Monday May 23rd, 2011

MONTREAL -- They are two fighters who spent their primes traversing parallel paths. Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones were the cream of the crop in the 1990s, dominating the middleweight (Hopkins) and super middleweight/light heavyweight (Jones) divisions. But as they pushed past 30 and the speed and reflexes started to fade, their careers veered in decidedly different directions. Hopkins and Jones fought on the same night last weekend, two fighters in two countries going to work under entirely different circumstances.


"I feel like I got beat with a bat," Hopkins said on Sunday. "Like I was in some rough-and-tumble football game or something." Less than 24 hours earlier, Hopkins, 46, had made history here, surpassing George Foreman to become the oldest fighter to claim a major title with a unanimous decision victory over WBC light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal.

"The way I feel now, I didn't feel after the fight," Hopkins said. "I felt horrible this morning. I've got lumps on my back, neck, everywhere."

It was a different Bernard Hopkins on Saturday. Gone was the slick, defensive-minded boxer who had turned clutching and grabbing into an art form. Instead, Hopkins was aggressive from the opening bell. He traded punches with Pascal, generally landing the heavier shots. He took risks, exposed his chin and stood toe-to-toe with a 28-year-old with proven punching power.

The question is: Why?

"The fans," Hopkins said. "I want to grab fans from all over the world. I feel like if I want people to recognize me as a Philly fighter. Look at my younger fights, you will see I was fighting like this when I was fighting Antwun Echols [in 1999 and 2000]. Look at the tape. I went back to that."

As his career winds down -- and one way or another, Hopkins admits, it is winding down -- he has elected to go out on his shield. No more ugly, action-less fights. After preserving his body for the better part of 23 years with shoulder slips and rolls, Hopkins says he is ready to let it all hang out. He took some heavy shots against Pascal ("He's a bull," Hopkins said) but he delivered plenty of his own. He wobbled Pascal in the third round and knocked him off balance in the ninth and 10th.

This is what Hopkins wanted. He could have broken Foreman's record against some other alphabet champion. He could have outclassed Beibut Shumenov or Jurgen Brahmer at some faraway boxing outpost and put his name in the record books. But for the record to mean anything to Hopkins, it had to come with a challenge.

"I take the rough way out," Hopkins said. "I fight the people I should avoid. Great athletes play down to the level of competition. Certain people, like myself, have to have that danger of being defeated to compete once you get past certain stages. I can't go in there and fight no cream puff. It's mental. Are you going through the motions or are you going for history?"

Hopkins has his piece of history now. Two, really. He's the longest reigning middleweight champion with 20 title defenses. Now, with Foreman's record in his back pocket, Hopkins has eyes on bigger fish. He is contractually obligated to face Chad Dawson next. But after Dawson's lackluster performance in a victory against Adrian Diaconu on Saturday's undercard, that matchup isn't very appealing. Hopkins really wants to face IBF super middleweight champion Lucian Bute of Montreal. A fight with Bute could sell out of 50,000-seat stadium in Canada and "be a fight I could really get up for," according to Hopkins.

"I want to fight somebody who is going to be a risk," Hopkins said. "It has to mean something. My head has to be on the block or I can't do it. That's when I get beat. If the mental isn't right, that controls the body."

One thing is certain: Hopkins is done fighting with Pascal. At least in the ring. Hopkins says he is moving forward with plans to file a defamation suit against Pascal in Canada for comments Pascal made on the press tour hinting that Hopkins was using performance-enhancing drugs. He says he has hired a "high-profile Canadian lawyer" to help with the lawsuit.

"When you are foolish in life, you have to be held accountable," Hopkins said. "I'm coming after him strong. I didn't talk about [the lawsuit] before the fight because I didn't want it to look like it was sour grapes. I wanted to get the victory and teach him a lesson about my legacy. But I have never, ever used anything or taken any drug to bring out the best or worst in me to get an edge. I feel that at the end, when somebody says that you cheated, that person hasn't followed my life.

"I never let myself get past 10 pounds overweight. You can say, 'Bernard, he's a loudmouth, he disrespects me,' and that might be true. But to call me a cheat, I have to go after his jugular. ... This is beyond boxing. If you are suggesting there is any doubt that I have done it the shortcut way, that is defamation of character. They were selling shirts out there that said, 'Take the Test.' I bought 10 of them and then we shut the stand down.

"You can't do that. You can't say something that you have no proof of. Don't say I cheated, because of the way I look. I'm serious about this. ... My lawyers have been gathering stuff up, off of YouTube. They have those shirts. I have to send a message. At the end of the day, I was damaged."

Hopkins says one way or another he will be back in the ring this year. "I'm not going to be off for a year, like it was after I fought Kelly Pavlik," Hopkins said. "Give me 90 or 100 days and I'll be ready to go.


A half a world away, in Moscow, Jones prepared for a different kind of fight. It has been years -- eight, to be precise -- since Jones won a fight of any consequence. He has rehabilitated his career repeatedly against overmatched opponents, only to be outclassed when faced with stiffer competitions.

Now, he can no longer do that. Jones had lost his last two fights entering the weekend -- a stunning first-round knockout to Danny Green and a lopsided decision to Hopkins -- and on Saturday, he didn't fare much better. Against hard-hitting Denis Lebedev, Jones struggled through nearly 10 rounds before getting drilled by a series of vicious combinations, the last of which left the 42-year-old doubled over, out on his feet.

There was a time Jones claimed he would never fight past his prime or end his career broke, fighting for paychecks. Now, it seems, Jones is both. His cat-like reflexes are long gone and he is easy fodder for opponents to tee off on. Worse, Jones reportedly owes the IRS $3.5 million. Friends have been pushing him to call it quits yet Jones has not given any indication that he plans to do so.

Hopkins says he knows exactly why Jones's career has gone downhill so quickly.

"Roy never had a defense," Hopkins said. "Roy was always offense because he was so talented. He was the Michael Jordan and Superman of boxing. That's what we called him. Those punches or shots were always there but nobody was quick enough to get there. But he did everything wrong. He had no jab and when he got older, those reflexes ran away from him. And that's when the basics come into play.

"My decline won't be as drastic if I stay around long enough. I know how to have defense. I learned how to tuck my chin like a turtle when danger is nearby. That is the fundamentals of boxing. Hit and not get hit. Hide behind the shoulders, catch punches on your elbow or funny bone. Roy knows about this stuff but he was so talented, so successful, that when his blinding speed slows down and the defense is not there, it's a wrap. You're a sitting duck with clipped wings."

Hopkins says he wishes he could talk to Jones, if only to remind him about what is important.

"I would say to him, 'You got to stop,' " Hopkins said. "It's like Miles Davis said to Ray Robinson: 'Pack it in, Ray.' You trying to die? You have kids, you have twins. They are the ones you have to live for now. Problems can be fixed. We can't be fixed. We have to live our life with our imperfections."

How many former world title contenders take fights two weeks after their last one? Chris Arreola, for one. On May 14, Arreola scored a third-round knockout of veteran Nagy Aguilera. This weekend, the heavyweight will get back in the ring, against Kendrick Releford.

"I felt rusty against Aguilera," Arreola said. "I know I could have done a lot better. I didn't have the movement I wanted to."

Arreola has been a changed fighter in 2011. He hooked up with veteran trainer Ronnie Shields, changed his eating habits ("eating out is horrible," Arreola said), slashed his weight (he was a trim 234 pounds against Aguilera) and cut down on his drinking. He says he has eliminated all the distractions around him, a factor he believes contributed to his quick decline last year.

"Honestly, this is a new me," Arreola said. "My reaction time, everything moves a lot quicker now. I used to see things coming before but I couldn't react quickly enough. There were punches I have always wanted to throw but couldn't."

Arreola says he would love a rematch with Tomasz Adamek, who took a majority decision from him last year.

"I'm never going to be past that loss," Arreola said. "Ever. Certain things I couldn't do before, now I can do those things. I would love another shot at him. I would go to Poland, New Jersey; I'll go to his house."

Maybe Tim Bradley has a plan. Maybe rejected a strong offer to fight Amir Khan -- an offer promoters Richard Schaefer and Gary Shaw said could earn Bradley nearly $2 million -- is part of a grand plan that no one knows about. But right now, Bradley looks pretty foolish. He built some decent momentum with an ugly (but decisive) win over Devon Alexander in January, and a showdown with Khan, his top rival in the 140-pound division, seemed inevitable. But Bradley passed and Khan, Schaefer said, has moved on.

Why is he doing this? It's no secret that Bradley is angling to leave Shaw, whose promotional contract with the fighter expires this summer. It's widely believed that Top Rank is the front-runner to sign Bradley, perhaps to position him as a future opponent for Manny Pacquiao sometime next year.

A fight with Pacquiao means big business. But there are no guarantees it will happen. Pacquiao could have a rematch with Miguel Cotto, take on Zab Judah or even fight Floyd Mayweather. By turning down Khan, Bradley is leaving good money on the table against an opponent he has a good chance of beating. It's a shame, really. Bradley is a good guy with a lot of potential. But his decision-making here doesn't make a lot of sense.

"I'm making another comeback. Gotta recapture my title. Now where is the old Geritol? Don't tell my wife and kids. They'll put me away again." -- George Foreman, the morning after Bernard Hopkins surpassed him as the oldest fighter to win a major title. Foreman, 62, was kidding. We think.

"I think he should leave Pop-Pop alone." -- Hopkins, when asked if he would accept Pascal's request for a third fight.

"RESPECT!!! (still mad at ya, though)." -- Promoter Lou DiBella (@loudibella) to Hopkins (@THEREALBHOP) after Hopkins defeated Pascal. DiBella, who promoted Hopkins in 2001, successfully sued the fighter for defamation after Hopkins claimed DiBella extorted $50,000 from him while DiBella was an executive at HBO.

Five fights boxing needs that don't involve Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather.

Sergio Martinez vs. Miguel Cotto: Martinez is hoping to return in early fall and doesn't have an opponent. Cotto had been eyeing an anticipated rematch with Antonio Margarito, but Margarito told ESPN Deportes that he won't be fighting in 2011 as he continues to recover from a detached retina suffered during a brutal loss to Pacquiao. Cotto's fallback (for the moment) is Julio Cesar Chavez, who will face Sebastian Zbik for a middleweight belt in June.

Martinez, a former 154-pound titleholder, would gladly agree to a catch weight of 155 pounds. And Cotto would have an opportunity to compete for a middleweight belt in a big-money fight against one of the three best fighters in the world.

Victor Ortiz vs. Marcos Maidana: Ortiz is white hot after an emphatic (and wildly entertaining) win over Andre Berto last month. He's clearly better suited to be a welterweight, where he doesn't have to starve himself to reach the 140-pound limit. Ortiz proved he can take a punch against Berto; let's see him do it against Maidana, the man who almost ended his career two years ago.

Andre Berto vs. Jan Zaveck: This one we might get. Lou DiBella has been working on matching Berto with Zaveck, the unheralded IBF welterweight titlist. The idea is to get Berto back on track against a solid opponent with a belt, which in turn would make a rematch with Ortiz that much more meaningful. I like it.

Kelly Pavlik vs. Arthur Abraham: Remember when this was a fight everyone wanted to see? Pavlik's stint in rehab and Abraham's stunning spiral at super middleweight have taken away some its luster, but it's still a pretty good fight between two guys who desperately need a win. It's doubtful Abraham would be interested in coming back to the United States to fight anytime soon, but if Pavlik is willing to travel -- and Showtime was willing to cough up the cash -- this could be entertaining.

Chris John vs. Yuri Gamboa: John is the WBA featherweight champion. Gamboa is the WBA's super champion. Putting aside the nonsensical nature of having two active fighters holding the same belt, this one is a natural fit. John and Gamboa are the two top dogs in the 126-pound division. Let's see who's the best.

10. There has been a lot of scuttle about a possible shake-up at HBO, including a report from respected journalist Thomas Hauser earlier this month that Yahoo! Sports executive Ross Levinsohn would replace Ross Greenburg as the president of HBO Sports (Levinsohn and HBO refuted the report). Greenburg and his top lieutenant, Kery Davis, have taken a lot of hits in the last year, some deserved. They have grossly overpaid Andre Berto, have too cushy a relationship with manager Al Haymon and were a little arrogant in the most recent round of negotiations with Manny Pacquiao. But Greenburg and Davis have done a lot of positive things for HBO, most notably the creation of the smash hit 24/7 series and the various other promotional projects (Ring Life, Face-Off) that have been wildly successful.

As for buying fights, it's an inexact science. Nobody predicted that Tim Bradley-Devon Alexander would be the flop that it was. But HBO was also the driving force behind Sergio Martinez-Sergiy Dzinziruk, a widely panned matchup when it was made that turned out to be a quality show. And you can't exactly fault HBO for not getting into a bidding war for Pacquiao-Shane Mosley when everyone knew it was going to be a dud.

HBO needs a big 2011 -- it got a big boost from Hopkins-Pascal -- and there are some iffy matchups (Julio Cesar Chavez-Sebastian Zbik, Paul Williams-Erislandy Lara) that the network will need to be entertaining. But burying Greenburg and Davis right now seems a bit excessive.

9. Every young prospect should get to know Glen Johnson. Sure, he has lost some fights. But when he does, he gets right back in the ring, rebuilds his career and winds up with another big one. He doesn't sit around waiting for TV money. He's a fighter, and fighters fight. And you know what? He has a great chance at beating Carl Froch next month.

8. Have a good thought for Oscar De La Hoya, who is working through some personal problems at a California rehabilitation center.

7. Representatives for Golden Boy and Top Rank are keeping a lid on their recent meeting to discuss Juan Manuel Marquez's contract. But from what I hear, it was a very positive meeting and there's a chance the two sides could be doing business again at some point.

6. Looking forward to seeing Lou DiBella's welterweight prospect Thomas Dulorme in New York next month. Dulorme, 21, has crushing power. Crushing. He'll get a good test in veteran DeMarcus "Chop Chop" Corley.

5. I wish Andre Ward would take a few more chances. He's a well-spoken Olympic gold medalist who could be a major star in the United States. But his willingness to settle for decision wins is going to hurt him in the long run.

4. Exchanged texts with Wladimir Klitschko last week, who reports the training for the July fight with David Haye is going well. I have a hard time seeing Haye making it past the seventh round in this one.

3. Shane Mosley and Floyd Mayweather embarrassed themselves by retweeting a story quoting an anonymous former sparring partner of Manny Pacquiao's saying he injected him with steroids. The Internet "report" had no byline and, consequently, no credibility.

2. Smart move by Amir Khan, who reportedly rehired Alex Ariza as his strength coach. Khan looked horrible against Paul McCloskey, nothing like the pristinely conditioned fighter he was for the Marcos Maidana fight.

1. Boxing news conferences have become a joke. There is little to no security and anyone with a backstage pass can get in. Reporters trying to gather information for stories are often shouted down by entourage members and hangers-on bellowing at the podium. There are a lot of good reporters who need that time to ask pertinent questions for their stories. But far too often it turns into a circus.

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