- The Washington Times - Monday, September 20, 2004

LAS VEGAS.

As he predicted before the fight, he was the new “Golden Boy” now, the undisputed middleweight champion who had just finished his record 19th successful title defense and the undisputed best fighter in boxing, period. The one who was now the meal ticket — albeit not as big a meal ticket as De La Hoya, the biggest nonheavyweight earner in boxing history — but still, the one who others now had to come to if they wanted a big fight.

Of the possible future opponents — Felix Trinidad, Shane Mosley, Ricardo Mayorga, Antonio Tarver — for Hopkins, who earned between $10million and $15million for Saturday night’s fight, one in particular means more to Hopkins than another big payday.

Roy Jones Jr. is unfinished business for Hopkins, and he would love a chance to get the former undisputed light heavyweight champion in the ring to avenge the only loss he has suffered since losing his pro debut in 1988.

Hopkins (45-2-1, 32 knockouts) lost a decision to Jones on the undercard of the Riddick Bowe-Jesse Ferguson heavyweight title fight at RFK Stadium in May 1993. He hasn’t lost since.

“How many fighters can say they haven’t lost in a decade?” Hopkins asked the crowd to illustrate his greatness. “I feel like a dinosaur.”

But the loss is one Hopkins carries with him. It motivates him. And it haunts him.

“I have watched every second of every minute of the tape of that fight so many times,” Hopkins said. “That fight taught me never to put myself in that position to lose again. I’ve wanted another fight with Roy Jones for the past 10 years.”

But Hopkins wanted to do it on his terms — not Jones’ terms. He turned down a chance to fight Jones a few years ago because he didn’t like the contract terms. Critics called Hopkins, who had a reputation as a paranoid, difficult fighter, foolish for passing up the opportunity.

But now it is Jones, who is reduced to fighting a nobody named Glen Johnson on Saturday night to try to regain the light heavyweight championship, that will have to fight on Hopkins’ terms if the match is made. And make no mistake about it — there is no other fight in which Jones can make more than pocket change at this point of his career than a rematch with Hopkins.

“Roy Jones has something to prove,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins has nothing to prove. With his victory over De La Hoya, he has secured his place among the greatest middleweights of all time, with 19 successful defenses and a goal of making a 20th before he goes after a big fight like Jones.

“I don’t fight just for money,” Hopkins said. “Money you can make, money you can lose, but history you can never erase.”

He made history Saturday, becoming the first fighter to knock De La Hoya out. It was a classic body shot by a classic, old-school fighter. “I never thought I would be stopped by a body shot,” said De La Hoya, who was classy in defeat. “I wanted to get up, but I couldn’t. I was paralyzed.”

It’s not clear what De La Hoya (37-4, 29 knockouts) will do next. He has made more than $200million in the ring, earning between $30million and $35million for Saturday night’s fight. He has lost four of his last 10 fights, and, save for a rematch to avenge his controversial loss to Trinidad (who fights Mayorga in two weeks at Madison Square Garden), there is really no fight out there for him that generates any buzz. He was asked if he will retire, and said, “I can’t answer that right now. I know I can fight better. But he beat me fair and square. He is a great champion.”

In that sense, Hopkins already has bested Roy Jones, who was content to fight for small paydays against nonthreatening opponents to line his pockets with easy money and then purported to put something on the line by fighting the worst heavyweight champion in history, John Ruiz. Jones may have been the most talented boxer of his time, but no one has ever said he was a “great champion.”

Hopkins can now take his place alongside the great fighters of all time, such as Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns, both of whom were at the post-fight press conference Saturday night. No middleweight — not Marvin Hagler, not Carlos Monzon, not even Sugar Ray Robinson, has ever successfully defended the title 19 times, and it’s likely no one ever will.

What makes it particularly noteworthy is that Bernard Hopkins is doing it at the age of 39, with no signs of slowing down. He looked fresher than his younger opponent throughout the fight Saturday night. “Four months from now, you will be looking at an undisputed 40-year-old middleweight champion,” he said.

And if Roy Jones is lucky, he will get a chance to fight this dinosaur who now roams the earth as the greatest fighter of his time.

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