By Lyle Fitzsimmons
I’ve been a boxing fan for more than 30 years.
That means I’ve seen most of my generation’s nominees for the greatest fight of all time, most notably the first Pryor-Arguello duel in 1982, the Hagler-Hearns mini-masterpiece in 1985 and the epic to-and-fro between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo exactly two decades later.
Gun to my head… the last of those three matches is the best I’ve ever seen.
Of course, over that same time frame, there have been eagerly anticipated fights that turned out to be duds, and clashes that were barely noticed on the front end before winding up as classics.
We could all fill notebooks with varieties of both.
But over the last few weeks, I’ve heard the initial stages of rumbling for a fight that’s got me as intrigued as any I can remember encountering in either 36 years as a fan or 25 years as a professional journalist.
And the winner is: Bernard Hopkins vs. Carl Froch.
On the surface, I’ll concede it’s no Gatti/Ward.
Hopkins has long been the antithesis of titillation when it comes to ring work, content instead to make venomous promises at press conferences before lulling his opponents – and assembled audiences – to sleep during cerebral 12-round chess matches.
For his sake, Froch is just as chatty and light years more exciting, but his one true leap to the big stage thus far – in a Showtime tournament finale against Andre Ward – was a dullish clinic in which he played the unenviable role of student en route to a unanimous scorecard loss.
So it’s not a slam dunk that they’ll produce memorable drama together.
But there do seem to be enough elements to make it worthwhile to find out.
Based on those aforementioned track records, the two would no doubt combine for a sound bite festival of a press tour, which could wake up the echoes of both Hopkins’ stomping on a foreign flag – as he did with Felix Trinidad in 2001 – and blurring the line of racial correctness, as he did upon promising Welshman Joe Calzaghe “I’ll never let a white boy beat me” before their meeting in 2008.
And there’s potential for some fireworks with the gloves on, too.
Froch has been a changed fighter since the loss to Ward, and the atmosphere created in his Nottingham backyard for the post-loss drubbings of Lucian Bute and Yusaf Mack would only be amped up by the presence of Hopkins, who’s indicated a willingness to travel to play the role of villain.
“(It’s) a truly massive fight. Froch is top of my wish list,” the Philadelphian said. “I have great respect for him as a fighter. He is very exciting and our styles would make for a great fight. I will happily go over to the UK to make it happen.”
Indeed, once the bell rings, it’s hard to imagine the “Cobra” falling into the same traps that nabbed guys like Pascal and Cloud, and it’s equally hard to envision a scenario – as was the case with Pavlik – where Hopkins is the quicker and more athletic fighter and able to initiate and win most exchanges.
I say that because I’m a big Froch fan.
And because Hopkins is, well, 48 years old.
Then again, I chose Pavlik in 2008 when he was only 43; and the shell of Roy Jones in 2010 when he was a youthful 45, so what the hell do I know?
That answer notwithstanding, of all the significant fights with a shot at actually happening between now and this time next year – Mayweather-Alvarez, Klitschko-Povetkin and Ward-Chavez among them – a meeting of Froch and Hopkins has gallons more juice for me.
It’s two legitimate champions. It’s two legitimate pound-for-pounders. It’s two guys for whom a well-reasoned case for victory can be made. It’s two characters whose personalities collectively raise the enterprise from garden-variety catchweight fight to reasonably-priced pay-per-view option.
I can’t be the only one who thinks so, and I can’t be the only one who’d drop $70 to find out.
But if Rachel Cordingley shows up to carry the ring cards… you can go ahead and make it $100.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBO super featherweight title – Flemington, Australia
Will Tomlinson (champion) vs. Malcolm Klassen (No. 39 contender)
Tomlinson (20-0-1, 12 KO): Third title defense; Fourth fight at venue (3-0)
Klassen (27-5-2, 14 KO): Fifth title fight; Twice held IBF title at 130 (zero defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “Klassen is older, hasn’t been as active and is traveling into the foe’s backyard for a title try. Though he may be the better man, it’s hard to see him overcoming all three.” Tomlinson by decision
WBA cruiserweight title – Moscow, Russia
Denis Lebedev (champion) vs. Guillermo Jones (unranked)
Lebedev (25-1, 19 KO): Second title defense; Fourteenth fight in Moscow (13-0)
Jones (38-3-2, 30 KO): Seventh title fight (3-1-2); Held WBA title from 2008-11 (two defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “Jones is past 40 and hasn’t fought in more than a year. Had the fight been five years ago, I take him. But now I think it’s too tough a hill to climb.” Lebedev in 10
IBF welterweight title – Atlantic City, N.J.
Devon Alexander (champion) vs. Lee Purdy (No. 4 contender)
Alexander (24-1, 13 KO): First title defense; Held IBF/WBC titles at 140 (two WBC defenses/one IBF)
Purdy (20-3-1, 13 KO): First title fight; First fight outside the United Kingdom
Fitzbitz says: “Alexander needs to keep himself in the relevance sweepstakes at 147, and losing to an Englishman with a suspect resume would not be the best way to go about it.” Alexander by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder -- no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week’s picks: 3-1
2013 picks record: 26-18 (59.1 percent)
Overall picks record: 489-170 (74.2 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.