- Brian Doogan
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The last time a British boxer jumped 7 pounds to encounter an American in Las Vegas, the disparity in class was blatant.
But Bernard Hopkins is no Floyd Mayweather, and Ricky Hatton is no Joe Calzaghe.
The Battle of the Planet between Hopkins and Calzaghe, the latest in a long line of Anglo-American hostilities in the boxing ring, will feature a 43-year-old veteran, slightly diminished but formidable still, against a 36-year-old southpaw, whose unbeaten record stretching back 18 years has been forged on instinctive skills and adaptability.
Hopkins is well-known to American boxing observers, Calzaghe a little less so -- which, in the United States at least, has resulted in the elevation of Hopkins to legendary status, while the Briton remains on a somewhat lower plateau.
Hopkins is quick to point this out.
"When I fight Joe Calzaghe, I'm fighting a champion," Hopkins said. "When Joe Calzaghe fights Bernard Hopkins, he's fighting a legend."
Like Hatton, Calzaghe has chosen to cross the Atlantic to demonstrate his worth. Ultimately, Hatton (the Hitman from Manchester, England) betrayed a lack of cool and tools for the job of displacing Mayweather, the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world.
Calzaghe has more in the way of mind-set and method to topple Hopkins, who is several years removed from a brief period in which he was considered by some to be the pound-for-pound king.
From a distance, anyone can express an opinion. Anyone who has been around Calzaghe this week, however, is to have been assured of his physical and mental readiness.
"Looking at him and listening to him, it's been quite affecting," said Paul Hayward of the London Daily Mail. "His father Enzo's relaxed attitude is another very persuasive factor."
The confidence shared by the Calzaghes is mirrored in the consensus reached by the media in Britain where Hopkins is identified more as an aging 43-year-old fighter than the fearsome "Executioner," as his nickname implies.
"Listen, he's a guy who lost twice to a guy [Jermain Taylor] who doesn't want to fight," Calzaghe said at his villa in a quiet suburb of Las Vegas. "Some of the stuff that Hopkins has come out and said is laughable."
"We did a face-off at each stop on a press tour [of London, New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas] several weeks back and he'd be saying things like, 'Say goodbye to your babies Are you ready to die?' I just looked at him, smiled and said, 'Do you actually believe what you're saying?' He's a phoney. He says all this to his opponents and then he gets in the ring and he runs."
Hopkins has done enough fighting, too, to defeat Antonio Tarver and Winky Wright in his last two fights, but Calzaghe remains unmoved.
Tarver, he suggested, was stale and rendered impotent by the significant amount of weight he had to shift after his co-starring role in Rocky Balboa while Wright, as far as Calzaghe is concerned, was no more than a junior middleweight "with a paunch".
The fight against Wright is the only one of Hopkins' that Calzaghe has watched in the build-up. This is customary in his preparation and, just because his opponent now is Hopkins, he sees no reason to change.
While Hatton, Calzaghe maintained, became susceptible to Mayweather's mind games in the build-up to their Dec. 8 clash, the world super middleweight champion is not bothered by Hopkins' reputation or his efforts to unnerve him.
"He uses the old [Felix] Trinidad example of father and son and how he had to be stopped by his dad and it's nonsense," said Calzaghe. "You can't compare me to Trinidad. There's a father-son relationship and that's it You're talking about a welterweight/junior middleweight who got exposed by Winky Wright and destroyed by Roy Jones and there's just no comparison. Some of his stuff is just ridiculous."
Ironically, Calzaghe and Hopkins will be refereed by Joe Cortez, who was also the third man in the ring for Mayweather-Hatton. But, whereas Hatton had legitimate reasons to lament the way that Cortez handled his bout, Calzaghe feels reassured by Cortez's appointment, pointing out that the Las Vegas referee was the man in charge of his WBO title-winning effort against Chris Eubank 11 years ago.
It could be a lucky omen," Calzaghe said.
On the other hand, Hopkins has objected three times to Cortez refereeing his fights and he succeeded in having him replaced before his victory over Trinidad in 2001.
"As Hatton learned, Cortez is a disciplinarian and unlikely to tolerate the 43-year- old Hopkins' more desperate age-evading tactics," said Hayward.
The national anthems will be sung again and Calzaghe is hopeful that the disgraceful scenes when British fans booed the Star Spangled Banner ahead of Mayweather-Hatton will not be repeated. But he is happy that Tom Jones, a legend in the Welsh valleys, will be adding his considerable weight to the occasion.
Finally, the extra weight which worked against Hatton when he stepped up from light welterweight to challenge Mayweather, the world welterweight champion, is likely to have a positive effect on Calzaghe, for he has long struggled to get down to the super middleweight limit.
"When a junior welterweight goes up to welterweight, the seven-pound difference puts you in with a different size of man," said former world featherweight champion Barry McGuigan, now a perceptive TV analyst for ITV in Britain. "But that's not the case at super middle and light heavyweight, where the disparity is not as marked.
"Most super middles walk around at light heavy anyway. If you look at the first big defeat Hopkins suffered against Roy Jones, it was hand speed that did him. What is Joe's great asset? Hand speed. That'll be the difference again."
If so, that will be the difference between Hopkins-Calzaghe and events in the Planet Hollywood ring.
Brian Doogan covers boxing for The Sunday Times and Ring magazine.
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