- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2001

Two Washington fighters are about to take a step into the center stage of boxing, both with a chance to take their place among the top fighters in the sport, with the million dollar paydays that go with that status.

All Keith Holmes and William Joppy have to do is beat two fighters that no one will give them much of a chance to beat.

Holmes, the World Boxing Council middleweight champion, will face Bernard Hopkins, the International Boxing Federation middleweight title holder, on April 14, followed by Joppy, the World Boxing Association middleweight champion, going up against Felix Trinidad, the undefeated WBA and IBF junior middleweight champion who is moving up to the 160-pound weight class, on May 12.

Both fights will take place at Madison Square Garden as part of promoter Don King's middleweight championship unification plan, which goes like this: the winner of these bouts will face each other sometime in the fall. The winner will be the undisputed middleweight champion the first one since the days of the great Marvin Hagler and will likely be a prime opponent for a megafight against Roy Jones.

They were supposed to officially announce the fights today in a New York news conference, but the storm delayed that event. They appear to have ignored Washington in their promotional plans, even though two of the four fighters are from here.

The last time Don King was in Washington was Sept. 24, 1999 when city councilman Jack Evans declared it Don King Day in Washington while King was waiting to determine if he would be nailed in the federal bribery probe involving the IBF. He was getting his character ducks in a row at the time, but it turns out he never needed them, since he was never indicted.

Surely there must be some kind of Don King federal investigation going on in an agency somewhere in this town to get him back here.

It sure would have been nice to have had one of the fights here at MCI, but again, after promoting three fights in Washington in one year, we haven't seen a Don King fight here since guess when Don King Day.

But if it can't happen here, the next best place is Madison Square Garden, the legendary stage for historic fights.

This is the stuff that dreams are made of for fighters. Not since Sugar Ray Leonard has a local fighter had these kind of opportunities.

"This has been my dream," said Joppy (32-1-1, 24 knockouts). "I have been looking forward to this for so long. I want to show the world that I belong among the best pound-for-pound fighters."

It's rare that you will have two world champions in such a marquee division as the middleweight class from the same area, but the similarities between Holmes, 31, and Joppy, 30, don't stop there. They both won their titles initially the same year Holmes stopping WBC champion Quincy Taylor in March 1996, and Joppy doing the same against WBA title holder Shinji Takehara three months later.

Both would lose their belts, Joppy in August 1997 in a controversial decision at the Garden to Julio Cesar Green and Holmes in May 1998 in a decision to Hasine Cherifi. Both avenged those losses and regained their belts, with Joppy easily outpointing Green in their January 1998 rematch, and Holmes stopping Cherifi in the seventh round of their April 1999 fight at MCI Center.

Since then, there has been pressure on both fighters to meet each other in a unification bout. But that would have been economically foolhardy. While both are talented, underrated fighters, neither has the marquee name to create a million dollar payday. All they had to do was hold onto their belts and wait for the fighters who bring those big paydays come up to their division. While Hopkins has always been there, it is Trinidad, coming off spectacular wins in the past two years over Oscar De La Hoya, David Reid and most recently Fernando Vargas, who is the key to this whole unification tournament, the fighter who creates the buzz for it.

Not many people will expect either Joppy or Holmes to be left standing when it is all over. They will be underestimating both fighters, particularly Joppy, whose fast hands and movement could give Trinidad a lot of problems.

"People will put [Trinidad] as the favorite because nobody has seen the best of me yet," Joppy said. "I'm not going to be intimidated. I win this fight, there is no looking back."

Wouldn't it be something that come May 13, the two boxers remaining after these two fights are Joppy and Holmes? Maybe that would bring Don King back to Washington.


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