Wednesday March 30th, 2011

NEW YORK -- It takes a lot to shock Bernard Hopkins. You develop a thick skin when you have been fighting since the Reagan administration. Over the last 23 years Hopkins has had opponents insult friends and family members, been taunted with the foulest of language while fighting on foreign soil and been called over the hill more times than he can count.

But a performance-enhancing drug user? That's a new one.

That's not to say Hopkins doesn't know anything about drugs -- he stole from more than a few dealers back in his armed robbery days, an era of his life in the 1980s that ended after a five-year prison term. But for a man who doesn't drink alcohol, adheres to the strictest of diets and treats his body like a temple, the idea that he might be swallowing an illegal substance -- a suggestion Jean Pascal made at a news conference in Montreal on Monday when he demanded blood tests be taken in advance of their May 21 light heavyweight title fight -- is enough to provoke a reaction.

"You say a lot of things when you are scared and drunk," Hopkins said Tuesday over breakfast at the W Hotel in Times Square. "I don't think Pascal was drunk, but I can sense fear and I can see fear in my opponents' faces and demeanor. And he has it."

That fear, he says, is fallout from last December, when Hopkins, 46, battled Pascal, 28, to a hotly contested draw. After getting knocked down in the first and third rounds, Hopkins rallied to dominate the second half of the fight, gaining strength in the later rounds while Pascal started to fade.

"When you're young and you don't know how to deal with pressure, I guess you have to come up with something to deal with my legacy," Hopkins said. "For me, there's nothing to defend. I've been called a lot of things in my career. Some of those things are true. But a cheater? Come on, man. That's desperate. And it's disrespectful."

Indeed, any respect that might have existed between Hopkins and Pascal has evaporated. Later Tuesday, at a press event at Planet Hollywood here, Pascal mocked Hopkins' notable wins as victories against smaller fighters and barked that when they meet in May, Hopkins "better be on something because I'm going to bust your ass." Hopkins, in turn, called Pascal "weak" and "stupid" and warned the packed room not to be surprised "if Pascal dies in the ring."

"This isn't hyping up a fight," Hopkins said. "This is not for any f---ing press conference. Don't be surprised if I kill him."

Hopkins is a master at exploiting weakness and it's clear he perceives Pascal's fear as blood in the water. When Pascal slammed his fist on the podium in punctuation, Hopkins sneered and covered his mouth in mock fear. When the two men stood for the traditional camera-friendly stare-down, Hopkins inched closer to Pascal, taking a page out of Pascal's own playbook.

"Go to YouTube and punch up any weigh-in with Jean Pascal and every one he tries to press up on the guy and intimidate the guy with the stare-down," said Hopkins' trainer, Nazim Richardson. "He has that down. What he doesn't have in him is 12 rounds."

This budding rivalry with Pascal has reinvigorated Hopkins. The man who once said he would retire at 40 now has a three-fight deal with HBO, which could include lucrative showdowns with Chad Dawson and Tavoris Cloud. There is also Lucian Bute, the Showtime-signed super middleweight king who could be in a position to move up in weight sometime next year.

"I got life," Hopkins said. "When I beat Kelly Pavlik [in 2008], the great white hope of America, the guy who was going to shut this ex-con, loudmouth Bernard Hopkins up, I gave a masterful performance. I thought HBO was going to give me a four-fight deal after that. I thought they were going to look at me and say they had the next George Foreman. Instead, I sat down. I came off one of the biggest wins of my life, beating Kelly Pavlik, and you make me sit for 14 months after that fight?

"Now HBO is making it up. They saw me in the first Pascal fight and they said, 'What the f---?' That was bittersweet to me because I should have been back in the ring with them way before that. I should have been on every Manhattan billboard. But instead, they sat me down. F--- them. I have the right to speak like this. Because I did it my way."

His way could look a little different this time. Slick and crafty, Hopkins has not been in many wars in the ring, a fact that has contributed to his longevity. Against Pascal, Hopkins promises to be the aggressor.

"I'm not backing up," Hopkins said. "I'm letting it all hang out. I know I have a chin. I know I have a heart. Don't be surprised if I go down two or three times. But I'm going to get up and I guarantee you if he doesn't have in him what he says he has in him, I'm going to take him.

"I know I won't get robbed. I want no close decisions. I want this to be a clear decision. This is how it's got to go down. Either I'm going to get knocked out or he's going to get knocked out. Somebody has got to go down."

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