Win, lose or draw, undefeated Kelly Pavlik will retain the WBC and WBO middleweight titles Saturday Oct. 18 when he clashes with Bernard Hopkins in a scheduled 12-round non-title bout at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall (HBO Pay-Per-View, 9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. PT).
Pavlik won't be risking his belts when he moves up 10 pounds to face Hopkins at a catch weight of 170 pounds. But the hard-hitting knockout artist from Youngstown, Ohio would put a sizable notch on his belt with an impressive victory against one of boxing's all-time greats.
"I would love to have fought at 160 pounds, but I'm fighting a legend," says Pavlik, clearly embracing the challenge. "You know what I'm going to do every fight. It's not going to change. Our plan is to leave no doubt about the outcome. We don't want it to be close on the scorecard."
Pavlik, 26, stayed unbeaten (34-0, 30 KOs) with a third-round TKO against Gary Lockett in June. That's been his only title defense since he dethroned Jermain Taylor in September, 2007 on a spectacular seventh-round KO. He also won a unanimous decision against Taylor in their February rematch, a non-title bout contested at 166 pounds.
For all that Hopkins (48-5-1, 32 KOs) has accomplished as a can't-miss Hall of Famer, Pavlik is considered the betting favorite with youth, ambition and momentum on his side.
At this point in his ascension, Pavlik can ill afford a setback against the 43-year-old former middleweight and light heavyweight king from Philadelphia.
"Hopkins is an old dog, but it's our time now," says Jack Loew, who has been Pavlik's trainer since he started fighting as a pre-teen amateur. "Come Oct. 18, the era of Bernard Hopkins is going to come to an end, and we're going to the next level."
In a perfect world, Pavlik's handlers would have preferred a title fight against an opponent in his prime. But the scarcity of available 160-pound contenders led them to take the fight with the aging but still dangerous Hopkins.
"This fight was not our first choice, but it was the only alternative we had to make a buck," admits Top Rank's Bob Arum, who negotiated the fight with Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, of which Hopkins is a vice president.
"We didn't have any place to go except a pay-per-view card,' Arum says. "At least it will do halfway decent numbers. We turned it down once. It came back around and we accepted it."
Ultimately, Pavlik still hopes to unify the middleweight title with fights against Arthur Abraham and Felix Sturm, the division's other two beltholders. But the opportunity to earn a career-best payday -- a 50-50 split that reportedly pays him $3 million and a percentage of the pay-per-view revenue -- made the Hopkins bout too appealing to pass up.
"We thought we had a deal with (WBO welterweight champion) Paul Williams," says Cameron Dunkin, Pavlik's co-manager. "Then they pulled out. It kept coming back to Hopkins as the only choice out there."
Long-time super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe, who won a split decision against Hopkins for the light heavyweight title April 19, perhaps would have made the most appealing matchup with Pavlik. But no spring chicken himself, Calzaghe, 36, has opted to fight fellow graybeard and ring great Roy Jones in a Nov. 8 HBO Pay-Per-View light heavyweight fight.
It was in the loss to Calzaghe that many ringside observers saw evidence of Hopkins finally showing his age. Trainer Freddie Roach, who worked with Nazim Richardson in Hopkins' corner the last couple of fights, took a pass on this fight and has suggested that Hopkins hang up the gloves before he gets hurt.
However Hopkins continues to scoff at any retirement plans. Since aligning himself with Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, he's been reaping the riches that eluded him earlier in his career.
"I feel good about where I am because I'm getting my true value," Hopkins says.
"I don't have to fight with promoters anymore. I don't have to be in court because there's $10 million on the table and they want to pay me $2 million and they take $8 (million). I'm still hungry.
"I told my partners, Oscar (De La Hoya) and Shane (Mosley) that we've got to fight like we're poor even though we're not. This is a poor-man's sport. You can become rich, but only a small percentage of us get there. Oscar has been getting paid the last 15 years. I didn't start getting mine until my late 30s."
Hopkins still maintains that he beat Calzaghe, who was knocked down in the first round but finished stronger as Hopkins appeared to tire in the latter rounds. Hopkins insists he was just pacing himself and figures only one of the three judges got the scoring right.
Likewise, Hopkins remains adamant that he never should have lost to Taylor, the raw-skilled fighter who dethroned him as middleweight champion and beat him again in the rematch -- both on controversial decisions in 2005.
Hopkins' career rebounded nicely when he beat Antonio Tarver for the light heavyweight title and then decisioned Winky Wright at 170 pounds. The loss to Calzaghe seems to have only fueled his determination to leave the ring on his own tems.
Hopkins says he plans to negate Pavlik's vaunted power in the same fashion as he did years ago against Felix Trinidad.
"I'm going to fight him with intelligence, with craftsmanship and experience,'' Hopkins says. "Unless he's learning something new, he's going to fight the same way he has in his 34 other fights. My plan is to take what he does best and use it against him."
Pavlik, for his part, isn't buying into the talk that Hopkins' tank is empty.
"He's a warrior. He likes to fight," Pavlik says. "He's going to bring his A-game. He'll never turn anybody down so I'm not surprised at all (that he took the fight). Who else is there for him to fight right now? He's fought Winky Wright and everybody else. So there's really not anybody out there."
If this fight is one for the money, the victories that made Pavlik a household name were two for the show. Pavlik became blue-collar America's fighting hero when he got off the canvas to knock out Taylor. He followed that by beating Taylor in the rematch, again convincingly.
Hopkins wasn't surprised that Pavlik prevailed against Taylor. He says Taylor only won the title because of boxing politics and predicted he wouldn't remain champion very long.
By contrast, Hopkins gives Pavlik much respect.
"I'm not a guy that's in denial of what Kelly Pavlik has achieved,'' Hopkins says. "I don't have anything bad to say about him because he got the championship the way you're supposed to win it, by knocking the guy out. There was no controversy."
If all goes according to Pavlik's plan, he says there also won't be any argument Oct. 18 when he faces the biggest name and most accomplished fighter he's ever fought.
"I like fighting the best fighters in the world,'' Pavlik says. ''Bernard is a legendary fighter. For me to beat him convincingly would probably be the biggest accomplishment I could have in my career."