had Hopkins retired after meeting JT once or twice, the resume he'd compiled while working the Allen/Hakkar/Mercado circuit -- with a few ex- welterweights thrown in for flavor -- would have warranted lasting respect from fans ... but no celebratory plaque in upstate New York.
But what he's done since?
Well, that's another story entirely.
While I've picked him in exactly half the 10 fights he's had since abandoning the middleweight division seven years ago, I'm still as amazed as anyone when I step back and absorb the enormity of what's been accomplished since calendar 2005 flipped to calendar 2006.
Lest we forget -- as he ramps up to face IBF champ Tavoris Cloud, a bully most consider no worse than second or third at 175 pounds -- he's a full 16 years older than a just-past-vintage Marvin Hagler was while recording the final victory of his career, against John Mugabi, in 1986.
He's 14 years older than a faded Ray Leonard -- who out-slicked Hagler in the Marvelous one's final outing -- was when he topped Roberto Duran, then 38, for the final triumph of his own career in part three of their series in 1989.
And he's three years older than the modern standard-bearer for grill-pitching old guys, George Foreman, was when he landed the clubbing one-two that simultaneously separated Michael Moorer from both his senses and the IBF/WBA heavyweight titles in 1994.
True, Foreman's last win came three years later -- at 48 years, 3 months and 16 days -- but only the hardest of the hardcore saw his split 12-round nod over Lou Savarese. And far fewer saw the trinket involved, the WBU's heavyweight belt, as representative of anything remotely resembling elite.
In yanking the tail of the meanest dog in the light heavy yard, Hopkins has proven clearly different.
At an age when contemporaries are considering Levitra, he's 6-2-1 with a no- contest.
And rather than spending his golden years plucking record-enhancing fruit, Hopkins has dismantled legitimate alphabet claimants (Tarver and Pascal), gone to the wire with a fellow all-timer (Calzaghe) and signaled the beginning of the end for a prohibitive big-hitting favorite (Pavlik).
For those who've forgotten that 2008 masterpiece, a 43-year-old Hopkins won nearly every second of every round against an unbeaten 26-year-old with 30 KOs in 34 wins, splattering egg on the faces of a 12-writer panel (me included) that had gone unanimous in favor of the youngster.
Incidentally, a similarly timed panel of six fighters leaned 4-2 to the old guy.
Hopkins followed the Pavlik win with near shutouts of both Enrique Ornelas and Roy Jones Jr., and subsequently emerged belted after two trips to the turf of another 175-pound tough guy in Pascal.
Only Chad Dawson has beaten him since Calzaghe -- via a majority decision in a fight judge Luis Rivera scored 114-114, I had 115-113 and the most fervent of "Bad" fans conceded was no blowout.
Yet somehow many still clamor for his retirement, just because.
He's too old, they say. Too boring, they insist.
And there's no place for him on today's premium cable air alongside face-first transfusion machines vying to be the next Arturo Gatti.
But with all due respect to the conflicted TV interests of Bob Arum, they couldn't be more wrong.
While anyone with 20/20 vision would agree Hopkins is no human highlight reel, the titillation gap between he and the Brandon Rioses is more than bridged by the guile he displays while subtly negating the weaponry of guys young enough to be his kids.
By eluding the same firefights in which the "Thunders" and "Bam Bams" only temporarily thrive, the aptly-tagged "Executioner" saves his strength, maintains his faculties and stays closer to an athletic baseline his fellow 40-somethings left behind at least a decade ago.
We should all be so lucky to have that long a prime.
And, short of that, we at least ought to appreciate his while we still can.
This week's fake title-fight schedule:
* Though folks in Mexico City would have you think Saturday's match between Lucas Matthysse and Mike Dallas Jr. is worthy of sanction fees -- don't believe it.
What'll take place at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and be broadcast on Showtime air is a nice enough fight, but it's no more than the WBC's No. 1 contender (interim, schminterim) at 140 pounds and the guy in slot No. 33 according to the organization's own December rankings. Thus, usage of the phrase "super lightweight champion" without the name "Danny Garcia" is an affront to any and all TV viewers.
This week's real title-fight schedule:
No fights scheduled.
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder -- no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week���s picks: 1-1 2013 picks record: 2-1 (66.6 percent) Overall picks record: 464-153 (75.2 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @fitzbitz.