Hopkins goes for 20th straight title defense

Middleweight champ faces Eastman tonight in L.A.


February 19, 2005|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

In a Philadelphia recreation center last August, undisputed middleweight world champion Bernard Hopkins reminisced while reading a story about him first winning the title in Landover on April 29, 1995.

The story recalled former world champs Joe Frazier and Michael Spinks leading Hopkins into the ring at USAir Arena before he knocked out Segundo Mercado for the International Boxing Federation crown.

Tonight, he'll try to defend his title for the 20th consecutive time, at Los Angeles' Staples Center. Hopkins, nicknamed "The Executioner," will face England's Howard Eastman (40-1, 34 knockouts) on HBO.

Hopkins, 40, is the first middleweight (160 pounds) to hold all four major titles, having added the World Boxing Organization, World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council crowns.

In September, at 39, Hopkins knocked out Oscar De La Hoya to become the oldest middleweight to make a successful title defense.

And last summer - before earning a career-high $10 million for making De La Hoya his 12th knockout victim during a middleweight-record 19 defenses - Hopkins (45-2-1, 32 KOs) talked about how it all began.

"Landover, man - can you believe it? Not Atlantic City or Las Vegas. Didn't get a huge payday that night. It wasn't a historic venue. But the night was historic - electric," said Hopkins. "Mike Tyson and Don King were there to witness the birth of Bernard Hopkins' reign as middleweight champion of the world."

In August 2003, Hopkins told his dying mother, Shirley, he would quit the game before turning 41. First, however, Hopkins, who will be 41 next January, hopes to complete a three-to-four fight retirement plan.

After fighting Eastman, Hopkins would go after the winner of the May 14 battle of ex-champs between Felix Trinidad and Winky Wright. Next could be rising middleweight Jermain Taylor, who is featured on tonight's undercard, or undisputed light heavyweight king Glen Johnson. "That's [light heavyweight title] something Ray Robinson didn't [get]," Hopkins said.

Known as a boxer-puncher who can adapt to his opposition, Hopkins has beaten ex-champ Keith Holmes and knocked out John David Johnson and former champs Trinidad and Carl Daniels.

With 19 title defenses, only heavyweight Joe Louis (25), super middleweight Sven Ottke and strawweight Ricardo Lopez (21 each) and heavyweight Larry Holmes (20) have more defenses. But Hopkins is still in the game.

"Bernard is the ultimate late bloomer, having maintained his talent and fitness extraordinarily far into to his career," said HBO's Jim Lampley, color commentator for tonight's 9:45 broadcast. "He's mastered the skillful art of boxing with impeccable will and conditioning."

Opinions vary on Hopkins' position among Hall of Fame middleweights such as Robinson, Carlos Monzon and Marvin Hagler. Monzon was unbeaten for seven years and 14 defenses; Hagler had 12 defenses and wins over Hall of Fame locks Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran.

"But Hopkins faced bona fide Hall of Famers in De La Hoya and Trinidad, and two borderline considerations in [Simon] Brown and Johnson," said Ring Magazine associate editor Joe Santoloquito. "Bernard's one of the best defensive fighters ever - up there with the best middleweights of all time."

Hagler "would chop down" Hopkins, said Lampley, but Sugar Ray Leonard disagrees.

"Bernard's mind is so powerful. He's so patient; a boxer who sticks to his game plan gives Marvin problems," said Leonard, who upset Hagler in April 1987. "Duran's movement and timing troubled Hagler. You could take it way back to [Bobby] Boogaloo Watts."

The retired Watts split bouts with Hagler, winning a decision at age 26 in 1976. But Watts, reached at his home near Philadelphia, said Hopkins-Hagler would be too close to call.

"Hagler's a pressure fighter, fierce body puncher and a southpaw second to none," Watts said. "You have to dance to beat Hagler. If Hopkins stood and traded, Hagler could do damage."

"We'd have left it all in the ring," Hopkins said of a fight with Hagler, the man after whom he has patterned his career. "It would be a career-ending fight for one or both of us."

Most consecutive title defenses

Title Champion Division defenses Reign

Joe Louis Heavyweight 25 1937-1949

Ricardo Lopez Strawweight 21 1990-1999

Sven Ottke Super middleweight 21 1999-2004

Larry Holmes Heavyweight 20 1978-1985

Henry Armstrong Welterweight 19 1938-1940

Khaosai Galaxy Junior bantamweight 19 1984-1991

Bernard Hopkins Middleweight 19 1995-2005

Eusebio Pedroza Featherweight 19 1978-1985

Wilfredo Gomez Junior featherweight 17 1977-1983

Myung Woo Yuh Junior flyweight 17 1985-1991

Source: Joe Santoliquito, Ring Magazine

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