Bernard Hopkins fights Father Time

Hopkins is bigger than he looks, even as you're looking at him. Murat, smaller. Middle of the third the fight starts. Twenty seconds into the round, Murat catches Hopkins with a fast, hard-arcing left to the head.

It's been a long time since Hopkins had to punch his way out of trouble. You were probably still a kid. His last win by knockout was nine years ago, when he detonated Oscar de la Hoya's liver. His genius lies not in what he sends out, but in what he draws in, then disallows, what he slips, blunts, neutralizes. The mishits, shouldered almosts and half-shots that leave him amused and unhurt. Not tonight. Tonight, smart and sharp won't be enough. He'll have to punch.

Still, he takes Murat's roundhouse left to that magnificent skull and replies by stepping back and sticking out his tongue.

Electrified by their own violence, both men punch (and club and butt and clinch and elbow) their way into a fourth round. And a fifth. In the sixth, Murat bulldogs Hopkins to the canvas like a steer then punches down at his polished dome. Smoger pulls him off. Judges might have the fight scored even so far.

To see Hopkins caught in a punching fight is to watch your grandfather climb a stepladder. But he is an active senior and punches hard and often through the seventh round. The referee takes a point from Murat for punching off the break. With the armbars, low blows, rabbit punches and little hits to the filter organs, Murat flatters Hopkins by imitating him. But he won't take another round.

The careful measure of his energies is where Hopkins usually excels. His thrift. The economy of his brutality. Not tonight. Hopkins could have trained for this fight by breaking pool cues over bikers' heads.

In the eighth, he cuts Murat's left brow then walks to Murat's corner. He leans casually over the ropes to suggest their fighter quit before he gets hurt. The Germans glower up at him. The crowd roars down. Both men shine in the cruel light. Murat looks like he's been stitched together out of suet and bruises.

In the ninth, Hopkins stands and pivots and walks and lolls and punches and lets Murat do the roadwork. Murat shuffles a crabwise marathon chasing him, even as Hopkins stands still. Murat: fast hands, slow head.

Hopkins is an old magician, all misdirection and guile. Between all those champions and all those challengers across all those sanctioning bodies, Murat might be the second- or 11th- or 14th- or 40th-best light heavyweight in boxing. Maybe he understands he's a supporting character in someone else's opera. Maybe not. Like every one of us, he likely thinks tonight, every night, is about him. So Murat fights on as best he can, persists, not in on the joke. Murat is usually a high peekaboo fighter. Now he flails like a man walking through a cobweb in a nightmare.

Both men swing and clutch into the 12th.

Hitting is an art and not getting hit is an art, and Hopkins' easel is the cubic yard of space-time in front of him. When Murat enters that space, he gets painted. And Smoger referees the thing like he and Hopkins came in the same car. So when Murat nods an ineffectual head-butt at Hopkins after the final bell, Smoger pushes him away with a hand to the face like a dog at the dining room table.

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