By Mike Cassell the Philadelphia Boxing Report 7/23/08
No one is bigger admirer of the tenacity and staying power of aging Philadelphia middleweight icon Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins 48 – 5 -1 (32 – KO’s) than I am. It was recently announced that he is slated to yet again, climb into the ring and face middleweight champion Kelly “The Ghost” Pavlik 34 – 0 30 (KO’s) in October of this year. With Bernard’s better days behind him, this fight seems to be all about the money, and when it’s all about the money, it is usually bad for boxing.
In 2001, just days after the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center towers, he not only made our city proud, but he successfully raised the hopes of a mourning nation by going to Madison Square Garden in the heart of New York City, and thoroughly handling an undefeated legend in Felix Trinidad. While most Americans were avoiding New York like the plague, this fight spoke to all Americans, somehow saying, it’s ok to come back to New York. It was ironic because he used patriotism as an excuse to trash Puerto Rico, and got away with it because although he was being incredibly insensitive to Puerto Ricans everywhere, he was entertaining while creating interest for a fight that was just miles away from one of the worst terrorist attacks in the History of the country. Bernard usually plays a great bad guy, and will say and do most anything to sell tickets. He has been widely criticized, and even fined for his antics before some of his bigger fights. He usually makes the “I was just selling tickets” apology after the fight, and life continues to churn on for the 43 year old fighter. In his last five outings, he has only two wins. Granted they were great wins against Antonio Tarver, and Ronald Winky Wright. But we could all see Bernard Hopkins age very quickly in his last match against Joe Calzaghe. His contention is that he did fantastic for his advanced “boxing” age. Those words sound less like a champion, and more like a survivor.
There is no doubt that Bernard Hopkins could survive against anyone, even at his age, because of the tremendous amount of ring knowledge he has accrued over the years. The bigger question is, do we want to watch him do it against Kelly Pavlik? He told me in an interview last year that Pavlik was all hype. I was surprised to hear that assertion. With all of his experience, you would think he could recognize real talent, but maybe he knew something I didn’t at the time. When you look at this fight on paper, it is hard to argue with Hopkins. What does he really have to prove? He is taking this fight to make as much money as he can before he exits the sport. If he loses, he will say, “look at this old man go the distance with the young buck.” I really have to look more at Kelly Pavlik and Top Rank and question their motivation. Kelly “The Ghost” Pavlik is on top of the world right now. He fought his mandatory over achiever in Gary Lockett on June 8th of this year. Shouldn’t he be gunning for a unification bout in the middleweight division? Why move up to Light Heavyweight to face a Bernard Hopkins who seems to be in survivor mode? What made Marvin Hagler so great was that he was able to go out and grab all those belts that nobody wanted to take the time to get. He believed in his skill, and knew the big fights would eventually come to him, as they most surely did.
Bernard Hopkins was once great. He is a hall of fame caliber fighter who will have his place in boxing history. Kelly Pavlik is defining his legacy as we speak. With Arthur Abraham and Felix Sturm holding 2 pieces of the recognized middleweight titles, it seems like he going out of his way to move up two weight classes to avoid these guys. It is as if he and Hopkins are both in survivor mode, but for different reasons. Pavlik has real undeniable talent. He needs to test that ability against the men who are holding the belts. They are relatively unknown Europeans, but let’s not forget that Pavlik was once a relatively unknown American until he destroyed Edison Miranda. Besides that victory and defeating Jermaine Taylor twice, there aren’t many opponents below him that can justify this fight with Bernard Hopkins at this point in his career. Great champions will fight the men that hold the titles. Bernard Hopkins survived a lot of years as the IBF champion, waiting nearly 10 years to unify the titles. It was a big mistake. Sadly he wasn’t truly recognized until he went out and got the belts from the men who were considered the best at that time.
As popular as Pavlik is, and with all his tremendous ability, he will never be truly recognized as the best until he has those belts around his waist. Three years ago, Pavlik was an invisible face, in crowd of middleweight talent. His alias “Ghost” was fitting. Today he is no longer a “Ghost” in the middleweight division, and his name alone will pull the numbers needed, even with relatively obscure European champions. Professional boxing is in need of a great American champion. It’s good for the sport, it’s good for America, and it will help bring a new younger audience to professional boxing in this country. And while the youth of Pavlik will attract a younger crowd, in October, when the NFL is in full swing, this fight will lose a lot of its luster. Pavlik has an incredible opportunity to inject a dying sport with youth and vigor. It’s a tremendous amount of weight to put on the shoulders of one athlete, but with the rise of MMA and the youth of its audience, the weight should be replaced with responsibility to the sport that has made him a millionaire. Fans of boxing are entering the 11th round and they are taking a beating. It is their money that pays his bills, and quite frankly, they deserve better.