NEW YORK -- After nearly two decades of bitter squabbling, Roy Jones Jr. and Bernard Hopkins still can't share the same table.
Instead, the former champions appeared behind separate podiums Tuesday with placards that had only their own names and likenesses. The stage inside the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square was set up to resemble a debate, with each of the 40-something fighters given time to explain why they believe they'll win their long-awaited April rematch.
"Roy Jones ain't nothing to do with Bernard Hopkins' legacy and career, up to now, because there will be a final chapter, and that's important to me," Hopkins said.
To which Jones simply replied: "He didn't win the first time and he won't win this time."
Yes, it's been 17 years since Jones defeated Hopkins to win a middleweight belt, and they've both built Hall-of-Fame-worthy careers. Jones won eight titles in four divisions and became the first fighter to climb from middleweight champion to heavyweight champion in a century. Hopkins set a record with 20 straight defenses of the middleweight crown and went 12 years without a loss.
Now in the twilight of their careers, two fighters who could never agree on much of anything have agreed to fight, perhaps finally realizing that they need each other.
"This fight is very important to me because it's personal," said Hopkins, who admitted he's watched his 1993 loss to Jones "about a million times."
"A lot of fighters don't have history," Hopkins said. "We've got 17-plus-year history."
For years they talked about a rematch, and it almost happened after Hopkins knocked out Felix Trinidad to become undisputed middleweight champion in 2001. Hopkins remembers visiting Jones in Pensacola, Fla., five or six years ago and waiting in a hotel lobby for hours until they finally met -- but nothing came of it.
Executives from HBO tried to get them to agree to terms, back when a rematch would have been the biggest thing in the sport, but egos and self-interests always intervened. They even wound up arguing over who was to blame for the fight not happening.
Finally, it is.
"To me this is redemption in a lot of ways," Hopkins said. "I waited a lot of years, gone through a lot of matches to get this done."
Hopkins compared it to Ray Leonard's famous rematch with Thomas Hearns.
The two met at Caesars Palace in 1981 for the welterweight title, and Leonard rallied to stop Hearns in the 14th round of Ring Magazine's Fight of the Year. Injuries and circumstances kept them apart until 1989, when they fought to a 12-round draw at the same Las Vegas venue.
Even those two fights were only eight years apart, though. Jones and Hopkins haven't seen each other in the ring in nearly two decades, and time has left its mark on both of them.
Hopkins is still considered one of the top five pound-for-pound fighters in the world, but because of his age and defensive style, he's had trouble finding fights. Jones is coming off a knockout loss to Danny Green in Australia and hasn't been the same in years.
Taking on each other was the most lucrative opportunity available, and could be even more rewarding considering some unique contract stipulations. Jones and Hopkins will split the take 50-50 except in the case of a knockout, which would reward the winner 60 percent.
"I'm not going to watch him all night, and we have incentives -- 60-40 for a knockout -- so he's going to have to fight," Jones said, talking about as quickly as he once unfurled those incredible punches. "He wants to always prove he's better than me, but he's not."
Jones and Hopkins agree that they're different fighters than they were the first time they met, back when they were still largely unknown. Their first meeting in the rain at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., wasn't even the main event -- Riddick Bowe was the headliner.
But they still carry plenty of name recognition, which might be the most valuable thing that promoters Golden Boy and Square Ring can use to sell tickets and pay-per-views.
"This is a fight that everybody wants to see," Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer said. "It's a fight that people have waited for."
That's certainly true.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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