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The Long Encore

Bernard Hopkins wasn't looking for a fight, but an unbeaten champion from across the pond was enticement enough for the future Hall of Famer to jump back into the ring at age 43.

"It's a challenge,'' Hopkins (48-4-1, 32 KOs) says of his April 19 bout against unified super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe (44-0, 32 KOs).

"It's a thing where I've eliminated everybody else. There's only one more left and that's Joe Calzaghe. We've been having this conversation about fighting each other for the last six or seven years. It's the right time. This fight will really show my greatness when it comes to have taken on the best all my life and basically beating the odds."

HBO World Championship Boxing will televise the scheduled 12-round light heavyweight bout (9:45 p.m ET/6:45 p.m. PT) from the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Calzaghe, the pride of Newbridge Wales, will be fighting for the first time on U.S. soil and only the third time outside of the United Kingdom. It's also the Welshman's third bout on HBO and "it's in his contract for him to fight that third fight in America,'' Hopkins says.

"He owed HBO this fight, so he's not doing me a favor. I'm doing him a favor. It's only because I've beaten all of his options that Joe Calzaghe is fighting me. I forced him to come out of England."

Hopkins, nicknamed "The Executioner, will be making his 16th appearance on HBO and is acknowledged as one of the great middleweight champions of his era. His illustrious hit list includes victories against Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya and a streak 20 consecutive title defenses.

After losing his title and the rematch against Jermain Taylor in 2005, the Philadelphia native made an electrifying comeback in June 2006 when he moved up two weight classes and beat then reigning light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver. In his second light heavyweight bout, Hopkins returned to the ring last July and won a unanimous decision against former junior middleweight champion Ronald "Winky" Wright.

With little to do for an encore, Hopkins was content and secure in his legacy. But his decision to fight again was provoked when Calzaghe, fresh off his super middleweight title unification victory against Denmark's Mikkel Kessler, issued the challenge.

"When you look for a fight, you shouldn't take it,'' Hopkins says. "Joe Calzaghe called out Bernard Hopkins right after he won his fight with Kessler. Our fight was talked about five or six years ago and it never happened. They said it wouldn't happen, so I left it alone. But I beat Tarver, I beat Winky, and then Jermain (Taylor) lost to (Kelly) Pavlik. So Joe Calzaghe had no other place to go."

Calzaghe's title unification victory Nov. 4 against the previously unbeaten Kessler drew a hometown crowd of more than 50,000 at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales and marked his record-tying 21st title defense at super middleweight.

At 36, the fast-handed southpaw is stepping up to light heavyweight for the first time and still remains sort of a curiosity to American boxing fans. Other than Kessler, Calzaghe's other notable victory was his complete domination of former IBF super middleweight champion Jeff Lacy, who was heavily favored but barely got off an effective punch in their fight.

2008 04 19 profile Bernard Hopkins the long encore

Hopkins predicts that Calzaghe will discover he's bitten off more than he can handle this time.

"I see a guy that's going to come, he's going to be bleeding, he's going to get knocked down and get up and get busted up again, and he'll keep coming until somebody saves him,'' Hopkins says.

"Like all fighters accustomed to pain and abuse, he's going to keep coming, but he's never been in there with someone like Bernard Hopkins. Kessler fights straight up in the air like a robot, and Jeff Lacy was just a baby with 17 fights when Calzaghe beat him. There's no way this guy has the credentials of Bernard Hopkins."

Hopkins raised the ante with his bold proclamation that "I would never let a white boy beat me,'' while jawing with Calzaghe in December when both were in Las Vegas for the Floyd Mayweather-Ricky Hatton fight.

Some have been critical of Hopkins injecting race into the pre-fight hype, but the Philadelphia fighter stands by his words.

"I didn't want him trying to get out of the fight and I put him on blast with that comment,'' Hopkins says. "I backed him up against the wall. How is he going to go home and not fight me after getting that said in his face? The bottom line is, after April 19, people will be saying that I didn't lie."

As a partner and vice president in De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, Hopkins says he's as much a promoter these days as he is a fighter. He's done things before that he says were calculated to spur interest in a fight, like at the final news conference before he fought Wright when he slapped his unsuspecting opponent, igniting a brawl on the dais. "I'm a master at this,''Hopkins says. "At one time, you had Gorgeous George and then you had Muhammad Ali. Now you've got Bernard Hopkins. When you do things that cross the line, it's going to bring you some supporters and some who don't support you. I'm cool with that. I know who I am and who I'm not."

Hopkins keeps himself in immaculate condition even when he's not preparing for a fight. But he's assembled a dream team of trainers to get ready for Calzaghe. Nazim Richardson has been with him since Bouie Fisher was the head trainer and has been joined by veteran trainers Freddie Roach and John David Jackson and noted conditioning coach Mackie Shilstone.

"Nazim been there before and brings a lot to my corner,'' Hopkins says. "Freddie Roach was tutored by the late great Eddie Futch and is a great trainer in his own right. John David Jackson is a southpaw and is helping with the pad work and my experience fighting a southpaw, and Shilstone has a history with making history.

"Everybody has a legacy of working with great fighters and that should tell everybody, especially Calzaghe and his (trainer) father Enzo, that Bernard is not messing around. Here I am 43 and my ego could be in front of my common sense. I could just grab a bucket, grab a cut man and go in the ring. But I'm no fool.

"When I go in this fight, I will go in knowing I have a lot of people rooting against me, so I will be prepared. It should scare the hell out of Joe Calzaghe to know that he has to be 100 per cent right. I don't want to hear any excuses. Now he gets a taste of his own medicine. He's not in his own backyard. He's coming over to somebody else's house and he's got to share toys that belong to somebody else. I'm coming in there to take this man's soul and send him back home."

Hopkins says this could very well be his last fight. He's said that before, but sounds sincere about wanting to spend more time with his family in their new home. Still, he's noncommittal about retiring for good.

"My health is a great,'' he says. "I've been boxing for 20 years and I haven't taken any beatings like Arturo Gatti or Mickey Ward. I think I'm blessed. I'm not bragging or boasting. But if you feel like you can squeeze out a couple of more years and add to your legacy at the same time, who else is going to pay Bernard Hopkins this kind of money to step in the ring at 43 years old?

"I'm one of the top athletes of all sports, in a class with Brett Favre and Jerry Rice. It's a short list of guys that can perform in their forties without embarrassing themselves. I'm going to enjoy this while I can. But I don't see anybody else that will get me up enough to get back in there and go through all this hard work and training.

"So it's a possibility that this is it. I could win and not feel the way I think I should feel, or it could be the opposite effect. I could win and be like, 'man, I could fight two or three more fights.' But, for some reason, my legacy and my achievements are not being respected and that gets me (fired) up."

Hopkins says the doubters are why he's back again for yet another fight.

"Calzaghe throws a lot of punches and there's nothing else to that, but some people says he's active and that's why he should beat Bernard Hopkins. But I'm going to keep proving them wrong. I'm going to keep raising their eyebrows and eventually they'll get it. But I don't have enough time to do five years of that. Not even two. I ran out of time. After this profound execution, the question will be 'Bernard, what's next?' But I'm not looking for a fight. Like I said, when you look for a fight, you shouldn't take it."

"It's only because I've beaten all of his options that Joe Calzaghe is fighting me. I forced him to come out of England."

Posted 12:00 AM | Apr 10, 2008

Bernard Hopkins vs Joe Calzaghe

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