Friday October 17th, 2008

NEW YORK -- Press conferences are routinely filled with a lot of give-and-take. A reporter asks a question, an athlete answers it. Often times, when the answer is less than fulfilling, there is a follow-up. Eventually the reporter will be satisfied and the athlete will move on to a different topic.

That's generally how press conferences work.

Of course, those guidelines don't apply to Bernard Hopkins.

Earlier this week, at a press event in New York City to promote Hopkins' light-heavyweight fight against Kelly Pavlik on Saturday in Atlantic City (HBO PPV 9 p.m. ET), the venerable B-Hop did what he has become so adept at doing over the course of his 20-year professional career: He held court with reporters. For about 25 minutes the 43-year-old Hopkins regaled a captivated crowd of journalists.

He talked about his superb conditioning, which he credited to a clean living.

He reminded the crowd about his time in prison.

He talked about his superior defensive talents that have helped him avoid excessive punishment over the course of his career and prevented him from ever being knocked out.

He jabbered on excitedly about fighting a one-dimensional fighter like Pavlik.

And he did it all in the context of one question.

"Just one more question, guys," boxing p.r. maven Kelly Swanson shouted over the herd of reporters.

"But he's still answering the first one," replied a columnist.

Well, he was.

Always verbose and outspoken, Hopkins (48-5-1, 32 KOs) has been a promoter's dream even before he was a promoter, which technically he will be in his 55th professional fight.

But that's not what Hopkins wants to be. What he wants to be is a champion. What he wants to be is viable. He wants to be one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

But that will only happen if he defeats Pavlik (34-0, 30 KOs), the new middleweight king who stands, arguably, as boxing's most prolific puncher. Not that Hopkins doesn't have an answer for that.

"I love guys who have had success being one dimensional," said Hopkins. "They have a false confidence that they can do it to anybody."

Is Pavlik one-dimensional? No, and Hopkins knows it. Though he gained notoriety by way of a series of brutal knockouts, Pavlik has long since proved himself to be a capable 12-round fighter. After a brutal knockout over Jermain Taylor last September, Pavlik showed his boxing acumen when he outlasted Taylor by unanimous decision five months later.

Hopkins, however, sounds unfazed.

"He thinks he is going to knock me out," Hopkins said. "If I was a betting man, that would be a stupid bet."

Unfortunately for Hopkins, not losing by knockout is not the same as winning. Though he's had an illustrious career highlighted by a decade-long reign atop the middleweight division, he has, in recent years, appeared to be a shell of his former self. The man once known as "The Executioner" has become just a guy wearing a mask -- while continuing to take on all comers, Hopkins has amassed a 2-3 record in his last five fights. Against the 26-year-old Pavlik, Hopkins will need to stay aggressive for all 12 rounds to win.

"He's got great defense," Pavlik said, "but eventually in a fight, he's got to keep up a pace. His defense will lapse a couple of times, so we take advantage of that."

But like Hopkins betting that Pavlik can't sustain a consistent frontal assault, it's equally as foolish to believe that after two decades of dodging, clutching and grabbing that Hopkins can't neutralize Pavlik's attack. It's foolish to believe that Hopkins cannot steal a victory against a physically superior fighter.

The question becomes whether Pavlik can do what no one has done before and knockout Hopkins

And whether Hopkins can accomplish what 34 fighters before him have failed to do: defeat Pavlik.

In either case, there is no sure bet.

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