You’ll have to forgive Bernard Hopkins if, at 43, he refuses to leave the ring.
He had such a long, hard fight to get there, and the Philadelphia boxer doesn’t want to leave until someone gives him his walking papers.
On Saturday night in Atlantic City, N.J., Kelly Pavlik will deliver those papers.
Pavlik, a 26-year-old middleweight champion and a rising star, will face the former middleweight champ in an HBO pay-for-view show with no title at stake.
They are fighting at a “catch” weight of 170 pounds, so I guess they are fighting for the catch weight championship of the world.
They are not fighting for Pavlik’s World Boxing Council and World Boxing Organization middleweight titles because Hopkins no longer can get down to the 160-pound weight limit.
There were no middleweights of note for Pavlik to fight this fall, primarily because of the lack of talented, box-office fighters. So promoters, as they do, made the best money match available.
Those matches are harder to come by, and as long as the talent pool continues to dry up people will be willing to pay Hopkins to fight. He works at his craft, and his work ethic and knowledge carry him even as his reflexes diminish.
“My motivation is back pay,” Hopkins said. “I’m a late bloomer and I’m a late start in everything in boxing. The last five years has been a blessing for Bernard Hopkins and my family, and it reflects that and I’ve done well. I’ve done well in the ring, and I’ve done well in financing and dealing.”
Hopkins learned to box while serving five years in Graterford State Prison for armed robbery. His first fight was 20 years ago, a loss in a four-round decision to Clinton Mitchell. He didn’t lose again until he was beaten by Roy Jones in a 12-round decision in 1993 at RFK Stadium for a version of the middleweight championship. Two years later, at US Airways Arena, he won another version of the middleweight title by stopping Segundo Mercado in the seventh round.
After that, Hopkins defended his middleweight championship 12 times for the boxing version of peanuts. He fought with promoters and was so determined to do business his way that it cost him money. He found himself fighting title bouts for purses of less than $100,000.
But he hit the jackpot when he took apart Felix Trinidad in 2001, and the boxing world then had to deal with Hopkins on his terms. He took another step in 2004 when he stopped Oscar De La Hoya in the ninth round and earned $10 million.
Now Hopkins is a promoter in business with De La Hoya in Golden Boy Promotions, which is co-promoting this fight.
It’s funny: Hopkins (48-5-1, 32 knockouts) couldn’t earn a dime the first half of his career, and now he gets this fight with Pavlik (34-0, 30 knockouts) because he gives the young champion from Youngstown the biggest payday out there.
Pavlik, the white, blue-collar champion with an aggressive style and knockout power, is becoming the sport’s biggest star not named De La Hoya.