4 fighters set to see who is man in middle

Middleweight tourney includes Joppy, Holmes


March 16, 2001|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - After his ninth-round knockout of Quincy Taylor earned him the World Boxing Council crown on March 16, 1996, Washington middleweight Keith Holmes offered solace to one of his weeping daughters.

"She was in my corner, crying after the fight, didn't like seeing daddy in there," said Holmes, 30, who briefly lost that crown to Hassine Cherifi of France after two defenses, then regained it from Cherifi two fights later.

"I told her, `Baby, don't cry, daddy's taking you to the toy store.' Can't let my reign come to an end. Can't allow limitations for my family. Got to keep going back to that toy store."

Holmes (36-2, 23 knockouts), who spoke at a news conference at Howard University, touting a Don King-promoted "Middleweight Championship Series" to take place at New York's Madison Square Garden, might soon be able to purchase many toys, and, perhaps even the building that houses them if he defends his title for the third time against International Boxing Federation champion Bernard Hopkins (38-2-1, 32 KOs) of Philadelphia on April 14.

The fighters should earn more than $1 million each ($1.05 million for Hopkins) in a semifinal of a tournament on HBO.

The other semifinal, scheduled for the same site on May 12, will feature William Joppy (32-1-1, 24 KOs) of Seabrook, Md., putting his World Boxing Association crown on the line against Felix Trinidad (39-0, 32 KOs) on TVKO - HBO's pay-per-view arm. Trinidad should make close to $4 million; Joppy, like Holmes and Hopkins, more than $1 million - his largest payday.

Yesterday, everyone but Trinidad shared the stage at Howard. Trinidad, exhausted from a long night's work taping a commercial promoting the series, was "back in Puerto Rico," King said. "But he won't be late for the fight on May 12."

The tournament, which seeks to reunite the division for the first time since Marvin Hagler lost his undisputed middleweight title to Sugar Ray Leonard on April 6, 1987, will conclude Sept. 15 at Madison Square Garden. The winner will earn a trophy with a likeness of Sugar Ray Robinson.

"I came up the hard, like Marvin Hagler. I had to grind away. But this is a chance at history, a signature fight," said Joppy.

"I knocked out Roberto Duran, but I was 27, he was like, 47. That was a no-win situation. I need a young lion, like Trinidad, or fighters like Holmes, or Hopkins," said Joppy, who, when facing Trinidad, will make his sixth defense of the crown he took from Julio Cesar Green. He is looking for his sixth victory within a 10-month span.

"When the smoke clears," Joppy said, "I'll be ranked with Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Sugar Ray Robinson."

Trinidad, 28, and Hopkins, 35, are two of the sport's longest reigning champs. Trinidad is 19-0 in title bouts, with 15 of his 17 defenses coming at welterweight. With a reign spanning seven years, eight months, including a consecutive-victory streak (39) that is the best among current world champs, Ring magazine considers Trinidad one of the top 10 all-time welterweights.

Hopkins ranks second with 12 title defenses with Hagler, behind Argentina's Carlos Monzon, who retired in the late 1970s after making 14 title defenses. Hopkins, whose reign spans five years and 11 months, claimed his 12th defense of his IBF crown with a 10th-round knockout of Antwun Echols (24-4-1, 22 KOs ) on Dec. 1.

The next night, in Las Vegas, Joppy, 30, got his eighth straight win when he knocked out Nashville's Jonathan Reid (27-1, 16 KOs). The fight was on the undercard of Trinidad's brutal 12th-round knockout of Fernando Vargas (20-1, 18 KOs), which added Vargas' IBF junior middleweight (154 pounds) to Trinidad's WBA super middleweight (also 154) title.

Holmes has had the longest layoff of the four champs. His last fight was an 11th-round knockout of previously unbeaten Robert McCracken in the challenger's native England on April 29 - nearly a year ago.

"I had a 14-month layoff before I won every round and knocked out Paul Vaden in the 11th round. It won't make a difference. I will knock out Hopkins," said Holmes, recalling a Dec. 5, 1997 bout, his second defense of the crown he won from Taylor.

"The thing that separates a mediocre champ from a great one is the ability to back up your talk, not to talk, like Keith did today, and to flop, like he will on April 14," said Hopkins, who is 16-0-1 with 12 knockouts since a 12-round loss to Roy Jones at RFK Stadium in 1993.

"When the division was struggling to survive, I was giving it CPR," said Hopkins said. "This series gives it a pulse. The timing is perfect for me."

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