Hopkins says he's 'making a statement' with hire
Taking a page out of the book of rival Roy Jones Jr., former undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins is turning to famed fitness guru Mackie Shilstone to prepare him for his move up in weight to face light heavyweight world champion Antonio Tarver.
Hopkins, 41, who plans to retire after the June 10 fight with Tarver in Atlantic City, N.J., (HBO pay-per-view) met with Shilstone in New Orleans earlier this month and hired him to oversee his rise from 160 pounds to 175, Hopkins told ESPN.com.
"I am making a statement by hiring someone like Mackie. People think I can't pull it [the win] off, but this is something that should show Tarver that he shouldn't sleep on Bernard Hopkins."
In addition, Hopkins has added trainer John David Jackson, a former world champion whom Hopkins once knocked out in a title defense, to his corner as an assistant.
"I'm lining up my troops to go to battle with," Hopkins said. "Tarver is the man at light heavyweight. He has the credibility of the fans and media, and that's what counts. That's why I am taking this risk, but I am taking it by preparing myself with good people."
Shilstone has worked with thousands of athletes, including several boxers, to map out fitness and nutrition programs. He was instrumental in helping two fighters move up in weight to pull off upsets.
Shilstone oversaw Michael Spinks' transformation from light-heavyweight champion to heavyweight champion when he upset Larry Holmes in 1985.
In 2003, light heavyweight champ Jones turned to Shilstone, who helped him become the first former middleweight champion to win a heavyweight title in more than 100 years by beating John Ruiz.
Hopkins (46-4-1, 1 NC, 32 KOs), who has fought all but the first of his 52 professional fights as a middleweight, wants to follow in their footsteps.
"I am going in there to win this fight," Hopkins said. "I don't think people are taking me seriously. I'm gonna surprise a lot of people. This guy helped two people make history."
"What is so unique for me is the opportunity to take a middleweight and move him up to light heavyweight as a 41-year-old man in the last fight of his career," Shilstone told ESPN.com from his base in New Orleans. "When a man wants to leave a mark on society, I don't have to guess if he is going to train hard. He's taking on a bigger, younger man who is on top of the mountain. This is the ultimate challenge in sports. It makes winning the Super Bowl look like child's play."
In addition to his work with Spinks and Jones, Shilstone also was a key member of Riddick Bowe's camp when Bowe got into the best condition of his career and upset Evander Holyfield to win the heavyweight championship in 1992.
During that training camp, Shilstone met Bowe's publicist, Kelly Swanson. She has worked with Hopkins for the past several years and put Hopkins and Shilstone in touch.
"I didn't know Mackie, but thank God I've got a great publicist who knew him from the Bowe days," Hopkins said. "His track record speaks for itself. The work he did with fighters like Michael Spinks and Roy Jones and Riddick Bowe helped them win. If anyone could get Bowe in shape, that's credibility."
"Bernard wanted me to work with him because I had experience with Spinks and Jones," Shilstone said. "I have experience with guys moving up in weight. Tarver is an excellent champion and will be a formidable opponent, but I am at my best when I face obstacles. Bernard, at his age, is a decided underdog. This being his last fight, it would be something we would all remember, so I will do everything in my power to help him to achieve his goal.
"He made a commitment to come to New Orleans, to a city devastated by Hurricane Katrina. But he is coming here. He came for a tour a few weeks ago and to meet with me. I said I would like for him to work with me here, and he agreed. You can't ask for more than that."
Hopkins will train in Philadelphia until the end of April, then head to New Orleans for the final five weeks of training camp. Accompanying him will be head trainer Nazim Richardson and Jackson, a southpaw who was a former middleweight and junior middleweight champion.
Hopkins said he is bringing Jackson in "to be the second eyes and ears and for that southpaw experience. He's going to help me out all around the board."
In the early 1990s, Hopkins sparred countless rounds with Jackson in some legendary Philadelphia gym wars.
Hopkins said Jackson used to "whup my ass in the gyms in North Philly when I first started in this game." He has never forgotten those lessons, which helped him do quite well against left-handers. Among the wins Hopkins has racked up against southpaws: Robert Allen, Joe Lipsey, Syd Vanderpool, Carl Daniels, Keith Holmes and Jackson. Tarver (24-3, 18 KOs) is also a southpaw.
Hopkins said he and Jackson always got along, and when Hopkins was in Las Vegas last month, he and Jackson got to talking.
Jackson was training Shane Mosley for his fight with Fernando Vargas, a bout Hopkins was involved in as a partner in Golden Boy Promotions.
"John said he was there for me and that he could tell me a lot about Tarver," Hopkins said. "I said, 'Are you serious?' He said he would even get in the ring with me and spar some if I wanted. He said he could still go 15 rounds. He was one of my defenses and he could have had an attitude about it, but he respects my longevity in the game. He understands because we trained so hard in the gym together all those years."
Hopkins said the additions to his camp should put to rest the perception by some that he is taking the Tarver fight only to get one more big payday before he retires.
"The thing that most people don't understand is that I don't believe I lost the last two fights, which is why I am coming in a confident fighter," Hopkins said, referring to his pair of close losses by decision to Jermain Taylor last year. "Tarver says I am fighting him for one more payday, but what Tarver don't realize is that I could have picked anyone to fight and still gone out making millions of dollars. But I chose to fight Antonio Tarver because, like I have said many times, I want to do what my boxing idol, Sugar Ray Robinson, couldn't do, and that's win the light heavyweight championship."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.