July 08, 2009

1. Bernard Hopkins told SI.com that he is perfectly content to never fight again. Should he retire, or is there an opponent out there he should face?

RICHARD O'BRIEN: Wasn't this a Roundtable question in, like, 2001? Regardless, my answer's still the same. Unlike some people, I take great pleasure in watching Hopkins work. When he does retire, a large chunk of what true boxing skill remains on display will disappear with him. I figure B-Hop knows best when he should hang them up and certainly he's not deluding himself about his skills a la Roy Jones Jr. (And, by the way, Hopkins-Jones II is a fight I do not want to see.) That said, I hope he gives cruiserweight champion Tomasz Adamek a pass in favor of 168-pound champ Carl Froch. Froch, who is coming off a win over JermainTaylor, a guy who (at least according to the record book) beat Hopkins twice, is the sort of aggressive swarmer the old master should be able to school handily.

BRYAN GRAHAM: If Hopkins hasn't already eclipsed Archie Moore as the greatest fighter of all time past the age of 40, one more high-profile victory would put any questions to rest.

Two attractive opponents jump to mind. The first is undefeated light heavyweight Chad Dawson, the dream matchup in the division where Hopkins has campaigned since 2006. But Dawson just gave into overwhelming pressure and took a November rematch with Glen Johnson, so he's out.

The other is Adamek, whom Hopkins called out earlier this year. Adamek, who defends his title against journeyman Bobby Gunn (who?) this weekend, would present Bernard the tantalizing opportunity to add a legitimate championship in a third weight class. But Hopkins, who reportedly offered Adamek a measly $500,000, needs to pony up more if he's serious about the fight. (And pony up he should.)

2. SI.com's 2008 Prospect of the Year Victor Ortiz absorbed a brutal loss to Marcos Maidana last weekend. What do you think of Ortiz as a prospect now?

RICHARD O'BRIEN: I'm of two minds here: I think it's always too easy for writers and fans to castigate a fighter for "quitting." A press pass or even a ticket doesn't entitle us to demand the ultimate sacrifice every time out. We're not the ones taking the punches. And it's worth observing that fighters find ways to quit in the ring all the time -- they just usually aren't as, well, unabashed about it as Ortiz. The question always is What will it cost them? It seems likely that this fight will cost Ortiz dearly -- in marketability, certainly, but probably also in confidence. He took a physical beating and he folded when the pressure got too high.

Immediately after the Maidana fight, there was talk that Freddie Roach might replace Danny Garcia as trainer for Ortiz. Whether Roach has the time to take on another charge is a question, but that aside, I'm less concerned about Ortiz's technical training right now than I am about his attitude. His quote immediately after the loss -- "I'm young, but I don't think I deserve to be getting beat up like this. I got a lot of thinking to do." -- is hardly the sort of statement that inspires confidence. Prospect? Not lookin' good.

BRYAN GRAHAM: Instead of employing a measured, tactical approach, Ortiz was head-hunting from jump street with obvious designs on another early KO, frequently dropping his hands during his combinations and absorbing punishing counter-attacks. Whether Ortiz was overconfident, we can only speculate. Whether Ortiz was overexcited is beyond question. Either approach is a fatal one against an extremely tough, resilient fighter like Maidana, who was just coming off a bitter loss in a world title fight.

Many folks are writing off Ortiz for turning his back on Maidana and quitting after he no longer believed he could win the fight, but his body language -- once he started moving backwards instead of forward -- reflected this acquiescence one or two rounds prior. By the fifth round, it was too late: His approach from the opening bell made the outcome a foregone conclusion. I simply chalk the whole thing up to immaturity and remain hopeful about Ortiz's promising future. You lost the fight, Victor, just don't lose the lesson.

3. Wladimir Klitschko added another title to his resume when he knocked out former alphabet champion Ruslan Chagaev two weeks ago to win the Ring Magazine championship. How do you think Klitschko would have fared against the top heavyweights of the 70s, 80s and 90s?

RICHARD O'BRIEN: With his intelligence, methodical training regimen and relentless fighting style, Klitschko has become a pretty damn good heavyweight. There's his size, that jab, that percussive right hand and, now, an ability to tie opponents up after they land a shot. Sure, he's got a suspect chin, but he knows that and he fights accordingly. He's the best we've got right now, no question.

Even for the cream of the past three decades, he'd be no walk in the park. But I think that Wlad would be undone by the aggression and the general skill level of the heavyweights of the '70s, '90s and, to a certain extent the '90s. Unlike the Chris Byrds, the RayAustins, the Lamon Brewsters and the Ruslan Chagaevs of today, the best heavyweights of the past would attack Klitschko and make him work, and that would make a huge difference.

The 1970s? I see them lining up to take Wlad's titles: Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Norton, Quarry, Shavers, Lyle. The 1980s? Holmes would pawn him. As would have the power-punching Gerry Cooney. Beyond that, I think he might have done all right. Wlad has exactly the size and skills to beat Mike Tyson. The only question is whether Iron Mike would have struck too quickly for Wlad to respond. 1990s? Foreman kicks his ass again. As does the comebacking Holmes. Douglas, Holyfield, Bowe, Mercer and maybe Morrison. All would have given Wlad fits. But, geez, don't you wish we could see any of these fights?

BRYAN GRAHAM: If you'd have told me seven years ago that Wladimir would someday threaten to crack my list of the 20 greatest heavyweights, I'd have questioned your sanity. Then again, if you'd have told me in 2002 that the scrawny looking dude from the Hot Boys would be the biggest rapper on the planet in '09, I would have responded the same way.

Point is, perceptions change. Emanuel Steward has done a wonderful job with Klitschko, whose biggest strength is a comprehensive understanding of his weaknesses. His obsessive brand of risk management may not win many style contests but it's difficult to argue with the results: Wladimir is 53-3 with 47 knockouts and he hasn't lost a fight in five years.

That said, I count nine fighters from the '70s, '80s and '90s among my top 20 heavies of all-time: Ali, Holmes, Foreman, Frazier, Holyfield, Lewis, Vitali, Tyson and Bowe. I'm not sure I'd take Wladimir over any of them, with the possible exception of Tyson, who had trouble with taller, lengthy guys with strong jabs and discipline (e.g. Douglas, Lewis, even Tony Tucker).

4. Who is the most feared fighter in boxing?

RICHARD O'BRIEN: There's a risk-reward calculus at work here: For any fighter at 147 pounds or under, the logical answer, it would seem, would have to be Manny Pacquiao. Just look at what he did to Ricky Hatton. Then again, Pacquiao is currently the biggest draw in boxing, and any honest pro out there would gladly risk a Hatton-like canvas nap for what would surely be the biggest payday of his career.

For that reason, I'd hang the yellow danger triangle on Paul Williams. The former welterweight champ is currently fighting as a junior middleweight, but insists he can still get down to 147, while also looking to go up to 160. At a whip-lean 6-foot-1, with an 82-inch reach, Williams evokes images of the great Tommy Hearns, who, in his prime, was about as scary as a fighter gets. He isn't the one-punch KO artist that Hearns was, but Williams is a southpaw who throws 100 punches a round and has shown he knows how to place those punches for maximum effect. Plus, despite wins over AntonioMargarito, Carlos Quintana and, most recently, Winky Wright, Williams has yet to break through to true stardom. Which makes him a very high-risk, low-reward opponent for many fighters. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

BRYAN GRAHAM: I'm bullish on Paul Williams, and who isn't? The 27-year-old insists he's most comfortable at 147 but, in his most recent outing, nearly pitched a shutout against Winky Wright at 160. Williams is very tall for a welter and blends the impossible work rate of a lightweight with the wingspan of a heavyweight. On top of everything else, he's a southpaw.

In 2014, when Manny Pacquiao is running for President of the Philippines and Floyd Mayweather is starring on season eight of I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me out of Here!, I fully expect Williams to rank among the top two or three best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport.

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