Boxing: Eastman bullish as Hopkins throws all four titles on line

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The Independent Online

Howard Eastman will leave Los Angeles tomorrow morning with nearly $1m [£530,000] as recompense for tonight's fight against Bernard Hopkins.

The 34-year-old Eastman has come a very long way since his days as a vagrant on the streets of south London and the frustrating years as the best but untested middleweight in Britain. It is not quite a fairytale because that requires a happy ending - and that is, sadly, unlikely against Hopkins.

The pair will meet at the Staples Center to fight for the undisputed middleweight title, despite the American originally deciding that for cash reasons he would only risk the World Boxing Council belt. At the last minute, the International Boxing Federation, the World Boxing Association and the World Boxing Organisation all agreed to add their sanction to that of the WBC.

According to Eastman, whose eccentric life has narrowly failed to make him a character, the belts and the title and the money are not what matters. He insists it is all about proving that he is the best middleweight in the world, which is a strange and rather alarming attitude for an honest boxer to take.

Hopkins, on the other hand, is one of the sport's most mercenary figures, having devoted himself to making as much money and surrendering as little of himself as possible during a career that has been bizarrely neglected by most of the sport's media.

Hopkins is now 40 - this will be his 20th defence in the 10th year of his reign but the truth is that so many of his defences have just come and gone without raising either his profile or having much of an impact on his bank account. Some call him awkward, some use stronger language but Hopkins likes to insist that he is just independent.

During his 10 years as champion Hopkins has never refused a fight and on two occasions he made the type of decision that few boxers in the modern and often pathetic business of boxing make. When he met Felix Trinidad in 2001 and Oscar De La Hoya last year he took a small percentage of the purse because he knew that he would win and acquire a degree of respectability by claiming the better known and better paid scalps of his two opponents.

"I'm in the Bernard Hopkins business and that is what has upset so many promoters for so long,'' said Hopkins. Tonight's fight is promoted by his old opponent and current business partner De La Hoya.

Eastman enters the ring having lost only once in 41 fights and with a reputation for meticulous planning but unfortunately an equally justified reputation for falling asleep on the job. In November 2001 he came within a whisker of beating the American William Joppy for the vacant World Boxing Association title in Las Vegas but he had a slow start and when he did increase the pace it was simply not enough.

He has admitted that he made mistakes that night and has promised to put right the wrongs of that fight once he steps in the ring against Hopkins. He has also, perhaps foolishly, claimed that he will knock out Hopkins in five rounds which is both bold and a bit stupid.

"I get my information from God and I'm just telling you what God told me," he said. "Number five is in my head and so that number five is the round in which I am going to take him out."

Hopkins, though, is the best fighter in the world at the moment, even at such a ripe old age, and tonight he will be given a test. However, Eastman needs to be pushed and Hopkins is adept at doing just enough and winning potentially exciting fights by boxing to a plan and sticking with the schedule.

Eastman will get on that plane tomorrow morning with the cash - but the mood of the moment is that it is very unlikely that he will be carrying four shining belts in his baggage.