NEW YORK -- You're Bernard Hopkins, one of the greatest middleweight champions who ever lived, having won the title in 1995 and defended it a record 20 times before controversially losing it to Jermain Taylor in 2005. You have defeated Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya and Antonio Tarver, among many, many others. And to top it off, in May you climbed out of your rocking chair and spanked 28-year-old Jean Pascal to become the oldest man to ever win a major title.
What else is there to fight for?
It's a question I asked myself on Tuesday when Hopkins, the silver hairs now outnumbering the dark on his 46-year-old chin, took the podium at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in Times Square to promote his Oct. 15 light heavyweight title defense against Chad Dawson. It was vintage Hopkins: for 16 minutes he went at Dawson, likening the ex-champ's resume to a community college grad (while comparing his to Harvard) and begging the jab-happy Dawson to stand in the middle of the ring and mix it up.
"Let's work together to see who whups whose ass the worst," Hopkins said. "He's promising that he's going to be out of character. He says he's going to finally be what his name says, not what his personality shows. 'Bad' Chad had better act bad or he's going to be embarrassed. No real man wants to be embarrassed like that."
We have heard this from Hopkins before. He promotes fights like Bobby Flay cooks steak, masterfully and with seemingly very little effort. He spots a weakness in his opponent and picks at it like a scab. During an interview I did with Dawson for HBO, I asked how he felt about Hopkins' assessment that the 29-year-old Dawson tends to bail out when a fight gets physical. The mild-mannered Dawson, who had not read the quote, erupted with a very un-Dawson like response that you can see when HBO airs the interview later this month.
Yes, Hopkins is a master at his craft. But financially secure and with a Hall of Fame resume, it circles back to the same question: Why does he still do it?
"All these guys in their 20's, I'm whupping their ass," Hopkins said. "I hear the same thing every time I fight these guys: Younger, stronger, better. But everything a guy has, I'm known for taking their biggest weapon and turning it to nothing. I love these challenges."
Naazim Richardson, who has trained Hopkins for 17 years, doesn't think Hopkins will ever lose his competitiveness.
"I never wonder if Bernard is going to be motivated to keep fighting," Richardson said. "I wonder if Bernard is ever going to be able to sit down. Bernard will reinvent himself. When he's 75-years-old, he's going to call me and say, 'Let's get all the 75-year-olds together and I'll beat their asses.' He's a boxing genius. He has a new fire in him. He enjoys beating these young boys up."
For most athletes Hopkins' age, long-term goals include speaking engagements and celebrity golf. Not Hopkins. He ages like a bottle of Scotch. He talks about a potential showdown with super middleweight champion Lucian Bute. He floated the idea of moving up to cruiserweight to "make more history."
Then there is the opponent Hopkins
Calzaghe, of course, outpointed Hopkins in a narrow split decision in 2008. He retired after beating Roy Jones seven months later and has given no indication he is interested in getting back in the ring. Hopkins, who sat next to Calzaghe at the Amir Khan-Zab Judah fight last month, seems to think he will.
"I want the Joe Calzaghe fight so bad," Hopkins said. "[The loss] lingers to the point where I know I won that fight. Joe is a proud fighter. He knows he wasn't his best that night. If you're going to say you weren't at your best but you still won, fighters know what that means. I would cross the pond for that one."
There's something else motivating Hopkins: reality. One loss and he's through. Hopkins accepts this. It's what pushed him back to the gym a few weeks after his win over Pascal and, as he puts it, "keeps the motor running." It's what makes him so confident he will beat Dawson. For Hopkins, there truly is no tomorrow.
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When Emmanuel Steward took over as Dawson's trainer before his fight with Adrian Diaconu last May, it was lauded as a move that could elevate Dawson to another level. Steward has a long history of working well with fighters who can jab, and the jab is arguably the 6-foot-1 Dawson's best weapon.
But when I asked Dawson on Tuesday if he and Steward were a good fit, he was noncommittal.
"I'm not sure," Dawson said. "But we have to try it. We won't know until we try it. Right now, it seems like it's working. It seems like a great fit. He wants me to be more aggressive. That's something that I know I have to do. It takes time. You don't just change over night. Manny knows and I know it takes time."
Good trainers don't always mesh with good fighters. Steward has had great success molding Tommy Hearns, Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko into elite boxers. Other pairings, like his abbreviated stint with Jermain Taylor, have not worked out as well. Against a cagey opponent like Hopkins, Dawson will have to commit to Steward's strategy completely or risk Hopkins exploiting that indecisiveness and picking him apart.
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Let me join the chorus of people who are disgusted by the WBC's decision to strip -- sorry, make a "champion in recess" -- junior welterweight titleholder Tim Bradley and sanction the Erik Morales-Lucas Matthysse fight for the organization's 140-pound belt. Boxing has become a shady business thanks to corrupt sanctioning bodies like the WBC, but the decision to shove out Bradley ranks as one of the most egregious acts in recent memory.
In a statement to the media, WBC President Jose Sulaimán explained the decision.
"Our rules for champions state that each champion should defend the title at least three times a year and when you reach six months of inactivity, the title might be withdrawn," Sulaimán said. "The WBC wrote three times to Timothy and neither he nor his representatives wrote back, nor have they announced at any time any scheduled fight at all to defend his title. They seemed not to care that there are many other boxers who wish to contend for the title, which the champion has frozen."
That's not exactly true.
According to the WBC's rules, a titleholder is required to make two voluntary defenses and one mandatory defense within a year. Putting aside the fact that almost never happens (more on that below), Bradley won the title last January, giving him nearly six months to fulfill his obligations.
Now, about those required defenses. There are countless examples of WBC champions not defending the title within six months. Moreover, it's incredibly rare for a champion to make three defenses within a year. Take Oscar De La Hoya. The Golden Boy held the WBC version of the junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight title for most of his career. After 2000, De La Hoya never fought more than twice a year. He won the 154-pound title from Ricardo Mayorga in May 2006 and let it collect dust for a full year until losing it to Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Did the WBC strip De La Hoya? Did it threaten to strip De La Hoya? Of course not. It stripped Bradley because the Mexican-based organization wanted to give Morales a chance to become the first Mexican to win a title in four weight classes -- and collect another sanctioning fee in the process. Golden Boy Promotions, the same De La Hoya-fronted company that promised to do things differently in boxing, became an accomplice when it went along with it.
Organizations like the WBC don't care about boxing. They care about money, and Morales holding the title means more to the WBC than if Bradley does. The WBC did the same thing to Sergio Martinez, who was stripped of his title so the WBC could give Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. a chance to fight for a title.
The only way to strike back against such a sanctioning body is to marginalize it. Junior welterweight Mike Alvarado did when he vacated a minor WBC title after the organization reacted to his first two wins in 2011 by dropping him in its ranking three months in a row.
Unfortunately, Alvarado isn't a big enough name to make a difference. Amir Khan, however, is. There has been talk that Khan will face the winner of Morales-Matthysse in December. If that happens, Khan could send a powerful message if he refuses to pay the sanctioning fees required to compete for the WBC title and tell it he will accept the title if and when he defeats Bradley.
Khan doesn't need the WBC belt. He has two alphabet titles already and is universally recognized as the No. 1 junior welterweight in the world. Let the WBC stew when one of the best and most popular fighters in boxing declares that he doesn't think its belt is worth fighting for.
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The problem? HBO has already spent almost its entire budget for 2011. It's why the Hopkins-Dawson fight is a Pay-Per-View -- the network owed a $3 million license fee for the fight and needed to flip it to Pay-Per-View to recoup some of the cost. Neither Dzinziruk nor Khan is a pay-per-view level fighter, so it will be interesting to see how HBO comes up with the money to pay them this year.