As champ hits 40, enjoyable finish lies within reach

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Bernard Hopkins turns 40 today, but the self-proclaimed "granddaddy of boxing" says he'll spend this evening indulging in a childhood memory.

"I'm going to go to the movies that night and see Fat Albert," Hopkins said Thursday. "I'm serious about that. I haven't seen that movie, and I remember watching him as a kid.

"I've got to celebrate my birthday. I've been in camp training in the past on my birthday, but there's nothing like turning 40. They say you begin to enjoy life at 40, so I've got to celebrate - but only a little bit. The real celebration will come on Feb. 19, after I beat this next guy."

That's when Hopkins (45-2-1, 32 knockouts), the undisputed middleweight (160 pounds) champion, is scheduled to make the middleweight-record 20th defense of his four belts against England's Howard Eastman (40-1, 34 KOs) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

"This is the first of my last few where the world is asking, 'who can knock out the granddaddy of boxing?'" said Hopkins, speaking via the cellular phone of his trainer, Bouie Fisher, from Miami, where he is preparing for Eastman. "Lennox Lewis has left the ring. Mike Tyson is no more what he once was. Roy Jones has crumbled. I am the Jerry Rice of boxing. This one's for the Geritol drinkers."

In Eastman, 34, Hopkins meets a man who is 8-0 with six knockouts since losing a controversial majority decision to former world titlist William Joppy in November 2001.

Eastman is the first of Hopkins' three-fight deal with HBO, one he said guarantees him two pay-per-view appearances in the next 12 months. If Hopkins has his way, he'll close out his career with bouts against either Felix Trinidad (42-1, 35 KOs) or Winky Wright (48-3, 25 KOs), and light heavyweight Glen Johnson (42-9-2, 28 KOs).

Hopkins earned $10 million for his most recent fight, a ninth-round knockout of Oscar De La Hoya in September. Hopkins added De La Hoya's World Boxing Organization crown to his World Boxing Association, World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation titles, becoming the first middleweight to simultaneously hold all four belts.

After his non-pay-per-view bout against Eastman, Hopkins said he'd like a May or June rematch against Puerto Rico's Trinidad, the man he stopped in the 12th round in September 2001. Trinidad ended a two-year hiatus with his most recent win, a knockout of Ricardo Mayorga in October.

"[Trinidad's] fans are dying for it, and he deserves a rematch," said Hopkins, who said he would prefer a bout with Wright, the undisputed junior middleweight champ, over one with rising middleweight star Jermain Taylor (22-0, 16 KOs).

"Winky Wright brings more money than Taylor," Hopkins said. "The man [Taylor] has talent, but he hasn't exactly been knocking guys out."

After Trinidad or Wright, Hopkins would rise to meet Johnson, who resurrected a struggling career with 2004 victories over Roy Jones and Antonio Tarver. Hopkins was the first man to beat Johnson, who was 32-0 before Hopkins stopped him in the 11th round of their July 1997 meeting.

At 23-0-1 with 16 knockouts since losing to Roy Jones Jr. in 1993, Hopkins has vowed not to be a fighter who fights far beyond his time.

"My word to Shirley Hopkins - my promise to my mother - was that I wouldn't fight past the age of 41," said Hopkins, whose mother died of cancer Aug. 14, 2003. "That leaves me January to January to accomplish what I want to in the ring."

Then he'll devote more time to his wife and 5-year-old daughter. He'll continue to speak at correctional facilities, and he said he might write a book and look into a career as a boxing commentator.

But Hopkins already has begun to think about life after boxing. Since defeating De La Hoya, he has become a partner to De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions - the company which out-bid Britain's Mick Hennessy, Bob Arum's Top Rank and Don King for the right to promote Hopkins-Eastman.

"It's [Golden Boy] been mostly an outlet for Latino fighters, but De La Hoya is opening his company to others. I'm the artery for the East Coast fighters, and the African-American fighters," said Hopkins, who has been self-managed throughout most of his career. "Not that I won't get non-African-American fighters, but De La Hoya's stable hasn't been overflowing with [black fighters.] I'm the lifeline that can bring other ethnicities into it long after I'm done as a fighter myself."

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