Mellow Hopkins comes out singing Pavlik's praises

Updated: August 8, 2008

Chris Farina/Top Rank

Bernard Hopkins has nothing negative to say about Kelly Pavlik leading up to their Oct. 18 fight.

Hopkins as Mr. Nice Guy?

Bernard Hopkins has flipped the script.

For years, the former middleweight and light heavyweight champion disrespected opponents throughout the promotion of a fight. Whether it was serving his opponent a "last meal" at a news conference, throwing down the Puerto Rican flag multiple times before facing Felix Trinidad, causing a furor by insisting that he "would never lose to a white boy" before fighting Joe Calzaghe, instigating a physical altercation with Winky Wright at their weigh-in or generally insulting and threatening his opponents, Hopkins has always found a way to maintain his rage and edge going into a fight.

So it was surprising to find a kinder, gentler "Executioner" this week during the kick off of the promotion for his fight with middleweight champion Kelly "The Ghost" Pavlik, who will move up 10 pounds to meet Hopkins at a catch weight of 170 pounds Oct. 18 (HBO PPV) at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.

"I have nothing bad to say about the guy," Hopkins said.

Huh?

"I'm a fan of Kelly Pavlik's," Hopkins added.

OK, then.

Whether Hopkins (48-5-1, 32 KOs) is trying to disarm Pavlik (34-0, 30 KOs) or he genuinely likes him, Hopkins said he became a fan after watching him roll through the favored Edison Miranda in seven brutal rounds in a May 2007 title eliminator.

In his next fight, Pavlik got off the floor to starch Jermain Taylor -- who twice outpointed Hopkins on debatable decisions -- to win the middleweight title.

Before the Pavlik-Miranda fight, Hopkins was talking up Miranda, calling him the next big thing in the division.

"I thought he'd beat Pavlik, but that fight made me a fan of Pavlik's," Hopkins said. "He is the rightful heir apparent to the legacy I set down in the middleweight division. One thing about this fight, I am a fan of Kelly Pavlik's. I became a fan of his and not just because he beat Jermain Taylor twice. He got the title honestly, he didn't get it on a favor or politics or because he was supposed to be the next big thing. He got it by knockout. He became the heir apparent that Jermain Taylor didn't become.

"Kelly earned it the old fashioned way. Nobody gave it to him. As far as I am concerned, it's his middleweight division now. But he sees there's no one there for him to fight right now and Bernard is here at light heavyweight willing to fight him. And the best way to get introduced to the Hall of Fame is to beat a [future] Hall of Famer. He has a lot to gain and I have to prove that I am still here."

Just to make sure a reporter wasn't losing his mind with all the niceties he was pouring on, Hopkins added, "In saying all that nice stuff, I've never been afraid of no ghost. I got a job to do. This guy here is trying to enhance his legacy off mine. No, the fight is not for a belt or for pound-for-pound No. 1. It's about Bernard Hopkins preserving his legacy that another fighter is trying to take from me. He is trying to devalue my legacy and to make his legacy."

Regardless of if Hopkins is nasty or nice, Pavlik said he would be ready for a serious fight.

Kelly Pavlik

Chris Farina/Top Rank

"Are you getting all this?" Kelly Pavlik isn't about to let Hopkins' prefight chatter throw him off course.

"I am preparing to fight a legend and take him down in his own backyard," Pavlik said of Hopkins, who is from nearby Philadelphia, although Pavlik has drawn thousands from his native Youngstown, Ohio, to Atlantic City, where he fought two of his last three bouts. "Even though I am younger, I know Hopkins is a slick veteran with a bunch of boxing tricks in his bag. I refuse to underestimate him. I am treating this as if it were a championship match with my plan being to remain undefeated and show the world that I am able to take on any fighter regardless of age, weight or record."

Hopkins lost a competitive split decision to Calzaghe in April. Even though he started to finally show his age, Hopkins elected to continue fighting at age 43. He picked on the strong, prime, 26-year-old Pavlik because there was no other lucrative option.

"I'm here to stay for now and to show Bernard Hopkins still has a lot left," Hopkins said. "Opinion wise a lot of people believe I won my last my fight so I'm not coming into this fight mentally thinking I have to make up for what I didn't do my last fight. But now I have that incentive to take that little risk and make sure I leave no doubt."

Pavlik, too, had few options after Calzaghe decided to fight Roy Jones and potential matches with junior middleweight titlist Sergio Mora and welterweight beltholder Paul Williams cratered.

The fight figures to be a must-win for Hopkins if he wants to continue his career after losing three of his last five, although all three decision losses -- two to Taylor and to Calzaghe -- could have gone the other way. The wins were a lopsided decision against Antonio Tarver to win the light heavyweight championship and a clear decision last summer against Wright, both of which came after Hopkins retired and then made a comeback, one that he doesn't want to see end.

"What I have to prove, like that other old guy, [quarterback] Brett Favre, is that I can still do this," Hopkins said. "I can fight until I'm 80 years old as long as my mind and body is willing to go through the training and I am. I am taking this fight very seriously. When I stop feeling that way, I'm not going to fight. But as long as I feel like going to camp and I'm not embarrassing myself, I will fight. There's not a whole flood of talent right now, so I think boxing needs a Roy Jones and a Bernard Hopkins. We're the old dogs holding up the seem in the pants. I think I am the youngest 43-year-old in any sport."

Clottey's arm OK

After Joshua Clottey defeated Zab Judah via ninth-round technical decision last Saturday to claim a vacant welterweight title, he thought the pain in his left biceps was from tearing the muscle in the fifth round.

After the fight, Clottey was relieved to learn that he had simply pulled the muscle, an injury that should not prevent him from fighting again in the fall if promoter Top Rank can line something up for him.

Joshua Clottey

AP Photo/Eric Jamison

No need to worry, folks: Joshua Clottey will be back in the ring sooner than expected.

"He was fine a couple of hours after the fight. The swelling went down and it was just a pull, not a tear," manager Vinny Scolpino told ESPN.com. "I had dinner with him after the fight and he was already feeling a little better. I don't think it's going to keep him out. The doctor said it would be a few weeks and that Josh should rest it, but that it would be OK."

Clottey and Scolpino hope that Top Rank's Bob Arum can deliver them a unification fight (and rematch) with Antonio Margarito, who stopped Miguel Cotto July 26. Margarito and Clottey met in December 2006 and Margarito won a hard-fought decision in a fight in which Clottey had a lot of early success before injuring both hands.

"Hopefully, we can make that fight happen again," Scolpino said. "There's no reason why Josh can't fight again before the end of the year and we're obviously open to getting back in there with Antonio."

Arum has said Margarito will return Nov. 1. Before Clottey-Judah, Arum said he wanted to match the winner with Margarito in a unification bout. Scolpino also said they'd be willing to fight titleholder Paul Williams in a unification match.

"As long as the money is right, we'll fight anyone," Scolpino said. "Josh doesn't run from anyone. He never has before and he's not going to start now."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.

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