The Alien teaches us how to stay in great shape past 50
by Neil Perkins
Bernard Hopkins was my favourite ever boxer. There is something about intellectual boxers who master the art of pugilism and shutting an opponent down. Boxing is one of the few sports where exceptional fighters are not always appreciated by the mainstream audience, but a man who moves around with every top class operator in several weight divisions and finishes the sport with his senses in tact and plenty of money in the bank needs to be admired? His face shows his long service to the sport, even if his body is that of a man 20 years his junior. What I admired most about Hopkins was his professionalism and lack of one particular ‘asset’. He mastered his craft by learning the art of boxing, looking after himself meticulously and staying in shape year round as the consummate professional. Unlike a lot of world class operators who have one exceptional asset, Hopkins never had that ‘one trick’ instead adapted to what was put in front of him. He never looked exceptional, his mastery was making others look ordinary. Roy Jones Jnr at his peak was like superman – it was like watching Michael Jordan play basketball, Lomu run with a ball in Rugby or Beckham bend a free kick. Hopkins my contrast was quite ordinary, this made him more exceptional.
Most ‘World class’ operators have to be rounded but they usually have exceptional assets- usually power, speed or reflexes. Hopkins, didn’t have one asset, he had a knack of fiddling his way through contests. As a boxing coach you loved to watch his bag of ‘dirty tricks’. Many an hour have a watched ‘The Executioner’. How he leverages on someone’s elbow to cause discomfort, how he waits to see so the ref isn’t looking before rolling a head but in and how he bumps round and positions his body as a shield from the ref before punching someone low. He is the master pro and a throwback fighter who knew every trick in the book. Technical he was perfect, hands high, chin down and elbows tucked in. He’d rotate with every shot and that enabled him to gain extra inch at range with the right hand and on the inside whip extra venom into body shots. ‘The Executioner’ was not only technically perfect, but tactically bang on. When facing the feared ‘Tito’ Felix Trinidad, Hopkins displayed every ounce of his professionalism, technically he was perfect, tactically he shut him down and yes, on the inside the head and low blows went in to further humiliate his opponent. When you’ve spent long enough in boxing, you see what he does and the learnt craft of pulling down hands, tapping elbows, every subtle nuisance he possessed and mastered.
His IQ was second to none and this methodical ‘schooling’ and tactical prowess meant that his preparation was second to none. Hopkins had a career that saw him box to 51! He won a world title at 46 and he boxed at elite level for 25 years – his body looked after him. Bernard wasn’t the strongest, fastest or gifted – he must have trained harder than anyone else? No, he trained smarter than anyone else. Later in his career he rebranded himself as ‘the alien’ testament to no one been able to understand how he kept up with men over 20 years his junior.
I first heard about Bernard when reading about Mackie Shilstone who was his conditioning coach. He talked about Hopkins dedication to his sport, but when employed by Hopkins he spent half the time telling him to do less. He acknowledged that lifestyle factors that he had to drill into athletes, Hopkins was no issue. He slept 8 hours per night, ate a year round diet of whole foods and looked after his body. Shilstone taught him to do less, not more. Mackie sacked off miles of ‘road work’ and worked alongside boxing coach Nazeem Richardson to ensure they we’re united in their approach. They employed weight training to improve his connective tissue strength (prevent injury and essential for his age) and power, used track sprint work, plyometrics and HIIT to improve his conditioning and used connective tissues therapists (masseuse) and yoga in camp to keep him loose, strong and injury free. Hopkins didn’t find this partnership until he was 36 – an age when most boxers are retired. But he had a career at the elite level that lasted a further 15 years. Hopkins said if he’d have discovered Shilstone when he was 20, he’s have been untouchable. Nutrition wise it was glutamine for intestinal health, fish oils for vitality and a diet that was as primal as it could be – fresh veg, meats and fish. Most significant was 8 litres of water per day.
By combining old school coaching under Nazeem Richardson he was coached in the subtle art of pugilism. He was taught techniques that many would fail to understand. He’d throw shots to miss so that he would pull down the opponents arms so that he’s open them up for the next shot, he’d rest his chin over the shoulder on the inside to make him safe, when the ref was blindsided he’d hit and hold and he’d hit low, in the kidneys and use his head – yet he got away with it by mastering his craft. With Shilstone he embraced modern S&C and he learnt by training outside the box to prioritise quality over quantity with his training – he ate well with nutritious foods (never starved), read, meditated, did yoga, worked HIIT and lifted weights to both prevent injury and improve performance. He combined the archaic sport of boxing and years of teachings passed down with modern S&C, discipline and common sense.
Sometimes I wish that more people had boxed so they can appreciate this genius, we can’t all be born with lightening reflexes, unbelievable power and god gifted speed. What Bernard and Mackie taught us is that you don’t even have to work harder than the competition – you just have to work smarter than them. We all have the same 24 hours in the day and if you set your goals, anyone can achieve them. Hopkins was far from a god given talent, he maximised everything at his disposal.
Got to love the Executioner/ Alien.