Cortez plans to work; card faces cancellation

Updated: June 3, 2004, 11:48 PM ET
Associated Press

LAS VEGAS -- Bernard Hopkins has spent his career doing things his way, often to the detriment of his bank account.

That didn't change Thursday when Hopkins threatened to pull out of a deal with Oscar De La Hoya worth at least $15 million because he didn't like the choice of referee Joe Cortez for his fight Saturday night against Robert Allen.

I'm adamant about my instincts. I don't want Cortez.
Bernard Hopkins

"I'm adamant about my instincts," Hopkins said. "I don't want Cortez."

Hopkins first said he had booked an afternoon flight home, then said later he was chartering a private jet to take him back to Philadelphia on Thursday night if the referee wasn't changed.

Hopkins ended up staying the night, however, while De La Hoya called Cortez personally to try to get him to step aside. But Nevada regulators said the situation was still at an impasse pending a change of mind by Cortez.

If he followed through with the threat, both the Saturday card featuring Hopkins against Robert Allen and De La Hoya against Felix Sturm and a planned Sept. 18 megafight between De La Hoya and Hopkins would be off.

"He would be making a fatal mistake," promoter Bob Arum said. "That would be the end of his boxing career."

Nevada Athletic Commission executive director Marc Ratner said there would be no emergency meeting of the commission to discuss changing the referee and that no one would ask Cortez to step down.

Ratner, though, didn't rule out Cortez volunteering to do another fight on the card instead.

He would be making a fatal mistake. That would be the end of his boxing career.
Bob Arum, promoter

"That would be entirely up to Joe Cortez," he said.

Reached at his Las Vegas home, Cortez said he couldn't understand why Hopkins didn't want him as the referee. Cortez also said he had no plans to step aside.

"I think if I volunteer to step aside then I'm admitting to what he's saying," said Cortez, who has refereed 163 title fights in a 27-year career and is regarded as one of the top referees in the world.

"My integrity is impeccable. You just can't have people changing officials."

Hopkins, who has been accused by some in boxing as being paranoid about his business dealings, said he didn't know that Cortez was going to be the referee until Thursday. He said he didn't want Cortez because he had twice refused him for fights in the past, and feared Cortez might hold a grudge.

"Evidently there is some history we were unaware of," Ratner said.

De La Hoya suggested that perhaps Hopkins was merely getting nervous about one of the biggest fights of his career.

"Things start happening and you start to feel jumpy," De La Hoya said. "A little jitterbug here? That's good to know."

Hopkins is scheduled to make a minimum of $1.25 million to defend his undisputed middleweight titles against Allen on the same card Saturday night as De La Hoya's fight with Sturm.

If both win, they are scheduled to meet Sept. 18 in a fight that would pay Hopkins a minimum of $10 million, by far the biggest purse of his career.

Only a few hours before Hopkins issued his ultimatum, Arum called him a "promoter's dream" for all the effort he has made to sell the fights. And De La Hoya said he thought Hopkins was bluffing.

"I'm not concerned he'll pull out," De La Hoya said. ``Maybe it's a tactic of his. He's a smart guy."

There were suggestions that Cortez could trade with Tony Weeks, the referee of a lightweight fight between Juan Lazcano and Jose Luis Castillo on the card, but Ratner said that would have to be Cortez's decision.

Cortez was picked last week by the commission, and Ratner said Hopkins' camp was informed then of the choice, though they deny it.

The controversy is reminiscent of a similar incident that happened just before the second fight between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield in 1997. Tyson's handlers complained the week before the fight that they hadn't been told the referee of the first fight, Mitch Halpern, would be the third man in the ring and demanded he be replaced.

Halpern would step down, saying he didn't want to be the cause of the fight not happening. He was replaced by Mills Lane, who won acclaim and international fame for his actions in the infamous "Bite Fight."

Hopkins is the undisputed middleweight champion of the world, a fighter so good that he hasn't lost in 11 years.

But at the age of 39 he's still not a popular draw and has spent much of his career fighting with promoters, managers and anyone else who he believes might be trying to harm him.

Hopkins made less than $300,000 in his last fight against Joppy and had eagerly promoted the two-fight deal with De La Hoya as vindication for the way he ran his career before the controversy over Cortez.

De La Hoya said that if Hopkins pulled out, it would disrupt his own fight schedule for the entire year.

"That would be disastrous for me," De La Hoya said. "I signed a deal with Hopkins because it's him. It's the biggest challenge of my life."

The Sept. 18 middleweight title fight could be the richest non-heavyweight fight ever, and De La Hoya said Hopkins needs to realize that.

"For having that attitude he's missed out on a lot of opportunities," De La Hoya said. "He needs to look at the big picture."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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