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.
Pavlik introduced himself to the public with a seventh-round knockout of highly regarded Edison Miranda last year and followed that up with a stunning seventh-round knockout of middleweight champion Jermain Taylor. He won a rematch with Taylor, then walked through challenger Gary Lockett in three rounds in June.
Poised for a big fight, Pavlik found there was no big fight to be had. The most obvious matchup was against undefeated Welsh fighter Joe Calzaghe, coming off a win in a decision over Hopkins in April.
Calzaghe wanted no part of Pavlik, choosing instead to fight a senior citizen of his own, the washed-up Roy Jones Jr., on Nov. 8 at Madison Square Garden.
All that was left for Pavlik was Hopkins, who despite losing to Calzaghe retained enough credibility to be sold as an opponent.
That credibility will take a beating Saturday. Pavlik, unless sore hands and an elbow injury slow him down, will come forward and pound Hopkins, who several times in his fight with Calzaghe was so disoriented that he went to the wrong corner. (Then-trainer Freddie Roach was moved to suggest that Hopkins retire.)
What happens then? Pavlik fights International Boxing Federation champ Arthur Abraham, then maybe the winner of Calzaghe-Jones. And Hopkins? He wouldn’t say if this would be his last fight, win or lose.
“We will not put the cart in front of the horse,” Hopkins said. “The horse will be in front of the cart and then I’ll talk to you after that.”
If that cart has money in it, Bernard Hopkins will be fighting. He figures he still has money coming to him.