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Two hurdles holding up summer fight

4/6/2005

A little more than two weeks ago, undisputed middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins said he and Jermain Taylor had agreed to terms for a summer showdown pitting the all-time great against the rising star.

Hopkins told ESPN.com that he had agreed to the HBO pay-per-view fight and was anxious to face Taylor because he only wanted risky fights as his career winds down. He even went on ESPN2's Friday Night Fights along with studio guest Taylor to begin hyping a July 16 match.

However, "agreed" is not quite the same thing as "signed" and now the fight is in serious jeopardy.

"It doesn't look like it's going to happen," a downtrodden Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy Promotions told ESPN.com on Wednesday night.

"Our greatest desire is to fight Bernard Hopkins and if something can be done to make this happen we would be on board," said Taylor promoter Lou DiBella, admitting the fight is indeed in trouble.

Although financial terms for the July bout were agreed to and there are at least three sites interested in the fight, two key stumbling blocks remain that threaten to destroy one of the year's most anticipated matches.

The first issue centers around the financial terms of a rematch clause, something that champions almost always require in the event that they lose to a non-mandatory challenger.

DiBella and Schaefer initially agreed to a 50-50-split, but Hopkins balked. After tweaking the deal, Schaefer thought he could deliver Hopkins and again agreed to terms with DiBella. Hopkins, however, balked again. Ultimately, Hopkins offered Taylor either 40 percent of the pie or a flat $2 million with no upside if the fight was a hit. That was unacceptable to DiBella and Taylor.

"It appears Hopkins doesn't want the fight because he has backed off their own offers twice," DiBella said. "He is backing off the numbers they are throwing out."

The second problem stems from a lawsuit that former Hopkins promoter Don King has filed against Hopkins and Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, of which Hopkins is a partner. King claims that Hopkins is in breach of their contract and that he has options remaining on future Hopkins fights. Hopkins has refused to indemnify DiBella and HBO against potential claims from King.

"Bernard gives me my marching orders and I have a job to do, which is to go out and try to implement them," Schaefer said. "The ball is sort of in Team Taylor's court. We're going to talk again. I am not a hard-nosed negotiator. When you do big fights it has to be give and take, but I have my clear marching orders. Either it will be accepted or we won't have a fight. Bernard has a very clear idea of what he wants and now it's a matter of can we get it done or not? It's out of my hands."

DiBella, who used to advise Hopkins until a nasty split in late 2001, had a $610,000 libel judgement against Hopkins upheld in federal appeals court this week. He said he thought Hopkins would find a way out of facing Taylor.

"I knew he didn't want the fight," DiBella said. "I knew his 40-year-old body didn't want to take a beating from a 26-year-old future star. If the fight was going to come down I'm happy that at least we were not the impediment."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.