ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- It was a performance for the ages and the aged. Bernard Hopkins unleashed "The Executioner" against Kelly Pavlik at Boardwalk Hall on Saturday, and for Pavlik, the result wasn't pretty.
It was vintage Hopkins -- the man who takes away his opponent's best weapon and uses it against him. He battered and befuddled Pavlik for 12 rounds. When the fight was over, he had taken an overwhelmingly convincing decision and recertified his Hall of Fame credentials.
"I think this is my best performance -- better than Trinidad, better than Tarver, better than Oscar, better than my 20 straight defenses," Hopkins said.
Of course, he owes all his success to the media.
"Ninety percent of the media picked Pavlik," Hopkins said. "I always appreciate naysayers. That's what motivates me when people go against me."
Pavlik, who suffered his first professional defeat, wasn't even competitive against Hopkins. One judge, Alan Rubenstein, scored it a complete shutout for Hopkins (119-106, with each fighter having a point deducted for fouls).
Watching Hopkins dismantle Pavlik was eerily similar to his deconstruction of Felix Trinidad seven years ago at Madison Square Garden.
Most doubted that Hopkins had enough fuel left in the tank to do what he did to Pavlik. He had showed troubling signs in his previous fight, against Joe Calzaghe in April, such as excessive holding and clinching to get a breather.
The previous time fight fans had doubted Hopkins was when he went against Trinidad. Most vowed they would never do that again. Still, Hopkins was a heavy underdog going into the fight against Pavlik.
Never again will the wily vet be underestimated. Even if Hopkins fights until he's 90 years old, and he might be able to do just that, no one will doubt his capabilities or his ability to show up a younger foe.
An emotional Hopkins leaned on the ropes facing press row at ringside, his bottom lip quivering, tears welling up in his eyes as he mouthed to the writers working on deadline, "I'm tired of proving myself."
His legacy was secure after he successfully defended the middleweight title 20 straight times. He fought like a living legend against Pavlik. Pavlik's toughest opponent before Hopkins was Jermain Taylor, who narrowly defeated Hopkins to stop his title defense streak and did it again to retain the title. But the old cliché of "styles make fights" was never more apt than when comparing Hopkins-Taylor, Pavlik-Taylor and Hopkins-Pavlik.
Hopkins stunk against Taylor. His performance against Pavlik, however, was sublime. It drew rave reviews. The most uttered single-word response was "Wow!" Even those who thought Hopkins would win couldn't predict he'd turn in such a stunning performance.
"I thought Hopkins fought a great fight," said Shane Mosley, who partners with Hopkins at Golden Boy Promotions. "To be 43 years old and move around the ring like that He outboxed, outsped and outthought Pavlik the whole fight. He looked like he was having fun in there. At one point, I thought he was going to do the Ali Shuffle. He definitely should be fighter of the year for what he did out there."
What might get lost in the performance against Pavlik is the strategy that Hopkins' team devised and Hopkins flawlessly executed. He said he studied tapes of the Antonio Margarito-Miguel Cotto fight to see what the pressure might be like.
"If I was going to fight a 43-year-old guy, that's what I would do is pressure him," Hopkins said.
But Hopkins didn't allow Pavlik to get untracked. He took the fight to Pavlik because he didn't think Pavlik could fight going backward. Without his jab, Pavlik couldn't use his most effective weapon -- the one-two combination -- and was a toothless tiger. Hopkins moved with the grace of a dancer on those 43-year-old legs, getting in and out of striking range with ease.
Hopkins kept Pavlik turning to his left.
"He couldn't throw across his chest with the right hand," Hopkins said.
If Hopkins can fight the way he did against Pavlik, he probably can fight for another two or three years. He seemed ageless. Hopkins would like to fight Roy Jones, whom he lost to as a middleweight 15 years ago. First, though, Jones must get past Calzaghe on Nov. 8.
Hopkins was unusually humble after the big win. He had railed after losing to Jermain Taylor and Calzaghe. Maybe he is getting old and tired. Getting too tired of trying to prove to people just how good he can be when everything goes right.
"Like Martin Luther King said, I've been to the mountaintop," Hopkins said. "I've been there about three or four times, and I keep pulling a rabbit out of the hat."
Tim Smith is the boxing columnist for the New York Daily News.