Boxing: Perfect execution can clinch it for eccentric Eastman

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The Independent Online

His bearded jowels and greying locks make him look more like Methuselah than a merchant of menace, but at 34 Howard Eastman is still a bit of a babe in days when life begins at 40 for some of boxing's senior pros.

His bearded jowels and greying locks make him look more like Methuselah than a merchant of menace, but at 34 Howard Eastman is still a bit of a babe in days when life begins at 40 for some of boxing's senior pros. Bernard Hopkins, whom the Guyana-born Londoner challenges for the world middleweight title in Los Angeles on Saturday, passed that milestone a month ago but is among those seasoned sluggers who believe age is in the mind, not the legs.

The American is considered the supreme pound-for-pound fighter in the world, but Eastman has taken more than heart and hope with him to his training camp in Miami. He packed a video showing how another Brit, Lloyd Honeyghan, ventured into the backyard of another champion they said at the time was the best on the planet, the welterweight Don Curry.

Nineteen years ago Honeyghan registered a seismic shock by dethroning the seemingly invincible Curry in what is still considered the greatest achievement by a British fighter on US soil. Eastman goes to Staples Centre, in Los Angeles, similarly unfancied but with the determination to do the same to Hopkins.

He may have the will, but has he the way to overcome the first undisputed middleweight champion since Marvin Hagler? However, while Hopkins is boxing's man of letters (WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO), he has elected to put only one of his four titles on the line. Significantly for Eastman it is the most authentic, the World Boxing Council championship.

As a teenage hoodlum in Philadelphia, Hopkins was sentenced to 18 years in jail for armed robbery (he served five) but survived a violent past which has translated into chillingly destructive ring performances. These have earned him the sobriquet of The Executioner.

Among the top names he has dispatched are Oscar de la Hoya, Felix Trinidad, Glencoffe Johnson, Antwun Echols and William Joppy, who inflicted Eastman's only defeat in 41 bouts three years ago. Of Hopkins's own two defeats the first came on his debut in a four-rounder and the second by Roy Jones Jnr 12 years ago. This will be his 23rd world title fight.

Eastman, who was a wild child himself, sleeping rough behind rubbish bins before the Army and boxing sorted him out, has an air of engaging eccentricity which we haven't seen since Chris Eubank. For years his best friend was a parrot called Tyson.

The European champion has had more managers than most fighters have had gumshields. One of them, Frank Maloney, described him as boxing's best-kept secret. Eastman says from his Miami training camp: "I am not really looking for recognition from this fight, it is more about accomplishment. The fact that I have not received as much acclaim as higher-profile boxers for my achievements does not bother me. I just tune in for the moment. When I beat Hopkins, I will be more than happy to give him a rematch and then he can put up all the belts he wants.

"In terms of talent, I have yet to be stretched. I am going to win this fight, possibly by knockout by the fifth round. His skills don't impress me. I don't regard him as anything special."

His promoter, Mick Hennessy, adds : "This isn't like so many fights in America where all the Brit does is turn up. Howard is there to rip the title from the world's best. He has no fear of Hopkins, why should he? Howard has dominated Europe for the last four years. Against Joppy, he started too slowly.

"This time he'll tear out and put it straight on Hopkins. This could be an historic night for British boxing." Perhaps. This is a difficult, just about winnable fight for Eastman if he gets himself together and Hopkins starts feeling his age.

So it is a pity that the BBC are restricting their coverage to a delayed showing on Sunday Grandstand, with the live pay-per view on the relatively obscure Setanta Sport channel via Sky Channel 435. Eastman deserves better, especially if he can give Hopkins a taste of Honey.