As a multiple-time world champion who’s among the most iconic figures in boxing history, Bernard Hopkins could have picked almost any city for his next fight. Las Vegas, New York or Los Angeles all would have made sense given their storied relationships with the sport, track records for strong ticket sales and fervent and knowledgeable fan bases.
The owner of the IBF light heavyweight belt instead decided to come to the nation’s capital to pursue yet another milestone in a career that has spanned four decades and seems destined to land him in the Hall of Fame.
At 49, Hopkins (54-6-2, 32 knockouts) will try to become the oldest fighter to unify major world titles when he faces Kazakhstan-born WBA champion Beibut Shumenov (14-1, nine KOs) on Saturday night at the D.C. Armory. Already the oldest boxer to hold a major title belt, Hopkins also is the oldest athlete in any sport to be a world champion.
Throw in two other world title bouts, and the card billed as “History at the Capitol” and televised live on Showtime has the makings of perhaps the most memorable lineup of fighters to come through the District in one night.
The co-main event features IBF welterweight champion Shawn Porter putting his belt on the line against two-time and two-division champion Paul Malignaggi. The third title fight pits undefeated champion Peter Quillin against the Czech Republic’s Lukas Konecny in the 160-pound division, where Hopkins defended his title successfully 20 times before moving up two weight classes.
“I have a lot of great fans here,” Hopkins said. “So I said, ‘Let’s go to D.C.’ D.C. came up, and it was a good thing. One thing about this commissioner [Scottie Irving] is that he’s a fair commissioner, so there isn’t any favoritism. You win, you win, and the judges are credible. I’m happy to be in D.C.”
Hopkins has fought in or around the District four times since turning professional in 1988. In his first try at claiming the IBF middleweight title, Hopkins lost to Roy Jones Jr. via unanimous decision in 1993 as part of the undercard of then-heavyweight world champion Riddick Bowe’s victory over Jesse Ferguson at RFK Stadium, only steps from where Hopkins will be fighting this time.
Hopkins beat Segundo Mercado to win the belt in 1995 at what was then US Air Arena in Landover and defended the title against Andrew Council in 1997 in Upper Marlboro and against Robert Allen in 1999 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
“Every fight that comes to Washington, we want to show that we’re a great fight town,” said Erik Moses, senior vice president of Events D.C. “There’s a lot of energy and buzz around this city, and there has been ever since this fight was announced.”
Other cities initially in the mix for Hopkins-Shumenov were San Antonio and Brooklyn. When Barclays Center was unavailable, Hopkins went with Washington over San Antonio in part because of its proximity to his birthplace of Philadelphia and residence in New Castle County, Del. Hopkins said he anticipates busloads of supporters from both areas to attend Saturday’s fight.
Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, whose team has promoted three cards featuring world title bouts in the District over the past 14 months, compared the nation’s capital to San Antonio as a rapidly ascending fight city. San Antonio last year hosted a main event between Canelo Alvarez and Austin Trout that drew 38,000 to the Alamodome.
“I think the same is possible here in Washington,” Schaefer said during the final news conference with the fighters Thursday afternoon, adding he has interest in bringing a championship card to Verizon Center over the summer. “If we keep on coming and bring great matchups to Washington, D.C., then it is going to be right with L.A., with Las Vegas, with San Antonio and Brooklyn, New York.”