In an age where Horny Goat Weed, AndroGel, and Omega-3—among other products associated with the rejuvenation industry—are redefining the concept of aging, Bernard “The Alien” Hopkins continued his own resurrection tour on Saturday night when he befuddled rudimentary Beibut Shumenov over 12 largely uneventful rounds at the DC Armory in Washington, D.C., to unify a pair of generic light heavyweight titles.
After opening slowly—perhaps to let the BENGAY kick in—Hopkins picked Shumenov apart from round to round to earn a split decision that should have been unanimous across the board. Hopkins, as cagey as ever, scored the only knockdown of the fight when he dropped Shumenov with a hard right in the eleventh round.
Now 49, Hopkins first turned pro when Reaganomics was still in full effect and Prozac had yet to take over the nation. A legitimate Hall-of-Fame great, Hopkins nearly pitched a no-hitter in the main event of a triple-header aired by Showtime. Unfortunately, his opponent was more of a Wiffle Ball star than a Major Leaguer. Boxing is a sport whose champions are often as make-believe as anything you can find on the Syfy Channel. With multiple titlists produced by multiple sanctioning bodies as often as Burger King whips up Whoppers, the very notion of a world-class fighter gets shakier and shakier with each passing day. Critical assessments of fighters do not have to be construed as personal attacks, or, in one of the lowest-common-denominator concepts known to the boxing cyber-world, “hating,” but an analytical approach is so often at odds with what the cheerleading media does these days that, like Alcatraz, there seems to be no escape—in this case, from puffery.
All fighters deserve respect—boxing is unruly, unhealthy, unsavory—but Shumenov, 14-2 with 9 knockouts, should be Exhibit A when phony champions are discussed. Just how much of a fringe player is Shumenov? We are, after all, talking about a fighter who describes himself as “self-trained” and who showed up to the fight with only Stitch Duran to smear Vaseline on his face and two fellows to handle the water bottle in the corner, where Shumenov sat on his stool as mute as a Trappist monk. It was a surreal sight but no stranger, really, than some of the comical exertions Shumenov made in the ring. Through the unique wormholes provided by the least-regulated sport in America, Shumenov somehow got hold of a title belt a few years ago and made sure to answer his smartphone when his biggest opportunity called. With only fifteen fights in nearly 8 years, Shumenov was ready to swap his tin belt in for a paycheck incommensurate with his talent and drawing power. Hopkins took care of the rest once the opening bell rang, using moves that might have been copied from a How-To Boxing Manual circa 1948. But does that change the fact that Shumenov was a fall guy?
After adopting a new nickname and get-up as part of a marketing gimmick irresistible to media types who love a dumb joke as much as any third-grader does, Hopkins has earned an amazing amount of publicity for schooling raw whippersnappers in ugly fights. (Roberto Duran was beating second-tier fighters in his mid-to-late 40s as well, including Jorge Castro, who had a record of 101-5-2 when he dropped a decision to “Hands of Stone” in 1997. Duran, however, was largely ridiculed for his “Ageless” act in the 1990s, when cheerleaders were relegated to the audience, for the most part, and not press row.)
Because of his tremendous edge in technique, Hopkins will be able to devour as many ham ‘n eggers as boxing is willing to serve him. But Hopkins is now poised for a real challenge: a tentatively scheduled bout with bonecrushing Canadian southpaw Adonis “Superman” Stevenson awaits if Stevenson can get past unheralded Andrzej Fonfara on May 25. If Hopkins can beat Stevenson, then his age-defying run will become more than just a sideshow routine: it will be as serious as an El Greco hanging in the Prado.