Commentary

Turf war: Boardwalk brawlers fight for the right to call A.C. home

Atlantic City used to belong to Bernard Hopkins -- until Kelly Pavlik and crew took up shop in Boardwalk Hall for three consecutive fights. Who will the crowd stand by on Saturday?

Originally Published: October 17, 2008
By George Willis | Special to ESPN.com

Bernard Hopkins plans to be a Ghostbuster when he faces unbeaten Kelly "The Ghost" Pavlik Saturday.

Pavlik's task? To be The Executioner's executioner.

Here are five things to look for in their pay-per-view bout at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

1. Age before beauty -- or vice versa

Kelly Pavlik, 26, is the young, dynamic personality with a wholesome background the boxing industry would love to see develop into a crossover superstar. A profile in a recent issue of ESPN the Magazine was the latest means to make the Ghost more visible. With current stars like Oscar De La Hoya, Joe Calzaghe, Shane Mosley and Bernard Hopkins nearing the end of their careers (we think), Pavlik is a popular heir apparent. It puts Hopkins, 43, in the odd position of being "an opponent."

Though well-paid, Hopkins is being used as a stepping stone to enhance Pavlik's record and reputation. A victory over The Executioner doesn't earn Pavlik a title, but a decisive win gives him the kind of street cred money can't buy.

"I think I could definitely go in there and win this fight convincingly by stoppage or just a unanimous decision that's going to be a huge, huge victory for me," the Youngstown, Ohio, native said.

Hopkins' motives for taking the fight are purely financial for what he calls "back pay." Hopkins, who didn't start to make seven-figure purses until late in his career, wants to keep cashing in as long as he can. You can't blame him, but Hopkins has always fought for his legacy (setting the record for defenses of his middleweight title) and history (winning the middleweight and light heavyweight titles).

If his only motivation is money, it might not be enough to hold off a young lion like Pavlik.

2. Catch me if you can

Unstoppable
TV lineup
The schedule for the Top Rank-Golden Boy Promotions card Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET) from Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.:

• Light heavyweights: Kelly Pavlik (34-0, 30 KOs) vs. Bernard Hopkins (48-5-1, 32 KOs), 12 rounds

• Featherweights: Steven Luevano (35-1-1, 15 KOs) vs. Billy Dib (21-0, 11 KOs), 12 rounds, for Luevano's title

• Middleweights: Marco Antonio Rubio (42-4-1, 37 KOs) vs. Enrique Ornelas (28-4, 18 KOs), 12 rounds, title eliminator

• Middleweights: Daniel Jacobs (10-0, 9 KOs) vs. Tyrone Watson (7-1, 3 KOs), 6 rounds

You don't have to guess what kind of strategy Pavlik (34-0, 30 KOs) will use because it never changes. He likes to overpower his opponents with a relentless barrage of jabs and hard right hands. Escaping Pavlik is like escaping humidity on a steaming day in August: Try to take a breather in a corner and you wind up asleep the way Jermain Taylor did in their first fight.

Being able to withstand Pavlik's persistent pressure for 12 grueling rounds is a lot to ask for the 43-year-old legs that will have to keep Hopkins moving.

"He's got great defense, but eventually his defense will lapse a couple of times so we can take advantage of that," Pavlik said. "Then it's definitely not out of the question an early round stoppage or a quick knockout or anything could happen."

Hopkins (48-5-1, 32 KOs) isn't saying how he plans to counter Pavlik's pressure, but insists Pavlik's style plays into Hopkins' own strengths.

"Kelly Pavlik is the perfect opponent for me because he comes forward, he comes to fight and he wants to knock Bernard Hopkins out," Hopkins said. "If Kelly Pavlik thinks he's going to beat Bernard Hopkins because he has a right hand, he's a damn fool."

Hopkins figures to keep a close eye on Pavlik's right hand, tying him up whenever it's a real threat and trying to counter punch whenever given an opportunity. Pavlik's patience will be tested for the first time in his career.

3. Is Freddie right?

Freddie Roach trained Hopkins for his loss by split decision to Calzaghe in April and didn't like what he saw during that bout. Roach said he asked Hopkins to retire after that fight. "Four times in that fight he walked to the wrong corner after the end of the round," Roach said. He did concede that television cameras caught Hopkins going to wrong corner only once, but insists there were three other instances in which Hopkins appeared disoriented.

Maybe Hopkins is entitled to a few senior moments during a fight. Maybe he doesn't need to be fighting anymore. Hopkins says he can only recall going to wrong corner once during the Calzaghe fight, "but that happens in boxing," he said. Nevertheless, Roach's comments shouldn't be taken lightly. Not only is he a respected trainer, but he also suffers from Parkinson's disease due to injuries sustained during a boxing career that should have ended before it did.

4. Movin' on up

Fight Credential

Pavlik vs. Hopkins
For all the stories, podcasts, videos and news on Kelly Pavlik's showdown with Bernard Hopkins in Atlantic city, visit the Fight Credential.
Unable to land a fight with a credible middleweight, Pavlik had to move up from 160 to fight Hopkins at a catch-weight of 170 pounds. It should make Pavlik a more devastating puncher. At 6-foot-2½ with a 75-inch reach, he easily has the frame to carry the weight. He already has talked of ending his career as a heavyweight. When smaller fighters move up in weight, they often don't carry their punch with them. That likely won't apply to Pavlik, who might enter the ring stronger, given the fact he doesn't have to starve himself to make weight.

"My natural body weight is a little bit above 170," Pavlik said. "With being able to eat more and keeping my body energized and refreshed, I'll definitely have more snap on my punches."

Pavlik's size should also make it difficult for Hopkins to turn the fight into a wrestling match. "He's never really fought a guy of my size and strength on the inside," Pavlik said. "The only big guy he fought was [Antonio] Tarver, but Tarver wasn't on top of his game during that fight. It's going to be a little harder for him to try to roughhouse on the inside and get away with dirty tactics."

5. Who's got the home-ring advantage?

It was 20 years ago -- Oct. 11, 1988, to be exact -- when Hopkins, fresh out of Graterford State Penitentiary, made his professional debut by losing a four-round decision to Clinton Mitchell at Resorts International in Atlantic City. It was the first of 14 fights Hopkins would have in Atlantic City over the next two decades, drawing fans from his beloved Philadelphia. But Pavlik has quickly turned Boardwalk Hall into his home-away-from-home as the entire city of Youngstown (or so it seems) made the seven-hour drive and packed the place for his middleweight title fight against Taylor in September 2007 and his successful title defense against Gary Lockett in June.

It might be a bit unnerving for Hopkins to have the majority of the crowd against him in a building in which the crowd has long supported him. "I just feel comfortable that both fighters are fighting close to where they live," Hopkins said. "I like the opportunity to show my fans that Bernard Hopkins is ready and willing and able to show my greatness."

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