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Hopkins Looking Ahead, Not at 20-Year Reunion of 1st World Championship




You might think that the 20th anniversary of the winning of his first world championship would be a cause of celebration for Bernard Hopkins, or at least a reason for fond remembrance.

Such an assumption would be incorrect. For all his accomplishments, Hopkins, 50, is more of a forward-thinker than a looking-past type. He might or might not have one more fight to squeeze out of his career as an active fighter, but in either case he’s prepared for the next phase of a most interesting life, which the reformed ex-con envisions as a color commentator for televised boxing, a celebrity endorser, a more fully involved executive with Golden Boy Promotions or, who knows, maybe the host of a network news/entertainment show.

“I’ve been knowing Michael Strahan for, like, five years,” Hopkins, when contacted for this story, said of his friendship with the two-time-Super Bowl-winning defensive end for the New York Giants who now co-hosts “Michael and Kelly” with Kelly Ripa weekday mornings on ABC-TV. “Michael said, `Bernard, you’re a charming guy. You have personality. We have two things in common: We both like to talk, and we got that gap between our teeth.”

During an hour-long discussion of what was, what is and what is yet to be, the oldest fighter ever to win a widely recognized world title made it clear that his final bout, whether it is against an undetermined opponent sometime this year or his unanimous-decision loss to Sergey Kovalev in their light heavyweight unification showdown last Nov. 8 in Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall, is not the end of Bernard Hopkins. It only marks a new beginning.

“I’m always going to have fighting in me,” Hopkins said. “Physically, this year is important to me. I’m 50. There’s a movement out there that I represent, and that’s the 50-and-up club. If I do take another fight, it has to be meaningful. But, really, how many good fighters would want to run the risk of getting beat up by a 50-year-old man? There aren’t a lot of Sergey Kovalevs out there. I give him a lot of respect for agreeing to fight me. Adonis Stevenson (the WBC light heavyweight champ), he ain’t kicking down no doors to get to me or to Sergey.”

And if no credible opponent signs up for B-Hop’s farewell to the ring wars, after 27 years in the pro ranks?

“Then that’ll be that,” he said. “I’m not going to embarrass myself by begging or pleading to fight anybody.”

For many champions, retirement means taking it easy, maybe eating some of the fattening food that they had to deny themselves to remain in fighting trim, and to become fixtures at card shows and other gatherings where nostalgic fans can gaze upon them and recall just how proficient they once were in the toughest, most demanding sport of all.

Hopkins doesn’t intend to settle into the comfortable if somewhat dissatisfying existence of an official relic. After being a guest presenter at the 90th annual Boxing Writers Association of America Awards Dinner in New York on April 24, and then taking in the Wladimir Klitschko-Bryant Jennings heavyweight title bout in Madison Square Garden the following night, he jetted to Las Vegas the next day to serve as an expert commentator for ESPN’s week-long coverage of the Mayweather-Pacquiao megafight, which comes on the heels of what he hopes was the first of many similar gigs with HBO Sports, having been a part of the broadcast team for the March 14 Kovalev-Jean Pascal fight in Montreal along with Jim Lampley and Max Kellerman. And while he is still learning a few tricks of that trade, like shortening his trademark 10-minute soliloquies, as entertaining as they might be, to more easily digestible 10-second sound bites.

“It takes some getting used to,” Hopkins, Philadelphia’s most notable fighter since the heyday of the late, great Smokin’ Joe Frazier, said of his introduction to vocal brevity. “I can’t dominate the conversation. I admit, I got a problem with that sometimes. But I’m learning you can use a few words to make a point instead of a lot of words. Jim Lampley has been working with me on that, like a mentor. He tells me to get in and get out. Just like in boxing.”

As an interviewee instead of as an interviewer, B-Hop can still go the distance, rattling off lengthy responses to questions about, well, just about anything. For the purposes of this story, the subject was his first world championship victory, in his third shot at a title, when he won the vacant IBF middleweight belt on a seventh-round stoppage of Ecuador’s Segundo Mercado on April 29, 1995, in Landover, Md. But, somewhat oddly, Hopkins’ recollections of that fateful, life-altering encounter were not on the tip of his always-wagging tongue.

“You know, I really haven’t thought about that fight in a long time,” he said. “Not even for one second.”

Perhaps, if you’re the veteran of 28 world title bouts, including 21 during his 10-year reign as a middleweight champion, it’s easy to tuck one such fight into the dustier recesses of memory. Or it just might be that Hopkins has sharper, more vivid recollections of his first two title scrums, which came up short. It nagged him that he had to wait 17 years to get a rematch with Roy Jones Jr., who won a unanimous decision for the vacant IBF middleweight crown on May 22, 1993. That festering wound was finally cleansed when Hopkins outpointed Jones on all the judges’ scorecards in a non-title, light heavyweight matchup on April 3, 2010.

And it is the first scrap with Mercado, a descendant of African slaves, that Hopkins is forever apt to recall, and none too fondly. Again fighting for the vacant IBF middleweight championship, Jones having moved up to super middleweight, Hopkins seemingly was being dealt from a stacked deck, although he was ranked No. 1 by the IBF to No. 2 for Mercado. Not only was he going up against an Ecuadorean in his home country, but the lead promoter for the fight was Don King, who had Mercado, a Quito resident who presumably was accustomed to that city’s thin air at an elevation of 9,252 feet. Hopkins, on the other hand, was brought in just two days before the bout (as he remembers it today) or four days before (the time line described by the Showtime broadcast crew). In either case, that was hardly enough time for Hopkins’ body to adjust to the stark change in altitude.

“Oh, man, that whole trip was something else,” Hopkins said. “There was a war or something going on between Ecuador and Peru. Everywhere you went, there were a lot of soldiers carrying submachine guns.

“After we arrived, I ran into (future WBA super middleweight champion) Frankie Liles and he said, `You just coming in?’ This was Thursday, two days before my fight with Mercado. I said yeah. He told me he and some of the other fighters from America had been there for, like, two weeks, to get adjusted to the altitude.

“I didn’t have nearly enough time to make that adjustment. Let me tell you, it does make a difference. The next day, I went out to run and got lightheaded. I could hardly breathe. Then I went to the gym that had been assigned for me and there was dog and chicken s— all over the place. I turned around and said, `Man, they want me to work out here? You have got to be kidding.’

“Butch Lewis (Hopkins’ promoter at the time) found some local guy, a tour guide or something, and gave him a few dollars to find us a better place. He sent us to a gym even further up the mountain! We’re being driven up there on these winding roads, with no guard rails. I’m looking out the window and you can see over the cliff. Make a bad turn, you drop all the way down and it’d have been all over. I got to the gym alive, shook out a few things, and that was it. I wasn’t about to go back up there again.”

So why did Hopkins arrive in Quito with so little time for get acclimated? He said he has “documentation” that Lewis, from whom he later split, had been given $100,000 by King to delay his departure for Ecuador and thus further enhance Mercado’s chances to become the first professional boxer from his country to win a world championship.

“I keep stuff,” Hopkins said. “They call me a hoarder, but you never know when you might need something.”

What a gasping Hopkins, who was floored in the fifth and seventh rounds, needed was a second wind. Somehow he found it, dominating the closing rounds as it was Mercado who appeared to tire more down the stretch. When it was all over, the IBF title remained vacant, Hopkins coming out ahead, 114-111, on Al DeVito’s card while Colombia’s Francisco Hernandez had Mercado winning by 116-114. That left matters up to the swing judge, Paul Gibbs, who submitted a scorecard all even at 113-113.

The IBF-mandated rematch took place just 133 days later, at sea level and on American soil. The atmospheric change and a supportive audience must have energized Hopkins, who brutalized Mercado from the opening bell until referee Rudy Battle stepped in to wave a halt to the one-sided proceedings with 1 minute, 10 seconds remaining in the seventh round.

“If he couldn’t beat me in Ecuador, he damn sure wasn’t about to beat me in the States,” Hopkins said. “I think Don King knew that. It was my fight to lose at that point, and I wasn’t about to let that happen.”

As for Mercado, the thrashing he received in Landover – Hopkins still was “The Executioner” then, 20 of his 27 victories coming inside the distance, including 12 in the first round – ruined him. He was 1-7-1 thereafter until his retirement in 2003, with six of the losses by knockout.

I asked Hopkins what might have happened had Mercado gotten the nod in their first fight, or if he had fought a Mexican for a WBC belt in Mexico or Las Vegas instead of an Ecuadorean for an IBF belt in Ecuador. Boxing politics being what they are, it is not unreasonable to presume that he would have had to wait longer, perhaps even a great deal longer, to get another shot at a world championship. Maybe he would never have gotten that opportunity to become what he became.

“That makes a lot of sense, based on history,” he said. “It’s happened before, plenty of times. It does give you something to think about. It probably would have put me on a different path. But there’s no sense in wondering about what might have happened. My thing is to look ahead more than to look back, whether I ever throw another punch or not.”

As champion, Hopkins reinvented himself. With an eye toward the longevity he was to achieve, he honed the hit-and-don’t-get-hit style that has enabled him to remain at or near the top longer than any elite fighter, and that includes Archie Moore and George Foreman. He makes no apologies for the makeover that some have labeled as exciting as watching paint dry.

“Yeah, I heard how I was boring, how I was a technician,” Hopkins said. “Some of it hurt. Fighters believe that the only way to be a superstar is to be `TV-friendly’ or `fan-friendly.’ If you’re hitting and not getting hit back much, you’re perceived as not being marketable. But I came to realize I had great defense and great reflexes. I could make a guy miss and make him pay. The thing is, you can do all that and still look pretty good doing it, and against real fighters.

“Why should you take punches to prove you can take a punch? That’s ridiculous. It’s worse than ridiculous. It’s stupid.”

So the onetime “Executioner,” more recently re-labeled as “The Alien,” is morphing into “The Elocutioner.” His diction might not be velvety smooth or his grammar always perfect, but he doesn’t slur his words or demonstrate any signs of a damaged brain. Those are the foremost prerequisites for someone who is eager to continue making a good living by talking. Hopkins’ late mother, Shirley, once thought her son’s chattiness might lead him to become a preacher or a politician, and B-Hop said his first dream was to become a disc jockey on the radio.

He found boxing instead.

“I’m in a good place,” Hopkins continued. “My money’s fine, my family’s fine. People say,`Why don’t you just rest? Take it easy?’ I can’t. I won’t. To me, everything is a competition. It shouldn’t be, but it is. That’s just the way I am.”


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Tanaka vs. Kimora: A Monday Morning Treat For Serious Fight Fans



Kosei Tanaka was just 4-0 the first time he was appraised on The Sweet Science back in 2015; the question then was, is Tanaka the world’s brightest boxing prospect? The question now is whether or not Tanaka is about to add a strap at a third weight to an already glittering career that has seen him annex belts at 105 and 108lbs in just his first eight fights.

Now 11-0 with seven knockouts he prepares, this coming Monday, to duel Sho Kimura in Nagoya, Japan and with a lot more than just the WBO trinket on the line.

Hearts and minds, as always, translate into dollars and yen. The winner of this all-Japanese contest will find himself buoyed in fame, glory and gold in his home country, which also happens to be one of the few places on the planet where a boxer can collect a small fortune without ever leaving his native shores. Should the winner dare to dream a wider dream, then that too can be facilitated by the win.  Even fistic denizens of boxing strongholds in Japan and Britain feel a shiver run down their spines when the words “Las Vegas headliner” are whispered into their ear.

The favored man among the hardcore in the west is Tanaka. He is still very young at just twenty-three years old and is slick and quick, what the west expects of a Japanese force. Interestingly enough, however, the Japanese seem to be leaning towards Kimura: older, at twenty-nine, armed with a superb work-rate, good power, limited technique but the conqueror of Chinese superstar Shiming Zou who he stopped in the summer of 2017. Zou may have had his bubble burst by the Thai brawler Amnat Ruenroeng in 2015, but it was Kimura who sent him stumbling into retirement and at a time when the talk was of China stealing Japan’s thunder as boxing’s home in the east.

Kimura was indeed impressive that night in Shanghai. He maintained pressure with wonderful variety, eschewing the jab, perhaps, for spells, but filling those gaps with an assortment of wonderful punches, most of all his body attack, which was persistent, withering, and apparently went unscored by two of the three judges who somehow had the Chinese ahead at the time of the eleventh round stoppage. Zou had shown a skill for flurrying while fleeing and Kimura had shown him how to fight.

Now a strapholder at 112lbs, Kimura staged two defenses in the following twelve months. The first was against Toshiyuki Igarashi, the man who beat Sonny Boy Jaro, the man who had beaten the superb champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam before a softer fight against Froilan Saludar. He won both by stoppage.

Kimura, then, rather came from nowhere but made the most of his arrival. What he displayed in all three of these fights was a determination to offer pressure and footwork educated enough to do it while taking many fewer steps than his harried opponent. A tad overrated as a puncher, I suspect, he places himself in hitting position often enough that his default fight plan – chase, harass, throw – makes him capable of hurting his opponents by way of persistence and pressure.

He left Zou, Igarashi and Saludar, broken in his wake.

In short, he is the type of opponent Kosei Tanaka has been waiting for.

There have been calls for Tanaka to be considered a pound-for-pound talent should he overcome Kimura this Monday. I understand the impulse. Tanaka, were he to triumph, would become a three-weight world champion and he hails from a boxing territory which has little direct control over the meaningful pound-for-pound lists, if such a statement is not a contradiction in terms.

In short, it is felt he would be undervalued.

Tempering these calls is the fact that he has never beaten a divisional number one and that Kimura would be, by far, the best opponent he would have bested, and the most proven. Some Tanaka opponents have come good after he defeated them, some were ranked in the lower reaches of their respective divisional top tens when he matched them, but none are scalps as impressive as those dangled by the likes of Errol Spence or Anthony Joshua, who populate the nine, ten and eleven spots in reputable lists.

But this is neither here nor there; the key is not what Kimura does not represent, it is what he does represent. He is the best that Tanaka has met and, I would argue, the first truly elite fighter that Tanaka has met. He is the litmus test and he is one with a stylistic advantage.

Tanaka can punch. Here we will find out whether or not he punches hard enough to keep Kimura off him. Personally, I doubt it and that means that Kimura is going to hand him a serious gut check.

Interestingly, it will not be Tanaka’s first. The first time I wrote about him I stressed that his chin was essentially untested. That is no longer true. Tanaka, who is reasonably sound defensively, can be lazy in minding himself and foolish in pursuing the attack.

Thai puncher Rangsan Chayanram checked him in 2017, delivering a serious eye injury among other ignominies before succumbing in nine; puncher Angel Acosta, a ranked fighter if not a great one, hit and hurt Tanaka repeatedly late in their 2017 contest. If Tanaka has been learning these lessons, expectations concerning his potential may be realized. If he is not, he will fall short. Kimura is the man to test him.

Kimura’s experience and seemingly limitless twelve-round stamina are to be pitted against Tanaka’s skill, proven heart and taut footwork. It sees a superior technician – Tanaka – who has shown a propensity for being drawn into a cruder fighter’s wheelhouse matching an aggressive stalker – Kimura – who specializes in drawing technically superior foes into knockdown-drag-out scraps.

It is framed both as a fight that is likely to finish a future pound-for-pounder’s education and a fight where a young pretender is found out by a grizzled veteran.

Best of all, it is a fight that fight fans can watch for free, simply by clicking here.  The Asian Boxing website has secured exclusive international rights to the fight and will broadcasting it, free of charge, to anyone with an internet connection. As can be seen here, the fight is due to start at 4pm Japanese time.

All the reader has to do is find out what that means for timing in their own corner of the globe and a potential fight of the year will unfold before his or her eyes free of charge.

World class boxing being broadcast for free and including two of the best below 115lbs; a stylistic crossroads contest that opens up the on-ramp to pound-for-pound recognition for at least one of the combatants – on a Monday.  All facts worth keeping in mind the next time that someone tells you boxing’s prime was any number of decades ago.

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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th



UK sporting

It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.



Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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