Thom Loverro: Working class heroes set to fight

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PHILADELPHIA — There they sat in front of the media Tuesday like two dinosaurs - Bernard Hopkins, the fossil, and Kelly Pavlik, the Jurassic Park clone - promoting the notion that their very existence makes them worth watching.

“We’ve got to hype the fight,” said Hopkins, a former middleweight champion who will have no problem doing that for his Oct. 18 bout against boxing savior and undefeated middleweight champion Pavlik. “But we’ve got two guys here who will come to fight.”

Not just two guys but two guys who represent bygone eras of the sport.

Hopkins is the last of the great Philadelphia fighters, the warriors who learned their trade in the city’s gym wars - Joe Frazier, Gypsy Joe Harris, Matthew Saad Muhammad and so many others. He is the last man standing, the lone Philadelphia dinosaur who, at the age of 43 and in his 20th year of professional boxing, is fighting off extinction.

At a news conference at Chickie & Pete’s bar and restaurant in South Philadelphia, Hopkins looked up at the television screens tuned to the 24-hour Brett Favre channel.

“I see an old dog named Brett Favre who still has the swagger to do what he wants to do,” Hopkins said. “I’ll retire when he retires.”

Pavlik, at 26, is nearly 20 years younger than Hopkins, but he is even more of a throwback - a white American middleweight champion from a working-class city in the Midwest.

The last fighter of note from Youngstown, Ohio, was Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, the lightweight champion from 20 years ago. The last highly regarded white American middleweight title holder was Joey Giardello, a Philadelphia fighter.

“These are two blue-collar guys,” Hopkins said of himself and Pavlik, who will split a nice white-collar payday of up to $20 million for their night of blue-collar boxing. “It will be like two construction workers fighting for one sandwich after working all day.”

Pavlik may represent blue-collar Youngstown, but his trainer, Jack Loew - aka “The Driveway King” - is the real deal. Loew was heading for an amateur boxing tournament in Kansas City later this week, but he had to get back to Youngstown by Saturday to pave a driveway.

This fight certainly has a number of interesting components: the continued rise of Pavlik (34-0, 30 knockouts) as boxing’s savior and the future of Hopkins (48-5-1, 32 knockouts), who in April suffered a close loss to light heavyweight champion Joe Calzaghe. The question now is whether Pavlik will send Hopkins into retirement, Brett Favre not withstanding.

Pavlik comes right at his opponent, throwing power shots that knock out opponents. He also is there to be hit, though every time in his career he has gone down, he has gotten back up and won. He walked through his last opponent, Gary Lockett, in three rounds. It is hard to think of a Pavlik fight that would not be worth watching, even a one-sided affair.

Hopkins isn’t hard to find, but he has been hard to hit, practicing the old-school style of defense of slipping punches and turning his shoulder to deflect blows.

“I have one of the best defenses in boxing in 20 years,” Hopkins said, and he’s right. No one in the sport practices defense like fighters used to, and Hopkins never has truly taken a beating in the ring.

Some worry, though, that this time he will.

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