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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 February, 2005, 16:14 GMT
Hopkins and the magic 20
By Alex Trickett

Bernard Hopkins has a host of world title belts
Born: 15/01/1965
Turned pro: 11/10/1988
Division: Middleweight
Record: 46(32)-2-1
Alias: The Executioner
Only a handful of men in boxing history have successfully defended major world titles 20 times at one weight.

Sugar Ray Robinson is not among them and neither is Roy Jones Jr. Nor are Muhammad Ali or Henry Armstrong, both of whom fell one short.

But undisputed middleweight king Bernard Hopkins is, after comfortably winning his 20th defence against Briton Howard Eastman in Los Angeles.

The "Executioner" joins an illustrious list, topped by "Brown Bomber" Joe Louis, and including Larry Holmes, Dariusz Michalczewski, Virgil Hill, Sven Ottke and Ricardo Lopez.

It becomes clear why the 40-year-old - evidently something of a boxing historian - has resisted retirement for so long.

By maintaining the body of a man half his age, Hopkins has achieved a feat which was far beyond middleweight greats Marvin Hagler and Carlos Monzon (who had 13 successful defences each) and has cemented his legacy.

Of course, boxing is not just a numbers game.

There is little merit in ducking serious rivals and opting to defend only against weary journeymen.

25 Joe Louis (heavy)
23 Dariusz Michalczewski (light heavy)
21 Sven Ottke (super middle)
Ricardo Lopez (straw)
20 Bernard Hopkins (middle)
Larry Holmes (heavy)
Virgil Hill (light heavy)
19 Muhammad Ali (heavy)
Henry Armstrong (welter)
Manuel Ortiz (bantam)
Eusebio Pedroza (feather)
Khaosai Galaxy (super fly)

But while others on the elite list - Ottke and Michalczewski in particular - have been accused of picking and choosing their fights, Hopkins has generally taken on the best fighters out there.

His career card contains a few lopsided defences, but far fewer than that of the great Louis, who some say founded a "bum of the month" club, from which to select his foes.

Since beating Secundo Mercado to win the IBF title in 1995, Hopkins has seen off current light heavyweight champion Glen Johnson, William Joppy, Oscar de la Hoya and has enjoyed a career-defining win over Felix Trinidad.

And the Executioner plans to hang up his gloves in style, hinting at a bout with US prodigy Jermain Taylor and not ruling out rematches with Johnson, Trinidad or Jones, the last man to beat him in 1993.

Sugar Ray Leonard (left) v Marvin Hagler in 1987
Leonard (left) or Hagler may have beaten Hopkins

Hopkins' 20 defences do not necessarily make him the best middleweight ever.

Logic dictates that he would have had his hands full with Monzon or Hagler, while multi-weight champs like Sugar Ray Robinson and his namesake Leonard stake big claims.

But in an era of "yo-yo" fighters stepping up and down in weight to claim titles, special merit should be attached to sticking with a division - particularly one as glamorous and competitive as middleweight.

Hopkins has shown amazing discipline to reign at 160lb for so long, keeping his weight down when the normal tendency is for fighters to bulk up.

He looked little older than 20 in his 20th successful defence.

Combine that with the guile and experience of a 40-year-old and you have an intimidating and great champion, worthy of his place in history.

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