Monday, August 11, 2008

Can the Brett Favre of Boxing Keep from Getting Sacked?

Bernard Hopkins, all 43 years of him, was his usual eloquent self the other day when he was on center stage yet again to begin the sales job for his Atlantic City fight on October 18th against Kelly Pavlik, the youthful world middleweight champion.

While talking up his skills and ring prowess, Hopkins also made sure to downplay the fact that he is closer to 50 than he is 30. The age difference between Hopkins and Pavlik is 17 years, but it may as well be a lifetime.

Pavlik is 26, and he was one month into the first grade when Hopkins fought his first professional fight. That was after Hopkins spent almost six years locked behind the tall walls of Graterford State Penitentiary as prisoner number Y4145.

Last week, Hopkins admitted that he needs to rely on Advil to help ease the pain of his creaking joints and achy muscles, but the specter of facing a man 17 years his junior doesn't seem to concern him much. Hopkins was in a giddy mood and he was too busy thinking about himself in grid-iron terms to worry about the young upstart.

Hopkins didn't compare himself to former fighters like Jack Johnson, Archie Moore or George Foreman who were practitioners of the sweet science well into their forties. No, Bernard Hopkins compared himself to former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, who ended his short-lived retirement from the NFL and will suit up for the New York Jets this fall.

"I'm pretty sure that Brett Favre's family is worrying about him, going back out there at forty-something. But you know, we are iron men, said Hopkins in comparing himself to Favre, who is actually 38. "I mention football and I mention boxing because it's all physical contact sports, mentally and physically, we get banged up," he said.

"But he's got 11, 10-15 people, 10, 8, 9 people jumpin' on him and I got one guy I got to deal with. I'd rather deal with that one guy in the ring than be on the football field dealing with 10 or 9 people jumping on me if they sack me, said an animated Hopkins. "But like I said, we're iron men. The ones that can do it is the ones that invested in themselves early in their life."

And Hopkins has made quite an investment in his boxing career and he's been at it for the better part of 20 years. However, in the dark corners of the sport, there are those that are beginning to whisper that "The Executioner" should hang up his axe and retire to his newly bought palatial Delaware estate.

Kelly Pavlik (left) and Hopkins will meet on October 18th at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

They say that Hopkins should live the life of a quiet gentlemen. They say that he should be content with the fact that he is a first ballot hall of famer, that he has millions stashed away in various banks as well as a wife and daughter that love him. They also think he should keep the promise that he kept to his deceased mother, Shirley, to retire before his 41st birthday.

Last week, Freddie Roach, who co-trained Hopkins in recent fights, said that he wouldn't work with him for the Pavlik fight because he was concerned for Hopkins' health and said that he saw red lights in the Calzaghe fight that told him it's time for Hopkins to stop.

But Hopkins dismissed the critics as easily as he racked up a record 20 middleweight title defenses. "I'm 43 years old and still boxing, but not getting beat up," said a defiant Hopkins who lost a close decision to Joe Calzaghe in his last fight.

Hopkins is a masterful salesman and he's trying to convince himself and the public that despite what the calendar says he still has some life in his old bones.

"Boxing has always been, in some cases, easy for me," says the sharp-tongued and clear-eyed former middleweight champion. "A lot of people worry about my health - my family, my wife - but I don't get hit. First, my health is fine, I'm in great shape," he explained.

"Name a fight where Bernard Hopkins got his ass whooped, cut, beat-up. Where somebody said, 'Why is he doin' this?' That hasn't happened to me in my 20 years. Somehow people forget that and they don't even want to talk about that. And it's not braggin', I only mention it when I hear stuff like, 'I'm worried about his health. I'm worryin' about this and I'm worryin' about that.'

"What have people seen in Bernard Hopkins in my last five fights that give any signs that I'm takin' too much punishment? What they sayin' is that I'm not keepin' up with the young guys and I'm sayin' I'm 43!"

Hopkins was able to deck Joe Calzaghe in the first round but it wasn't quite enough for him to get the nod on the scorecards of the Las Vegas judges.

And certainly that is the case. In his last fight against Calzaghe, Hopkins lost a razor thin decision and many in the traveling circus known as the boxing press corps actually tabbed Hopkins as the winner. Many fans also thought that Hopkins did enough to earn a win and it didn't hurt that Hopkins was even able to deck Calzaghe in the first round of the fight with a sneaky right hand.

"If the burden is on me to fight like a young man even though I'm getting pounded (by the media) that I'm 43, then what is the burden on a young guy that is 26 that can't take the old man out?" asked an exasperated Hopkins.

"You can't have your cake and eat it, too! But I'm glad that I'm intelligent," said the aging pugilist. "And I'm glad that I have the foresight to understand the agenda is to make me feel like I'm old and give me that subliminal message so you get to questioning yourself, 'Am I old?' When you do that you become what? Old! You become mentally old and if you become mentally old which controls everything we do - you're already lost."

Many people in boxing who don't know what they're looking at view a Pavlik vs. Hopkins match-up as an easy one for the young middleweight champion from Youngstown, Ohio who possesses an unbeaten record of 34-0 (30)KO. But Hopkins, while he has definitely lost a step, is still cagey, still crafty and still dangerous. The fight will be waged at a catch-weight of 170 pounds which suits Hopkins just fine. Pavlik, on the other hand, when he fought in an over-the-weight bout against Jermain Taylor, was not as finely tuned as he is when he weighs 160, and his performance suffered.

Hopkins will be the most experienced foe that Pavlik has ever fought. Hopkins uses all of his years of collective wisdom and breaks down opponents in the ring like an old professor breaks down math problems in the classroom. Hopkins is systematic and methodical and he has the patience to wait for the chances he wants to take. Bernard is going to present Pavlik with a look that the youngster has never seen before and it is doubtful whether Pavlik will be able to stalk Hopkins and punch freely.

Hopkins is flanked here by Shane Mosley (left) and the great 'Hands of Stone' himself - the incomparable Roberto Duran.

Pavlik knows what he is up against, but his comments seem to suggest that he feels that his youth will be the great equalizer. "I think it's a great fight, he's a future hall of famer," says Pavlik. "He's going to be a legend, he's still crafty, he's still dangerous. But I just think with my work rate and my hunger that I'll win."

Hopkins knows that the time is short for him, but he also knows that this is a fight that he can win. As Hopkins will tell you, he has never been beaten up and he is not so far gone that a win over Pavlik is out of the question. And win or lose, it seems Hopkins might be around for one more opponent, a man he lost to way back in 1993.

"Father Time is around the corner, but I just ask him and plead with him, to give me two more years," said a comical Hopkins. "Give me two more years, at least maybe 'til I can track Roy Jones down. But by then, you know what I mean, they'll be takin' both of us in there with a walker!"

But that's only provided Hopkins, the Brett Favre of boxing, can evade the pass-rush of Kelly Pavlik on October 18th.

August 2008

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