Klitschko inspired by Hopkins


In near-solitude in the Austrian mountains, heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko was, as always, enjoying his training camp. Well, except for one thing.

He was unable to watch Bernard Hopkins unify light heavyweight titles with his masterpiece decision against Beibut Shumenov April 19 in Washington, D.C.

Klitschko was in the final days of his preparation for title defense No. 16 -- third-most in heavyweight history -- which will come against mandatory challenger Alex Leapai of Australia on Saturday (ESPN, 5 p.m. ET) at the König-Pilsener-Arena in Oberhausen, Germany.

Television is not a training camp priority. But had the fight been available to him, Klitschko would have made time to watch Hopkins, a great fighter he has admired from afar for many years.

Klitschko is so enamored with what Hopkins has been able to do at such an advanced boxing age -- still going strong at 49 -- that before submitting to a formal interview about his own upcoming fight, he was far more interested in quizzing his questioner about the Hopkins bout, even though he had followed Twitter for round-by-round updates.

"How can you not be a fan of Bernard Hopkins? He is an inspiration to millions of people," said Klitschko, who has never met Hopkins. "The oldest champion [in boxing history]. It's amazing. It motivates me. I'm looking at myself at 38 and I feel better than ever -- my speed, my reactions, my experience. I kind of get what Bernard is feeling. He has so much experience and knows what to do and what not to do. I get how he thinks. He is motivation for me."

Klitschko's interest in Hopkins might be bad news for the heavyweight division for years to come because he has no thoughts of retirement. He has been as dominant as ever during his second title reign, which on Tuesday reached the eight-year mark -- the second-longest in heavyweight history behind only the 11 years, 8 months, 8 days that Joe Louis held the title.

The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Klitschko, who is 22-2 with 17 knockouts in world title fights and owns a 1996 Olympic super heavyweight gold medal, has been all but untouchable in his 15 defenses since 2006, while unifying three major belts, becoming the lineal champion and taking on all comers. That Hopkins is still performing at such a high level has Klitschko thinking about trying to emulate boxing's No. 1 senior citizen.

"If I still have my health and motivation, why not?" Klitschko said. "It's not like I'm struggling. I'm really, really enjoying myself. Almost every second of my workouts, I am so happy to train and to do this sport.

"I'm a professional at this sport, and it's the best thing in life. I could do a lot of things in life, but this is the best. My congratulations to him and my respect for his ability and performance. He is a tremendous athlete, and he inspires me to see him doing what he is doing at his age."

While Klitschko (61-3, 52 KOs), of Ukraine, would never come out and say that he is stalking the Louis longevity record, he knows what it is, and because he sounded like a guy who plans to be around for years to come, the mark certainly could be in reach, with Louis' all-time boxing record of 25 title defenses also out there.

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