By Mitch Abramson
Bernard Hopkins bobbed and weaved, he ducked and darted. One of the best defensive fighters ever, Hopkins avoided the question like a left hand to the liver. Does he still want to fight pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr., an idea he floated last month in Las Vegas just days before Mayweather outpointed Saul (Canelo) Alvarez ? At first, Hopkins evaded the question, citing his desire to focus on Saturday’s opponent in Atlantic City, the virtually unknown Karo Murat.
“How would I look if I was talking about someone else when I have a fight on Saturday,” Hopkins said. “It would look like I’m overlooking my opponent, like I’m not focused on him.”
But after initially declining to talk Mayweather, Hopkins did concede a fight with Mayweather was still high on his bucket list, even if the possibility of that fight actually happening remains about as likely as a near 50-year-old man winning a world title.
So in other words, anything is possible, even if his partner and promoter, Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy cast doubt on the likelihood of that fight reaching fruition.
But for Bernard Hopkins, who defied logic by winning a world title at age 48 in March against Tavoris Cloud, the concept of facing Mayweather Jr. is a scenario so plush with intrigue (and earning potential) it’s too good not too discuss. So when Hopkins first mentioned the idea of facing Mayweather at 160 pounds last month, it seemed both preposterous and highly intriguing. The thought of Hopkins, the oldest fighter to ever win a championship, facing the slickest and best fighter of the moment is a match of mind-bending possibilities.
But could a fight between two future Hall-of-Famers actually happen? Would Mayweather, a welterweight, rise in weight to face Hopkins at middleweight? Would Hopkins drop 15 pounds to meet Mayweather? Hopkins, who defends his IBF light heavyweight title against Murat (25-1-1, 15 knockouts) on Saturday in Atlantic City on Showtime, believes a fight with Mayweather is conceivable- even if others are less confident.
Mayweather will next fight in May and is sorting through a list of possible opponents, which Schaefer would not divulge, though it seems unlikely Hopkins is an option at this point. But hey, it can’t hurt to think big, right?
And there remains a school of thought, that the Showtime boxing analyst Steve Farhood subscribes to, that Mayweather is running out of appealing opponents and could do worse by picking Hopkins.
And if anyone is capable of making a miracle happen and defying the odds, it’s Hopkins, right?
“What’s on my mind is on Saturday because I want to leave a profound statement,” said Hopkins, who last fought at middleweight in 2005. “But I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel and [there] is a possibility of anything happening,” he went on.
“When you pit two chess players in the ring together [in me and Mayweather], then there you got a fight. I don’t care what the age is. You take 37 in February [for Mayweather] and I’ll be 49 in January, that’s 80+ years of experience.”
Hopkins believes a fight with Mayweather would be an instant classic, rising to the level of fights such as Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler and Leonard-Thomas Hearns.
“That would be one of the big blockbuster, urban fights since the Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler or the Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns fight,” Hopkins said. “When’s the last time we saw that kind of urban- I’m looking at it from a promotional point of view and a cultural point of view.”
But Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy, who also works with Mayweather, was more dubious of a fight between Hopkins (53-6-2 32 knockouts) and Mayweather happening because of Mayweather’s reluctance to rise in weight beyond 147 pounds, where he is most comfortable, even though he did fight Alvarez at a catch-weight of 151 pounds.
“I don’t think he’s going to be moving up to 160,” Schaefer said of Mayweather. “So I really don’t think that’s a fight that is going to happen. I just don’t see it happening because Floyd is really a 147-pounder. I think that’s where Floyd feels the most comfortable at. For a fight or two he might be moving to 154 but he’s not a middleweight. And I just don’t see it happening.”
At the same time, Schaefer conceded a fight between Mayweather and Hopkins would be a huge event, tapping into the imagination of the mainstream sporting fan because of the longevity and productivity in the sport of the two fighters and also because of their talkative, at times polarizing personalities.
“Yeah it’s two big names but there are other big names out there,” Schaefer said. “So I think we’ll just have to wait and see what Floyd is going to decide. I agree, that Bernard is a big name and that’s why he always has good TV ratings, ticket sales are good in Atlantic City so yeah he’s one of the names that transcends the sport because [fans] outside of the boxing circle know Bernard Hopkins and big names are the key for a successful Pay-Per-View, but again I’m rather doubtful that a fight between Bernard and Floyd would happen.”
At the same time, Hopkins said it was Schaefer, who first asked him if he could drop down to 160 pounds, with the idea of facing Mayweather last month in Las Vegas.
Hopkins thinks that Schaefer probably asked Mayweather his interest in a Hopkins bout following that conversation and Mayweather declined.
“So the same guy that told you that must have asked Floyd and he must have said ‘no,’ but I didn’t jump on the- I’m minding my business,” Hopkins said. “It would take work for me to do it [to make 160 pounds], but I would love to put the cameras behind me to see how I train and how I eat, that All-Access so they could see me. That would be great. So you have two guys who can hold their own. But if I wasn’t asked I would never have said nothing. I would have just been there, promoting [in Las Vegas]. So the moral of the story [is] people shouldn’t ask what they ask me, because I might just say yes.”
The Showtime commentator Steve Farhood believes that Mayweather is running out of appealing opponents to challenge him at 147 pounds and Hopkins is a good, creative, option.
“In so many other ways, the fight is fascinating,” Farhood said. “You have two guys who are masters of the psychological, before the fight battle. Hopkins wrote the book and Mayweather has followed it. You have two of the greatest fighters in history fighting each other and at this point, because of the ease with which Floyd has won all of his fights, you want some kind of a new challenge, a kind of dramatic challenge."
"Do we really believe that there’s anyone at 140 or 147 pounds left that’s a challenge to this guy? He doesn’t lose a round. For that reason, there’s a lot of drama. You’d like to see them match their boxing skills against one another and I would welcome it if Hopkins is confident enough that he can lose the weight and is confident that he can be effective.”
Beyond that, Farhood believes Mayweather could make more money facing Hopkins than probably against anyone else.
“It seems to me in this late stage of Floyd’s career, clearly he loves money, that goes without saying,” Farhood said. “He’d probably make more to fight Hopkins than anyone else and secondly I do think that he wants challenges.”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.