In October of 2008, living legend Bernard ‘The Executioner’ Hopkins found himself a huge underdog heading into his bout with then-middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Hopkins was coming off of a close split-decision loss to super talented southpaw Joe Calzaghe six months prior while Pavilk had yet to taste defeat in his career while also having endeared himself to the boxing world with his come-from-behind knockout over Jermain Taylor one year prior.
Pavlik’s cautiously-aggressive style mixed with the potent power in his two fists figured to be remedying enough to give Hopkins a long and painful night, according to most insiders, but the cagey vet had a few tricks up his sleeve on that night. For the better part of twelve rounds Hopkins dominated Pavlik with pure boxing and fluid combinations that had the Youngstown, Ohio fighter baffled as he scored a unanimous decision in a near whitewash performance.
It was another virtuoso showcase for Hopkins but for Pavlik it still serves as a loss that he has yet to fully recover from. Since that defeat Pavlik has gone 3-1 and has made the headlines more so because of his ability to find ways of pulling out of big fights, most recently having withdrawn from Saturday’s date against Detroit southapw Darryl Cunningham, a fight would have led to a showdown with IBF super middleweight champion Lucian Bute later this year if he was successful.
In speaking to the media, Pavlik has remained adamant that his withdrawal was because of the lack of money he would be receiving for his assignments against Cunningham ($50,000) and Bute ($1.35 million) but it’s obvious that much is going on behind the scenes for the 29-year old. Pavlik has battled with alcoholism in the recent past and his latest actions have left his promoter Bob Arum upset and concerned about Kelly’s future.
Trainer Naazim Richardson helped to come up with a strategy that Hopkins could utilize against Pavlik on that night in New Jersey and has been taken back by Pavlik’s antics these days. Despite looking at him as an opponent at one point in his life, Richardson showed serious concern when asked about Pavlik’s recent troubles.
“Listen, I don’t want to wish troubles on anybody,” Richardson told me during our conversation on Tuesday night. “I have my own outside of the ring and we all have our own burdens we have to bear, so to speak. Nobody of any real moral structure wishes ill will on any human being. You’d like to see this man be able to sit there and be comfortable with his family and enjoy some of the fruits of his labor.”
Classy stuff from Richardson but the reality is that the North Philadelphian has little time for sorrow these days, as he will be guiding Hopkins into battle on October 15th against former champion Chad Dawson inside of Staples Center in Los Angeles. Hopkins is no shrinking violet at age 46, having wrestled the WBC light heavyweight crown away from Jean Pascal this past May, but Richardson can’t overlook the daunting task that lies ahead with the dynamic Dawson.
“Bernard has pulled himself into a new era of boxing. Youth, desire, athleticism, and these kids always try to step up a bit; they grew up on Bernard Hopkins and now they’re facing him. Every direction that Bernard goes, there’s another young, strong lion,” Richardson mused.
Cutting to matters more serious than just fisticuffs inside of a prize ring, I asked Naazim about his two boys, identical twins and standout amateurs Rock and Tiger Allen, who recently were involved in a one-car accident in June that saw them both rushed to intensive-care units. While it appears that both men have recovered, Richardson spoke with a heavy heart when reflecting on the entire ordeal.
“It’s a struggle but all we can ask from God is to be able to endure what he has planned for us and that’s what he had planned for me and my family. Hopefully we grow and be educated from it and help others in the future. The angel didn’t come for them that night and we just walk away the best way we can from this point on.”
Ever since speaking with Richardson last year at the Mandalay Bay prior to the Bernard Hopkins-Roy Jones rematch, I have found him to be a genuine and talkative soul with little room for negativity. Here's hoping that his sons remain well.