Brown tries for renewal vs. Hopkins Career at critical stage as he bids for IBF title

January 30, 1998|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- On the night of April 29, 1995, at USAir Arena, Bernard Hopkins, who had won the International Boxing Federation middleweight title an hour earlier, took a seat at ringside to watch the welterweight-championship showdown between Baltimore's Vincent Pettway and challenger Simon Brown of Mount Airy.

Hopkins was as shocked as anyone when a bristling left hook by Pettway in the sixth round left Brown twitching on the canvas, his arms flaring out by reflex in a frightening tableau.

"I always admired Simon for his style, his conditioning, the way he came to fight, and never questioned his heart," said Hopkins.

"After he got knocked out, I called him down to the hotel lobby. First, he congratulated me on becoming a champion. I hugged him and said, 'Things happen in boxing. Keep your head up. And you'll be back."

But Hopkins never anticipated that, some 30 months later -- tomorrow night, to be exact -- Brown would be challenging him for his IBF crown at the Taj Mahal.

"If I'd known that, I wouldn't have been so nice to him," joked Hopkins (33-2-1), considered the best of the middleweight champions and unbeaten in 12 bouts since losing a 12-round decision to Roy Jones in May 1993.

To show what different paths the two fighters have taken in the last few years, Hopkins is rated a 15-1 favorite over Brown, who previously reigned as welterweight and junior middleweight titlist.

At 35, Brown, a Jamaican native who moved to the Washington area as a teen-ager, is running out of chances and big-money fights. He recently declared bankruptcy, claiming he had to pay $800,000 to sever ties with former manager Al Balboin and promoter Don Elbaum.

"As long as I feel physically fit, I'm not viewing this as a last-chance fight," said Brown.

"I believe Hopkins is a gifted boxer, the best of the middleweight champions. But that only makes me prepare that much harder. I feel my power and hand speed are as good as when I was 19. The only difference now is that I'm a much smarter fighter."

Co-trainer Charles Mooney says he senses a new commitment in Brown.

"Recently, he took me to his house and showed me his trophy case," said Mooney. "He had his welterweight and junior middleweight championship belts on display, but an empty shelf on the bottom. Simon told me, 'I'm making room for the middleweight bout when I beat Hopkins.' "

Having signed a new promotional deal with America Presents, Hopkins, a Philadelphia native, says he is ready to establish himself as one of the best in his demanding profession.

"I believe I can beat anybody from junior middleweight up to light heavyweight," he said.

"I'll take any big fight out there. But right now, I feel the same way Marvin Hagler did in the '70s. No one wanted to fight him. He earned his reputation and middleweight title the hard way. Like Hagler, I'll just keep on winning. Winning creates dialogue that leads to other title fights."

Life has become much more comfortable for Hopkins, 32, who spent a good part of his youth in juvenile detention centers and prison.

"I survived living with murderers, rapists, robbers and stone-bad guys that would bite your head off," he recalled.

Hopkins spent five years in Grateford Prison for armed robbery. Freed at 21, he vowed he would never get in trouble with the law again and now serves as a role model for inner-city youth in Philadelphia.

Fight facts

Who: Bernard Hopkins, Philadelphia, vs. Simon Brown, Mount Airy (12 rounds), for Hopkins' IBF middleweight title; David Reid, Philadelphia, vs. Robert Frazier, Rochester, N.Y. (8 rounds), junior middleweights

When: Tomorrow

Where: Trump Taj Mahal, Atlantic City, N.J.

TV: HBO

Pub Date: 1/30/98

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