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The rematch that nobody wanted may still intrigue fans

11
Feb

Bernard Hopkins is surrounded by media after the L.A. press conference announcing his April 3 rematch with Roy Jones Jr. The return bout, which takes place 17 years after the first fight, won by Jones, has been criticized by hardcore fans and boxing writers but that didn't prevent scores of media from attending pressers in New York City and L.A. Photo / Gene Blevins-Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions

There was a collective groan from boxing fans when the April 3 rematch between Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. was announced last month.

It was bad enough that the rematch was taking place an astounding 17 years after the first bout, but the fact that it was put together after Jones suffered an embarrassing first-round knockout to Danny Green in December made the announcement all the more ludicrous.

Some fans were willing to give old veterans a pass when the fight was first signed late last year, prior to Jones’s loss to Green, but not after the former pound-for-pound king was demolished in one round? And it's on pay-per-view, no less!?

All together now: Really!?

“That’s an insult,” fans protested on boxing forums on the internet. Some boxing writers in their weekly columns likened the fight to a blatant slap to the face of the fans.

The outrage is understandable. The sport can’t make Mayweather-Pacquiao but it can serve up Hopkins-Jones II and ask fans to pony up $50 to watch it live.

“No thanks, we’ll pass,” seemed to be the general response from hardcore fans and most boxing writers. Some even suggested an organized boycott of the pay-per-view show, a notion that more than a few fight scribes supported.

And yet, when the kick-off press conference for Hopkins-Jones II was held in New York City on Tuesday, close to 100 members of the media showed up.

On Wednesday, in Los Angeles, more than 70 members of the media — including big guns such as KCBS-TV’s veteran sports anchor Jim Hill — turned out to witness Hopkins and Jones go through their debate-style press conference at the Grammy Museum at the downtown L.A. LIVE center.

The mock debate format was a little strange, but no one complained.

After the debate, the same writers who have repeatedly panned the fight (this one included) gathered around each fighter like eager little puppies, asking them questions about the fight, their rivalry and their respective careers.

Are these writers hypocrites? Sell outs? No, they’re just doing their jobs.

Along with Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya and Evander Holyfield, Jones and Hopkins are two of the most recognizable boxers to the American sports fan to have emerged in the past 20-25 years.

Both former multi-division champs are also first-ballot hall of famer who are accomplished enough for some writers and historians to argue that they are all-time greats.

And then there’s the story line of these two proud 40-something prize fighters finally getting it on almost two decades after their first encounter. That’s something to write about, even if the angle is that it’s a rematch that nobody wanted.

However, it’s obvious that there is interest in the bout and it’s bound to grow among casual fans as more stories appear in the sports sections of major daily newspapers and as Hopkins and Jones make numerous appearances on ESPN, Fox Sports Net and syndicated sports radio programs.

Hardcore fans will vow to ignore the press coverage, but as the fight nears they will be tempted to tune in. (Hey, that’s why they’re hardcore.)

That’s the other reason members of the media flocked to both press conferences: Many of them are as much fans of Jones and Hopkins as the guys who are complaining about the rematch on message boards.

In fact, more than a few writers admitted it to both fighters prior to asking their questions, which were not always about the April 3 showdown.

The veterans answered each question in engaging, loquacious fashion, but being promoters as well as fighters — Hopkins is a partner with Golden Boy Promotions and Jones is the majority owner of Square Ring, Inc. — both were vigilant in guiding the discussion back to their rematch.

So does the fact that Hopkins and Jones are basically co-promoters of the April 3 showdown, which takes place at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, make the rematch more business than personal?

Gauging from the way the debate went down, it appears equal parts.

Business is definitely part of the equation. Jones will tell anyone that the only reason the rematch didn’t take place during the previous decade is that Hopkins would not agree to a 60-40 split of the purse in Jones' favor. (They finally settled on a 50-50 split for the April 3 fight, but should one win by stoppage he will take in 60 percent.)

However, the two generally seem to dislike each other. Both seemed gloomy and uncomfortable sharing the stage at the start of the debate. In fact, they appeared disinterested in the silly format, which was moderated by ring announcer Michael Buffer and L.A. radio personality Big Boy.

But that changed once they were asked about their first fight, which Jones won by unanimous scores of 116-112 back in May of 1993.

“Roy was never an A, B, and C fighter like me. I had to focus on the fundamentals and be a technical fighter because I didn’t have his natural talent, which he used to outpoint me,” Hopkins said of the only clear-cut loss of his career. “But as we got older I could rely on my technique, which Jones never needed. I’ve gotten better. My resume shows it. Has Roy gotten better?”

The consensus answer is no.

Jones (54-6, 40 knockouts) is 5-5 in his last 10 bouts, dating back to 2004. Three of his losses are by knockout (to Antonio Tarver, Glen Johnson and Green). His most-impressive victory among those bouts is probably his one-sided 12-round decision over an inactive and overweight Felix Trinidad in January of 2008.

Jones is no longer ranked by THE RING at light heavyweight and it’s been years since he’s graced the pound-for-pound rankings he once ruled. Hopkins (50-5-1, 33 KOs), THE RING’s No. 3-rated light heavyweight and No. 4 on the magazine’s pound-for-pound list, is 7-3 in his last 10 bouts, also dating back to 2004. His losses are two controversial decisions to then-undefeated Jermain Taylor and a close split decision to Joe Calzaghe. His victories include one-sided decisions over Tarver for the world light heavyweight title in 2006 and then-undefeated middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik in October of 2008.

Hopkins, 45, somehow still has it. Jones, 41, is obviously past it.

But that fact didn’t prevent the Pensacola, Fla., native from sticking it to Hopkins where it hurts.

“What Bernard is basically saying about our first fight is that I was a so much better athlete than him that he couldn’t outbox me with his skills,” Jones said. “He could never beat me. That’s why he didn’t want the rematch in all those years.

“Now he thinks that I’ve slowed down and there’s a possibility that he might be able to catch up to me. Now that he thinks I’m weak, he has the gall to fight me. Now he thinks he can win, but it will never happen. He can’t beat me.”

Hopkins seethed in his seat as Jones uttered those words.

As the “debate” carried on they resorted to name calling. Jones referred to Hopkins as “Big Head” and “Block Head.” Hopkins called Jones “Chicken George.”

After the debate portion of the presser ended, the floor was open to questions from the media. One reporter asked Hopkins whether he was jealous of the stardom that Jones enjoyed in the 10 years that followed their first fight.

“Jealousy is the wrong word,” Hopkins said. “I moved on after that loss and concentrated on my own career because I knew Roy wasn’t going to give me a rematch.

“I went on to win the middleweight title and I defended it against an undefeated fighter named Glen Johnson. I beat him up and stopped him in 11 rounds on CBS in 1997 … I have a good memory. I became the undisputed middleweight champ and then I won the light heavyweight title beating Antonio Tarver.

“Two of the easiest fights of my career came against the two fighters who derailed Roy’s career.”

“Is that not jealousy?” Jones asked the assembled media.

“It ain’t jealousy,” Hopkins replied. “(Jones) didn’t want to share the spotlight with me, so I found my own light. I knew he didn’t want to fight me, so I beat the guys who beat him.”

“The hostility in his voice tells you that he’s jealous of me,” Jones said. “I knew he’d beat Tarver. I knew that he was motivated to do anything to say that his legacy is better than mine without beating me. But that won’t be true until he beats me and he knows he can’t do that. We could’ve fought any time as long as he agreed that 60 goes to the winner and 40 goes to the loser.”

“I fought everybody. I didn’t’ beat up school teachers, police officers and sanitation workers,” Hopkins said in defense of his legacy, while criticizing some of the inferior competition Jones took on during his light heavyweight reign.

“Does it still sound like jealousy to you?” Jones asked the media. “It does to me.”

It sounded like resentment to this writer. Resentment that has festered for 17 years.

Anyone who’s followed Hopkins knows the hardnosed ex-con from Philadelphia will use that resentment to fuel his training and preparation for the rematch. That’s what Hopkins, the fighter, does.

Hopkins, the promoter, will use it to sell the fight. Jones will use his confidence, which he exuded during Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s press conferences, to do the same.

And hardcore fans will try their best to resist paying to watch two old men fight a rematch that nobody asked for.

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