Steve Bunce on Boxing: Hopkins has point to prove before playing politics


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The Independent Online

A few years ago, Bernard Hopkins was going to gain three stone and fight David Haye; before that he talked about doing the same thing and fighting Mike Tyson. This Saturday Hopkins returns to the ring, at the age of 47, and insists that he is still looking for challenges.

"I'm not done with this business just yet," said Hopkins, who has fought 62 times since turning professional in 1988 after his release from prison.

On Saturday, Hopkins will defend his WBC light-heavyweight title in a rematch of genuine hate, against Chad Dawson. The pair tangled, which is the right description of their grim wrestling mêlée, last October and Dawson threw Hopkins to the canvas in round two. Hopkins was unable to continue because he injured his shoulder when he was dropped. The initial decision in favour of Dawson was changed to a no-contest, and that is why they are doing it all again, this time in Atlantic City.

It will be ugly again and Hopkins, who has fought only seven of his 27 world-title bouts in Las Vegas, the fight game's capital, has always been an acquired taste.

"Hopkins is too old now and he doesn't really want to fight," Dawson told me last week. "He just wants to moan and talk about 'Hopkins this' and 'Hopkins that'. I have to retire him."

There are many who think he will.

It will be a sad day in modern boxing when Hopkins does finally quit and concentrate on politics or promotion or whatever his latest plan is.

He wants a statue in his hometown of Philadelphia to rival the cartoon Rocky monument, and once that is built, he has an eye on public office somewhere.

"I have lived a life on both sides," Hopkins once told me as we walked the streets of his old neighbourhood. "When I finish with boxing I will have a say somewhere."

It was during that walk that he showed me where his brother had died after being shot on the corner of a street. "He struggled down from the corner and tried to hide in that little alley. It was no good."

Hopkins, by the way, had removed his jewelry and left it with a minder in the car before we went on the walk.

It was also during that walk that he took me to a school where he had installed $250,000-worth of computers and built a playground; parents, kids and teachers approached during the visit. All this happened just a month or so after Hopkins had told Joe Calzaghe that he would "not lose to a white boy", in the build-up to their 2008 fight. The school, I need to explain, was in a poor white part of Philadelphia. I pointed this out to Hopkins and he laughed and said: "Yeah, kinda funny, eh? Do me a favour and don't write that."

Hopkins has been a complex man with performances in the ring that range from brilliant to truly dreadful; the Dawson rematch has the feel of a genuine end game and legitimate defeat would not hurt his reputation. However, it is pride that matters most and for that reason there is every chance that Saturday night will not be the end.

The Dawson rematch will also be controversial, which seems to be an essential part of the way Hopkins fights, and when it is over I expect a lot of claims and counter claims.

It was in Atlantic City in 1988 that Hopkins had his first pro fight, at a time when he was washing dishes back in Philly, which was part of his 10-year parole. He lost on points over four rounds on a majority decision.

"It was politics, I was robbed," Hopkins insisted with a serious face, before laughing. I doubt there will be many laughs on Saturday.