It appears that George Foreman's opinion of Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins' boxing ability has significantly risen over the past 10 or 11 years. But, hey, old guys have to stick together, right?

"Bernard Hopkins is a thinking man's fighter. He thinks. That's what makes Bernard unique. He thinks in the ring," Foreman, 62, said in a conference call about the 46-year-old Hopkins, who could be on the verge of supplanting Foreman as the oldest boxer to win a widely recognized world championship. Should Hopkins dethrone WBC light-heavyweight titlist Jean Pascal on Saturday night in the Bell Centre in Montreal, he would be 192 days older than Big George when he wrested the WBA/IBF heavyweight crowns from Michael Moorer on a 10th-round knockout on Nov. 5, 1994.

Hopkins was denied an earlier bid for Foreman's record when he had to settle for a majority draw in a Dec. 18 challenge of Pascal in Quebec City, a bout most ringside observers believed the North Philadelphian deserved to win.

Back in 2000, however, when Foreman was a television color analyst, he twice described Hopkins as a "dirty" fighter during telecasts. The first time was during B-Hop's unanimous decision over Syd Vanderpool on May 13 of that year; he said it again when Hopkins handily outpointed then-WBC champ Keith Holmes on April 14, 2001, a bout in which Hopkins was warned three times by referee Steve Smoger for hitting low.

An irked Hopkins responded to Foreman's criticism by saying viewers didn't like his commentating in any case, and that they didn't want to hear the legendary big eater "open his hamburger mouth."

But Foreman began to come around when Hopkins became the first undisputed middleweight champion since Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987 by dominating Felix Trinidad before stopping him in the 12th round on Sept. 29, 2001.

"I had no idea" Hopkins was such a masterful technician, Foreman said of that performance. "I always considered him a good, rough-and-tough fighter, but with the Trinidad fight, he took his time. He measured the ring. He measured the fighter.

"Most fighters, even myself, are overtaken with the moment. You get excited. A guy hits you in the eye, you got to hit him back. You got to get payback. But this man thinks. He doesn't wait for the corner to tell him what's going on."

Foreman is picking Hopkins to win by a knockout over Pascal, which would be his first victory inside the distance since he starched Oscar De La Hoya with a left hook to the liver in the ninth round on Sept. 18, 2004.

"The first fight is going to be erased," Foreman predicted. "The decision was not of quality. The second time around, Bernard will get a knockout."

Which would, of course, also knock Foreman from the top golden-oldies spot in the record book.

"All records are made to be broken," Foreman said. "I thought my record would last a lot longer because [to be a world champion] at 45 is phenomenal. But Bernard Hopkins is probably the only one who could break such a record. He can pull it off, no doubt about it." *