Hopkins is on a Rocky road

Bernard Hopkins wants to close his career by defeating light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver, a star in the next Rocky movie.

Originally Published: February 17, 2006
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Bernard Hopkins, who made a division-record 20 middleweight title defenses, will attempt to close his career by defeating light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver.

Tarver and Hopkins agreed Thursday to terms for a June 10 (HBO PPV) fight in Atlantic City, N.J., after several weeks of sometimes difficult negotiations.

Although an agreement has been reached, the paperwork is not signed yet due to a death in the family of Golden Boy Promotions' executive Richard Schaefer, who was handling the negotiations with Tarver promoter Joe DeGuardia.

"I feel comfortable saying that the fight is on the horizon. I feel comfortable saying the fight is a 'go.' We've agreed to everything," DeGuardia told ESPN.com.

The sides agreed to a 50-50 split of the revenue, even though it took time getting to that point.

"Any time you make a fight with two stars, it's not easy," DeGuardia said. "Both guys have their claim to being treated in a manner that makes it difficult when you have to slice up the pie, but we were able to do it."

Said Hopkins, "We did 50-50. He is the best light heavyweight in the world, so he deserves that. I didn't play no games."

Roy Jones Jr./Antonio Tarver
AP PhotoAfter conquering Jones, Tarver (right) will be Hopkins' final foe.

Hopkins, 41, who turned pro as a light heavyweight before moving down in weight to dominate the middleweight division for a decade, lost two close decisions to Jermain Taylor last year. Hopkins said he is excited about the chance to make history in what he said will be the final fight of his career.

"I'm fighting the best guy at 175 pounds, and that's Tarver," Hopkins told ESPN.com. "Everything is done. It's all been agreed upon. This is my last fight. This is the fight where Bernard Hopkins goes out and tries to do what Sugar Ray Robinson couldn't do, what Sugar Ray Robinson fell one round short of doing. There's a lot at stake. This is the light heavyweight championship of the world. There is nothing else for me after that. This is the ultimate grand finale."

Hopkins, who considers Robinson his boxing idol, is referring to the former middleweight champ's attempt to win the light heavyweight crown in 1952 against Joey Maxim. Robinson was leading on all three scorecards by a wide margin when he was stopped in the 14th and penultimate round of the fight due to heat exhaustion.

After Tarver dominated Roy Jones to win a decision in their rubber match in October, he toyed with moving to heavyweight, an idea that was reinforced in recent months.

Tarver put on weight to play heavyweight champion Mason "The Line" Dixon opposite Sylvester Stallone's Rocky character while filming the sixth movie in the popular series.

Tarver said during the filming that he weighed as much as 218 pounds, which means he'll need to shed 43 to make the 175-pound limit to fight Hopkins.

After Jones won a heavyweight title, he took off a similar amount of weight when he dropped back to light heavyweight to face Tarver in 2003. Jones blamed the weight loss for his sluggish performance in their first fight.

"You won't hear any excuses from Antonio about having to lose the weight like Roy did," DeGuardia said. "Antonio is a professional and he knows what he has to do. He will be on the mark. He's going to have to work to get down but it is not anything that he is unaccustomed to. When we were talking about making this fight I said to him, 'Are you sure you want to work this hard and come down to 175?' and he said he wants the biggest out there and that Hopkins was the biggest one out there."

DeGuardia said that even though Hopkins has lost two in a row, Tarver can't afford to overlook him.

"Bernard has so much experience under his belt that you can't underestimate his abilities and the value of that kind of experience, but I think Antonio is one of the best fighters in the world," DeGuardia said. "That said, Antonio will have to be ready for the fight because Bernard will take a certain amount of emotion into the fight given that it is his last fight. And when you look at the last two fights and Bernard's feeling that he was treated unfairly by the judges against Taylor, I think it will further motivate him."

It looked as though Hopkins would complete his career in a rematch with Jones. The camps had agreed to terms for a March 4 fight. However, when organizers couldn't find a suitable site, the fight date shifted to June. However, Jones walked away from it in a dispute with HBO and the bad feelings over his firing as an HBO boxing analyst.

That left Hopkins (46-4-1, 32 KOs) looking for another big-name opponent for his finale, which led to Tarver (24-3, 18 KOs), the only other fighter besides Jones whom Hopkins was interested in fighting.

"I tried to make the fight with Roy," Hopkins said. "We were able to agree on everything but something happened between him and HBO. I stayed out of it. I just wanted to fight a major guy, and I even said before I fought Taylor that I wanted to fight for the light heavyweight championship, and then I'm gone.

"I started at light heavyweight and I'll finish at light heavyweight after cementing my legacy as a middleweight. It couldn't be more perfect."

Around the ring

Baldomir weighs offers: Welterweight champ Carlos Baldomir, whose biggest purse was the $100,000 he earned in his Jan. 7 upset of Zab Judah, is going to make much, much more than that the next time he fights. Baldomir and promoter Sycuan Ringside Promotions are weighing three significant offers.

Carlos Baldomir
TOM CASINO/ShowtimeBaldomir has been in the sights of several challengers.

One deal on the table is for Baldomir to defend against Arturo Gatti in July, and Main Events has already offered a package worth about $1.4 million plus the TV rights in Baldomir's native Argentina.

The camp of junior welterweight champ Ricky Hatton, who intends to fight in May but has no opponent yet, has made an offer in the $1.5 million neighborhood plus the TV rights in Argentina. Hatton has said in the British media that he is interested in fighting Baldomir.

Another offer being considered is a two-fight deal from Golden Boy Promotions that would start with Baldomir earning $500,000 on the May 6 HBO PPV undercard of Oscar De La Hoya's fight with junior middleweight titlist Ricardo Mayorga. Opponents mentioned early in the discussions were Antonio Diaz, Ishe Smith, Craig Weber and Larry Mosley, but all were ruled out for one reason or another -- either they were unavailable or unacceptable by one of the sides.

The second fight of the Golden Boy proposal would call for Baldomir to fight in the fall with one scenario being a $2 million minimum to fight De La Hoya if he and Baldomir each win May 6. However, if De La Hoya opts not to fight Baldomir, Golden Boy Promotions would still guarantee $1.5 million for Baldomir to face another name opponent, possibly Shane Mosley if he defeats Fernando Vargas next week.

Showtime for Brewster: Showtime and promoter Don King were finalizing plans Friday for Lamon Brewster (33-2, 29 KOs) to defend his heavyweight title against Sergei Liakhovich (22-1, 14 KOs) on April 1. Sites being discussed include Detroit and the Mohegan Sun resort in Connecticut.

The date became available after heavyweight David Tua backed out of a fight with Shannon Briggs that was supposed be on the one-fight telecast during Showtime's free preview weekend.

Liakhovich, who will earn the modest purse of $170,000, has already signed for the fight. King was trying to complete his deal with Brewster.

"We signed our contract. The rest is in Lamon Brewster's hands," said Ivalyo Gotzev, Liakhovich's manager. "We signed our part to fight Lamon on April 1. Now we just hope Lamon finishes his deal with Don King. I have heard they agreed and Don called me, but we missed each other. We're optimistic the fight is on."

Liakhovich hasn't fought since pounding out a 10-round decision against Dominick Guinn in December 2004. The long stretch of inactivity is in part because fights that were offered didn't materialize plus Liakhovich suffered some minor injuries.

"It's a dream come true for Sergei," Gotzev said of a Brewster fight. "Sergei will come with everything he has. He is ready to go. It would be a wonderful opportunity and a tremendous fight."

Brewster is coming off a Sept. 28 ninth-round TKO of mandatory challenger Luan Krasniqi in Germany, a fight in which Brewster was trailing on the scorecards at the time of the knockout.

Showtime went with the Brewster-Liakhovich fight over others that were offered, including lightweight titlist Juan Diaz vs. Joel Casamayor or a rematch between Casamayor and Nate Campbell.

Quartey-Forrest in Big Apple: Former welterweight champs Ike Quartey and Vernon Forrest, who meet April 15 on HBO in a junior middleweight fight, will face each other at the 5,000-seat Madison Square Garden Theater in New York, promoter Lou DiBella told ESPN.com.

Forrest will be returning to the scene of his greatest triumph -- his 2002 decision victory against Mosley to win the welterweight championship.

Vernon Forrest
APForrest will be returning to the site of his greatest triumph.

The fight, however, won't be officially announced until after March 3, when Forrest faces Raul Munoz in a tune-up fight (Fox Sports Net).

"I think it's a great Theater show," DiBella said. "We're going to do really good business. To get a fight like Quartey-Forrest in the Theater is terrific. And it's an important fight. It's all or nothing. Someone rises to a huge fight by winning and the other guy is in nowheresville. Both of these guys have a tremendous amount at stake."

DiBella said the co-feature, which won't be part of HBO's telecast, will be a bantamweight title eliminator between South African star Silence Mabuza against Ricardo "Chapo" Vargas, a fight DiBella won at a recent purse bid. The winner will earn a shot at champion Rafael Marquez, who has already defeated both men.

DiBella said he also plans to add hot welterweight prospect Andre Berto, a 2004 Olympian for Haiti, and New York super middleweight prospect Curtis Stevens to the card.

Cotto-Malignaggi? As long as junior welterweight titlist Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico defeats Gianluca Branco of Italy on March 4 and comes out of the fight healthy, he'll be back in action June 10 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Promoter Top Rank has already put down a $150,000 nonrefundable deposit to secure the building for that date, which is during the weekend of the Puerto Rican Day parade.

Top Rank had success promoting Cotto's fight with Mohamad Abdulaev on that weekend last year and hopes to make it a regular date for Cotto.

However, the TV situation for this fight is unsettled. Although Cotto (25-0, 21 KOs) has been fighting on HBO, June 10 is taken by the Tarver-Hopkins light heavyweight title fight on HBO PPV. So Top Rank is talking with Showtime about doing the fight or it might go on pay-per-view against Tarver-Hopkins and load up the undercard.

Whatever television outlet airs Cotto, Top Rank will need to find an opponent for him that will create a buzz and sell tickets.

Cotto
Cotto

That's where Brooklyn's Paulie Malignaggi (21-0, 5 KOs) comes in. The "Magic Man" looked outstanding in easily outpointing Donald Camarena on "Friday Night Fights" last week, which immediately led to talk between Top Rank and Malignaggi promoter DiBella about the fight.

Malignaggi, a flashy boxer with a brash attitude, wants the fight.

"I pretty much view Cotto falling into my strengths," said Malignaggi, who called ESPN.com to campaign for the fight. "Cotto has probably the slowest hands of any champion in boxing right now, which falls into my strength of being the fastest fighter besides Floyd Mayweather. And I don't care how hard Cotto punches because you have to hit me with a clean shot and my defense is so good no one hits me with a clean shot."

Malignaggi said since he just fought last week, the timing of a June 10 bout is perfect.

"I'm not trying to downplay Cotto," Malignaggi said. "He will be my test, but I am ready for the challenge. I'm on the level of a Cotto or a Hatton and I will prove I belong up there."

Malignaggi said given the fact that he is an Italian from New York and that Cotto is Puerto Rican that a matchup would make for a major event in New York.

"The product will sell," he said. "You got the Italians from Brooklyn and all of New York to support me and all of the Puerto Ricans coming out to support Cotto. It's an ethnic rivalry and it will create a buzz. It's a great Garden fight. It's speed vs. power. I want to get where he is, so Miguel Cotto is the hurdle."

Another potential opponent for Cotto, according to Top Rank, is a rematch with Colombian knockout artist Ricardo Torres. He and Cotto waged one of the fights of the year last September.

Torres hurt Cotto several times and dropped him for the first time in his career, but Cotto scored multiple knockdowns of Torres and finished him in the seventh round.

Valuev defense postponed: Heavyweight titlist Nicolay Valuev's slow recovering from knee surgery has caused his April 1 defense against Owen Beck in Germany to be postponed.

Ulli Wegener/Nicolai Valuev
Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty ImagesThe next challenge for Valuev (right) is to get healthy.

The fight was to have been Valuev's first defense since outpointing John Ruiz in December on a controversial decision to win a title.

According to Heiko Mallwitz, spokesman for promoter Sauerland Events, Valuev -- the 7-foot, 330-pound Russian -- had surgery in early February to repair the meniscus in his right knee. Mallwitz said Valuev's recovery was slower than expected, so the target date for Valuev's first defense has been pushed to May 27.

Garcia-Rivera: While Mayorga is defending his version of the junior middleweight title against De La Hoya in Las Vegas on a major HBO PPV card May 6, across the country in Worchester, Mass., lesser known -- but equally as exciting -- titlist Alejandro "Terra" Garcia will defend his belt against Jose Antonio Rivera, a former welterweight titlist.

Although Garcia (25-1, 24 KOs) is going into Rivera's hometown to defend his title, Worchester has been kind to the visiting fighter recently. When Rivera (37-4-1, 24 KOs) made the initial defense of his welterweight belt last April in Worchester, Luis Collazo won the decision in an action-packed fight.

Showtime plans to televise the Garcia-Rivera as part of a doubleheader, although it's still working out a deal with promoter King for the other fight for the broadcast. Showtime would like to put on a rematch between light heavyweight titlist Tomasz Adamek and Paul Briggs, who waged a sensational, bloody, action fight last May.

Another possibility is for King-promoted mandatory cruiserweight challenger Steve Cunningham to face undisputed champ O'Neil Bell.

Leon Margules, executive director of Warriors Boxing, Bell's promoter, said he made King an offer for the fight but has not heard back from him. If they can't reach an agreement, Margules said a purse bid is scheduled for Feb. 21. However, if Showtime agrees to take the fight, Margules and King probably would be able to make a deal.

Collazo ready, willing, able: Collazo (26-1, 12 KOs), the least-known of the top 147 pounders, took a bold step this week in his attempt to try to lure a big name into the ring.

Collazo, of New York, visited King at his Deerfield Beach, Fla., offices and signed six contracts agreeing to face the following fighters: welterweight champ Baldomir, titlist Antonio Margarito, top contenders Mayweather, Mosley, Gatti and junior welterweight titlist Cotto.

"I am serving notice on the other champions and contenders in and around the welterweight division that I am ready and willing to defend my title against anyone," said Collazo, who first has to face Oktay Urkal (36-3, 11). "My signature is on the bottom of six contracts. Now let's see who really wants to fight."

Collazo claimed his version of the title against Rivera on April 2, 2005, and has made one defense, an eighth-round TKO of Miguel Angel Gonzalez on Aug. 13.

In Collazo, King said he has a fighter who just wants to fight the best.

"Collazo means business with this proclamation," King said. "Luis has dropped the gauntlet on the division."

Soliman feels slighted: Although boxing fans are rejoicing that the fight between middleweight champ Taylor and No. 1 contender Winky Wright is finally set for June 17 (HBO) after one of the most soap opera-like negotiations in recent boxing history, middleweight contender Sam Soliman isn't.

Soliman, who lost a narrow decision to Wright in December in a much more competitive fight than most expected, feels as though he has been jerked around for the past several weeks.

Sam Soliman
Ryan Pierse/Getty ImagesSoliman is hopping mad about his situation.

According to Soliman's promoter, Dan Goossen, he twice agreed to a deal with Taylor promoter DiBella for them to fight on April 15.

Then the Taylor-Wright fight was finalized, leaving Soliman out of luck.

"First I give Winky a battle no one thought I could, and a fight that I and the many fans in attendance believed I had won," Soliman said. "Then my promoter tells me a month ago we have the fight [with Taylor] and sometime last weekend informs me we don't have it. Then early last week, I'm told it's back on, only to find out Sunday, it's not. This is very unprofessional of Wright and Taylor."

Nelson injured: Cruiserweight titlist Johnny Nelson (45-12-2, 29 KOs) of England suffered a knee injury in training and has been forced to pull out of a March 4 defense against Enzo Maccarinelli (22-1, 17 KOs) of Wales.

The bout was supposed to be co-feature on the card headlined by the Jeff Lacy-Joe Calzaghe super middleweight unification fight (although Nelson-Maccarinelli was not slated to be part of Showtime's U.S. coverage).

Nelson, who spent part of last weekend in the hospital after damaging knee ligaments, was disappointed about postponing a fight fans in Great Britain were looking forward to.

"I am absolutely gutted. I was really up for this fight and had trained exceptionally hard for it until this injury occurred," Nelson said. "No one is more disappointed than me and I can assure Enzo that he will be my next fight and also my incentive to get back to full fitness."

Said promoter Frank Warren, "This is very disappointing news for everyone concerned. It was a fight boxing fans up and down the country were looking forward to, me included."

Warren said Maccarinelli would still fight on the card and vie for an interim title, perhaps against Italian Vincenzo Cantatore, whom Nelson, 39, defeated on a split decision in his previous fight in November.

Quick hits: Middleweight champ Taylor has a rematch clause in his contract for his June 17 HBO fight against Wright, Taylor promoter DiBella and Wright promoter Gary Shaw both told ESPN.com. In the event Taylor loses, he has the option for an immediate rematch, although the terms flip in favor of Wright. For the June fight, the Taylor side will receive 55 percent of the revenue, Wright's side 45 percent. A potential rematch would increase Wright's share to 55 percent. Wright wasn't obligated to give Taylor the rematch clause because it is a mandatory fight. However, had it gone to a purse bid, Wright would have received 40 percent of the winning bid, so he essentially sold the rematch clause for an additional 5 percentage points.

• Interim flyweight titlist Jorge Arce (43-3-1, 33 KOs) of Mexico will defend against former two-division champ Rosendo Alvarez (37-2-2, 24 KOs) of Nicaragua in the co-feature on the April 8 Mayweather-Judah HBO PPV undercard, according to promoters Top Rank and King. Both fighters have signed for the fight, something of an extension of their in-ring confrontation on Jan. 28. On that night, Arce retained his belt with a sixth-round TKO of Adonis Rivas in their rematch in Cancun, Mexico. Alvarez was at the fight and got into Arce's face in the ring afterward. The two exchanged punches before the scuffle was quickly quelled, setting the stage for their April fight.

• Hatton, the junior welterweight champ from England, will be the in-studio guest on "Friday Night Fights" (ESPN2, 9 ET), which is headlined by welterweight Delvin Rodriguez (17-1-1, 10 KOs) vs. Alexis Division (16-1, 13 KOs). Although Hatton is expected to address his immediate ring future on the show, it remains unsettled. His representatives are negotiating an American TV deal for him and until it is resolved, nothing is set regarding his next fight. The pursuit of Hatton by HBO and Showtime will continue Tuesday when both networks have meetings scheduled with co-promoter Artie Pelullo in the hopes of making a deal.

• The third fight between rivals Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo, slated for June 3 on Showtime, will take place at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, promoter Bob Arum told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. That is the same venue where Castillo knocked out Corrales in the fourth round of their rematch last October. However, Castillo was over the 135-pound weight limit, so Corrales' lightweight championship was not at stake. They were supposed to meet Feb. 4 in El Paso, Texas, but the fight was postponed because Corrales injured his ribs while training three weeks before the bout. Their first encounter, in May 2005, in which Corrales made a remarkable comeback to TKO Castillo in the 10th round of a lightweight unification match, is considered one of the best fights in boxing history.

• Heavyweight Fres Oquendo (25-3, 16 KOs), who lost heavyweight title bouts to Chris Byrd and John Ruiz in his last two fights, was rusty in his return from a 22-month layoff Thursday night, but scored a ninth-round TKO of Brazil's Daniel Bispo (16-3) in New York.

• Heavyweight titlist Hasim Rahman is training in Rochester, N.Y., for his March 18 defense against mandatory challenger James Toney in Atlantic City, N.J. Rahman, who lives in Las Vegas, has opted to leave there for the past couple of fights to get away from the distractions. He trained for the November fight against Vitali Klitschko -- which was ultimately canceled -- in Bend, Ore. For the Toney fight, Rahman manager Steve Nelson said they considered Bend, Great Gorge, N.J., and Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains before opting for Rochester, N.Y., Nelson's hometown.

• Junior featherweight titlist Daniel Ponce De Leon (27-1, 25 KOs) of Mexico, who won his championship in October when he outpointed Thailand's Sod Looknongyangtoy, was presented with his WBO title belt at a luncheon Thursday in Long Beach, Calif. There had been talk that De Leon's first title defense would come March 25 on the untelevised undercard on the Jesus Chavez-Marco Antonio Barrera show, but that is unlikely. Promoter Golden Boy received an offer from Goossen Tutor Promotions for Ponce De Leon to defend against Wayne McCullough in April, although that fight also appears unlikely.

• Representatives for middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham said that after Abraham's first title defense against Shannan Taylor on March 4, they intend to bring the German-based Armenian to the United States for his next bout. They had inquired with HBO about the prospect of being on the undercard of the Taylor-Wright fight in June, but there was no slot available. However, HBO is interested in finding a spot for Abraham (19-0, 17 KOs), who is coming off an impressive fifth-round TKO of Kingsley Ikeke in December, when he won a vacant belt that had been stripped from Taylor. Abraham's other notable win was a unanimous decision against highly regarded Howard Eastman of England.

• Scotland's Alex Arthur, the all-action European, British and Commonwealth junior lightweight champ, defends his titles Saturday night against countryman Ricky Burns. Burns, an auto mechanic in his full-time job, is talking a big game: "Arthur is so flashy at times he thinks he's a Ferrari, but really he's just an old banger. Probably a Ford Escort would describe him best. They might be OK to run around town in, but as soon as it gets on the motorway and enters the fast lane, they can't keep up with the newer cars and the engine will eventually burn out until it stutters to a halt on the hard shoulder. It will be the same in our fight. I won't be looking to knock him out early. I want to take him down the road for as long as possible and then watch him burn himself out as he tries to keep up with the fast pace I'm going to set."

• To get fight fans pumped up for the Feb. 25 HBO PPV fight between former junior middleweight champs Fernando Vargas and Shane Mosley, HBO is digging into the vault to replay a pair of their most notable and action-packed fights. On Saturday night (12:30 a.m. ET/PT), the HBO2 service will replay Vargas' junior middleweight title-retaining decision victory against Ike Quartey from April 15, 2000, and Mosley's welterweight title-winning decision in his first meeting with De La Hoya from June 17, 2000. HBO2 will also replay the fights Feb. 24 (10:45 p.m. ET/PT) and Feb. 25 (3:15 p.m. ET/PT).

• The daughter of Don King was charged with felony drug possession following her arrest last week in which police say they found drug paraphernalia and suspected crack cocaine while searching her car in Orwell, Ohio, the Associated Press reported. Deborah King-Lee, 44, pleaded not guilty Feb. 10. A pretrial hearing is scheduled Wednesday. King-Lee was arrested Feb. 9 after police said they found suspected crack cocaine in a metal tin, a marijuana pipe inside a purse and a crack pipe in a cigarette box on the dashboard.

• Former junior welterweight champ Kostya Tszyu remains undecided about his ring future after losing the title to Hatton last summer, but that hasn't stopped him from exploring other endeavors. Tszyu will follow in Evander Holyfield's footsteps (dance steps?) by appearing on Australia's version of "Dancing with the Stars" on Feb. 21. Tszyu will be one of 10 Australian celebrities coupled with a professional dancer to compete on the show. "So many great things in life revolve around undertaking new challenges and experiences," Tszyu said. "Feb. 21, I move out of my comfort zone."

Quotable: "I'm going to be giving Joe a bunch of Forget Me Knots on March 4. He's going to have Forget Me Knots all over his head, his ribs and both jaws. If he thinks I'm crossing the pond to whisper sweet nothings to him, he is sorely -- and I mean sorely -- mistaken. You can engrave this Valentine message on Joe's WBO belt: 'Be Mine!'" -- super middleweight champ Jeff Lacy, sending a Valentine's Day message this week to fellow champ Joe Calzaghe, whom he meets March 4 (Showtime) in a much-anticipated unification fight in Manchester, England.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.

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