- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Don King says his “back-to-back-to-back” pay-per-view show in Atlantic City is proof that boxing is far from dead.

“This card is unbelievable,” King said of the Saturday night show, which features eight world title holders. “Every fight on this card is making this a super situation.”

A befuddling situation is more like it.

Bernard Hopkins will face Washington middleweight William Joppy in a bout illustrating one of the ills from which boxing suffers: The confusing actions of its sanctioning bodies.

Joppy (34-2-1, 25 knockouts) is the World Boxing Association middleweight champion — even though he lost the title to Felix Trinidad more than two years ago.

Trinidad, who also held the World Boxing Council middleweight crown, lost both titles in September 2001 to Hopkins, the reigning International Boxing Federation middleweight champion. That made Hopkins (42-2-1, 31 KOs) the undisputed middleweight champion.

But two months later, the 33-year-old Joppy won a majority decision over Howard Eastman to win the WBA title a third time — even though Hopkins still was the champion.

How was this possible?

The WBA decided since Hopkins held all three middleweight titles, he would be declared the WBA “super middleweight” champion — even though there already is a separate super middleweight class with its own champions.

Officials then declared vacant the WBA middleweight title, which Joppy won by defeating Eastman.

So Saturday night, Joppy will be fighting to be the undisputed middleweight champion and Hopkins will be fighting for nothing more than a title he already has won once, never lost and — technically — still holds.

Hopkins, one of the most eccentric fighters in the business, negotiated his way out of multimillion-dollar payday fights against Roy Jones Jr. and James Toney after the Trinidad fight. Now he finds himself earning about $350,000 for this fight.

“I think, like others do, that Bernard Hopkins has been his own worst manager,” said Steve Nelson, Joppy’s co-manager. “Nothing Bernard Hopkins does makes sense.”

In a way, Joppy was banking on the bizarre realities of boxing to force Hopkins to fight mandatory challenges for his WBC and IBF titles and a mandatory WBA challenge against Joppy.

“I was waiting on him, trying to inch my way since the tournament,” Joppy said. “That is all Bernard has been doing, fighting mandatories. So let me be a mandatory.”

Hopkins, the Philadelphia fighter who will be making his record 17th middleweight title defense, said he wasn’t looking to fight Joppy — who is the mandatory challenger for the WBA title even though he is the WBA champion.

“I don’t pick the guys who are the No.1 contenders,” said Hopkins, 38. “I just follow the rules to keep my status until that status doesn’t mean anything anymore and right now it means a lot to me to be undisputed middleweight champion. Don’t blame me, I’m just following the rules.”

None of this means that it won’t be an entertaining fight, particularly if the bad blood between the fighters is any indication. They and members of their camps came to blows at a Washington press conference and they have gone out of their way to show a lack of respect for each other’s abilities in the ring.

“Bernard Hopkins is a coward,” said Joppy, who has dealt with the death of his 5-week-old daughter five months ago and has been particularly outspoken leading up to this fight. “He talks tough, but you know what Bernard is? Bernard Hopkins is a sheep in a gorilla suit.”

Hopkins, who spent five years in Graterford State Prison in Pennsylvania from 1984 to 1989 on an armed robbery conviction before becoming a fighter, said he rated Joppy as a “C-minus” fighter.

“The Trinidad fight, that doesn’t help him, and the Eastman fight, most people thought he lost that. The only reason I am fighting him is because of the chicanery of the sanctioning bodies. He ain’t going to win nothing.”

Joppy said people didn’t see the real William Joppy as he tried to slug it out with Trinidad, when he was put on the canvas three times and was stopped in five rounds. “I tried to punch with him,” Joppy said. “I got caught up in the hype.”

He also didn’t have his long-time trainer, Adrian Davis, for that fight.

“He fought Trinidad wrong,” Davis said. “You box the slugger and slug the boxer. He went out there and tried to slug with the slugger. I think this time, Joppy will be himself. … He will need to hold his ground, because Bernard is strong. I admire Bernard, but his time is about up.”

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