The voice on the other end of the phone sounded giddy, like that of a teenager who just found the keys to a new car in his Christmas stocking.
"I'm energized, man," bellowed Bernard Hopkins. "I feel better than I have in a long time."
What has put the spring in Hopkins' step? A fight, or more specifically a relevant one. Hopkins signed on last week to face WBC light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal on Dec. 18 in Quebec City.
The fight for Pascal's 175-pound title is one Hopkins needed badly. In October 2008, the former undisputed middleweight champion and lineal light heavyweight champion appeared to revive his Hall of Fame career with a stunning victory over Kelly Pavlik. But a 14-month layoff was followed by an uninspired win over Enrique Ornelas and an ugly defeat of a washed-up Roy Jones Jr.
The pool of opponents, already shallow, quickly dried up. Negotiations with Chad Dawson went nowhere and Hopkins was unsuccessful in his attempts to lure WBO light heavyweight champion Jurgen Brahmer and heavyweight champion David Haye into the ring. At 45, Hopkins appeared to be headed for a forced retirement.
The emergence of the 27-year-old Pascal, however, offered an alternative. Pascal had earned the WBC title with two convincing victories against Adrian Diaconu. But it wasn't until last month's win over Dawson, in which Pascal took the fight to his opponent and won a spirited decision, that Hopkins took notice.
"Bernard didn't just want to fight anybody," Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer said. "He wanted to go in against the man to beat at light heavyweight. By beating Dawson, Pascal proved he was the guy. The way he was before his fight with Jones, he talked about how this was something I need to do, I want to do. Here, totally different thing. [He's] talking about camp, what he needs to do to win."
Pascal's straight-ahead style made him even more appealing to Hopkins.
"My history shows anybody that came straight to me, they take a severe beating," Hopkins said. "I'm versatile. If he runs, I'm going to track him down. He's an aggressive guy, but he's elusive aggressive. Joe Frazier, he came straight to you. This guy, you worry about pressure, about missing and him ducking and hitting you at same time. I'll set traps for that. Bear traps. You know the bear is coming, you set the trap for the bear, jab, left hook, right hand."
If Hopkins can defeat Pascal, it sets up a potentially big 2011. Dawson is still out there, and by the middle of '11, Showtime's Super Six tournament will have concluded and several of its participants could be looking to make a move to light heavyweight.
"There is potentially $20-plus million on the table," Hopkins said. "There are more bodies, more names. I'm back in business again. The money that is out there, with me being one of the oldest fighters in the world, there are major fights on the table."
First, Pascal. Just like he was against Pavlik, Hopkins will be an underdog in this fight and have to prove he is capable of hanging in with a younger fighter. What's more, Hopkins will face a hostile crowd in Quebec, which has become the Haitian-born Pascal's adopted home. It's a role Hopkins says he relishes.
"It's young versus old," said Hopkins, who estimates he is at about 80 percent right now. "I'm more comfortable and more dangerous when I'm an underdog. I need hostility. I need problems. I'm a survivor. They may start hollering 'Pascal,' but eventually they will be hollering 'Hopkins.' They are going to respect what they see. They are going to forget who they should root for. They are going to respect this old guy."
• Undefeated junior middleweight James Kirkland, who has been incarcerated since April 2009 for possession of a firearm, is scheduled to be released any day now, Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer told SI.com. His release is being delayed by a lack of available beds in the halfway house, where Kirkland is required to serve the remainder of his sentence that runs through the end of the year. Schaefer said Kirkland, 26, will return to the ring on Nov. 6 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Though Kirkland is required to be at the halfway house between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., Schaefer said he has secured the court's permission for Kirkland to travel for a fight.
"We're not looking to match him against King Kong," Schaefer said. "He needs to get used to being in the ring again."
Assuming Kirkland wins in November, Schaefer said he plans to bring Kirkland back to fight on the Amir Khan-Marcos Maidana card on Dec. 11.
• Electrifying welterweight Saul Alvarez, who stopped former welterweight champion Carlos Baldomir in the sixth round last Saturday, will headline a card on Dec. 4 in Cancun, Mexico. Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya and matchmaker Eric Gomez are discussing potential opponents with Alvarez and hope to have one by the end of the month.
• Former super middleweight king Joe Calzaghe has informed Golden Boy that he intends to stay retired. Calzaghe, who retired after a one-sided win over Roy Jones in November 2008, flirted with a comeback earlier this year, but Schaefer told SI.com that he is no longer interested in a return.
"Who knows if that will change," Schaefer said. "If it does, we told him that we would be here to work with him."