Commentary

Hopkins-Calzaghe a fight full of subplots

George Willis fills you in on what to expect when Bernard Hopkins and Joe Calzaghe meet in Las Vegas on Saturday.

Originally Published: April 15, 2008
By George Willis | Special to ESPN.com

Joe CalzagheAP Photo/Simon DawsonIt may be the biggest fight of his career, but Joe Calzaghe, right, didn't change anything in his preparations for Bernard Hopkins.
Is Bernard Hopkins still fighting? Is Joe Calzaghe finally coming to America? And since when is Planet Hollywood a place to watch boxing? When Hopkins and Calzaghe meet on Saturday in Las Vegas, there will be plenty of subplots surrounding their light heavyweight bout.

Here are five of them.

Home-ring advantage

Former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis says Calzaghe fighting in the States for the first time in his 15-year career is an "issue" because the Welshman hasn't boxed outside of Europe before. Calzaghe admits he will be out of his "comfort zone," especially against someone of Hopkins' stature.

"I have to not just go there and win, I have to go there and dominate," Calzaghe said. "And that's a difficult task against somebody like Hopkins."

It was the huge following and reception that Englishman Ricky Hatton received in his fight with Floyd Mayweather last December that made Calzaghe want to fight in Las Vegas and quiet critics who said he was scared to venture from his homeland. "I've always felt like I've got a personality where I'm comfortable with adapting to any situation I'm in," Calzaghe said. "Obviously, I need to prove that."

[+] EnlargeFloyd Mayweather Jr. and  Ricky Hatton
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)Mayweather, right, made sure Hatton's Las Vegas megafight didn't go over too well.

Hatton had issues with referee Joe Cortez, who will be the third man in the ring Saturday, but Calzaghe thinks Cortez will give him a fair shake. "I have the utmost respect for Joe Cortez," Calzaghe said. "Obviously, he's a very stern guy and knows his job. You have to be very clever to get something past him, and he doesn't take any [bull] in the ring. I'm very happy with his appointment."

Not fighting in the States has always been the major omission in Calzaghe's resume. "I just want to make sure I give a good show not just for U.K. fans, but American fans," Calzaghe said. "A lot of American fans like my style, and I can show them I'm an excellent fighter."

Age is only a number

Calzaghe has taken to calling Hopkins "Popkins," in reference to Hopkins being 43 years old. "If I can't beat this old man, I'll retire and I won't show my face in public again," Calzaghe has said.

But Hopkins insists that although his birth certificate might say he is 43, his body is that of someone in his late 20s. He doesn't drink, smoke or eat fast food, and walks around close to his fighting weight even when he's not training. "I don't have no special water in the bottle," Hopkins said. "I just live right, treat my body right. What you do in your 20s and 30s healthwise reflects in your 40s and 50s. I'm a poster boy for that." Father time, however, is an unbeaten foe, and eventually we'll see Hopkins age in the ring if he continues boxing.

Calzaghe, 36, is no youngster, but he beats his opponents by overwhelming them with an endless barrage of punches, round after round. "Although he's in tremendous shape for 43, he's not going to have the same stamina as myself," Calzaghe said. "I think at any age, he'd struggle to keep up with my style."

The best thing Hopkins did was hire fitness guru Mackie Shilstone to get him in peak condition. The two worked together for Hopkins' upset win over Antonio Tarver two years ago. "I'm just trying to make sure he doesn't have a heart attack," Shilstone joked. Don't laugh. Shilstone has won more big fights than Calzaghe, having conditioned Roy Jones, Riddick Bowe and Michael Spinks.

Standing On the Corner

Hopkins has assembled a virtual Dream Team of trainers to prepare for Calzaghe. In addition to Shilstone, John David Jackson is the expert on how to battle southpaws, Nazim Richardson is the spiritual sage of the team, and Freddie Roach is the chief corner man devising the game plan. His team, Hopkins said, only underscores his intentions to win the fight. "I've got a payroll that's pretty hefty with these guys," he said. "I didn't do that to lose."

By contrast, Calzaghe's chief trainer is his father, Enzo, who has guided his entire career. "If it wasn't for my dad I wouldn't be where I am today," Joe Calzaghe said. "He motivated me, took me to the gym, and taught me the basics in my teenage years. I owe it all to him."

His son isn't Enzo's only fighter. He guided cruiserweight Enzo Maccarinelli and junior welterweight Gavin Rees to world titles. But both lost their belts last month, which Hopkins says is an omen.

"It's giving them a hint of what's to come," Hopkins said. "It's not a good year for him. We all go through those clouds." Part of Hopkins' psychological warfare is repeatedly mentioning that he'll force the elder Calzaghe to throw in the towel to save his son from enduring too much punishment. "His father's going to have to save his son because he loves his son," Hopkins said. Calzaghe isn't fazed by such talk, nor is he intimated by the Dream Team in Hopkins' corner. "I can't tell you how confident I am," Calzaghe said. "I'm going to win this fight. I don't have a strategy. I'll just go in there and do my thing. I'll be aggressive and see where we go from there."

Dirty deeds

[+] EnlargeBernard Hopkins and Winky Wright
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesHopkins, left, knows every trick in the book-- and he isn't afraid to refer to them.
It seems the older Hopkins gets, the nastier he gets. Jermain Taylor poured blood from his head in his first fight with the Executioner, and after pushing Winky Wright at their weigh in, Hopkins got even nastier during the fight, using his head to open a deep cut over Wright's eye. Choose your adjective to describe Hopkins -- savvy, crafty or downright dirty -- you figure Calzaghe can expect to get hit with more than just boxing gloves when the two meet. "He can be a bit of a dirty fighter," Calzaghe said. "I've seen him  he ties you up on the inside, [he'll] throw the shoulder in. He's very clever."

Hopkins doesn't apologize for his tactics. To him it's a war, and he often talks about being willing to die in the ring. "My job is to change anything he does," Hopkins said. "Anything he wants to do, my thing is to make him change it. And the only way we're going to do that is to have physical contact."

Calzaghe likes to smother his opponent with punches while firing from all angles. Hopkins has to neutralize that by any means necessary. "I just hope he throws these thousands of punches," Hopkins said. "But after two or three rounds, I doubt if he's going to throw all these punches. But I just hope that he does, because that will leave a lot of great opportunities for Bernard Hopkins to really shine."

Shine implies something pretty. What Hopkins needs is an ugly fight. "I've fought some dirty fighters in my time," Calzaghe said. "I've fought fighters that hit on the break and hit me low and use the shoulder and the head. But I'm not going in there for a wrestling or for an MMA fight. I'm going into a boxing match."

Battle at the Planet

Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino is serving as the host for the fight, its first big venture into professional boxing. While the Thomas and Mack Center will be the site of the fight, Planet Hollywood wants its imprint on the production. The fight is being used to show off a three-year, $214 million renovation project needed to remodel Planet Hollywood from the old Aladdin. Co-owner Robert Earl has said this is the year the new resort and casino will be established, and Hopkins-Calzaghe is a major step toward that goal. A weeklong list of activities is planned, including the movie premiere of "88 Minutes" starring Al Pacino.

If all goes well, it will mean another major player on the Las Vegas boxing scene. More competition is good for any industry. It helps that Golden Boy Promotions is serving as the lead promoter and working in concert with Planet Hollywood. But as with any first-time venture, there's bound to be some kinks in the operation. The worst-case scenario is that Calzaghe isn't viewed as getting get a fair shake against Hopkins, who is a partner with Oscar De La Hoya in Golden Boy Promotions. Still, the biggest benefit Planet Hollywood and the boxers receive is that the fight will be shown on HBO Championship Boxing, sparing fans of having to pay a hefty pay-per-view price. All in all, this fight has the potential to be one of the best of the year or one of the biggest disappointments.

George Willis is the boxing columnist for The New York Post.