Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
It's always something with Bernard Hopkins.
Whether trashing an opponent's native flag as he did prior to meeting Puerto Rican hero Felix Trinidad in 2001 or walking the tightrope of racial insensitivity, during a recent nose-to-nose confrontation with Saturday night foe Joe Calzaghe, the Philadelphia veteran is never short on made-for-TV abrasiveness.
And while I'm no fan of the juvenile nonsense that seems to follow Hopkins wherever he goes lately, I'd be remiss in not giving him credit for the out-of-ring promotional prowess hes developed to augment a still-considerable bag of in-ring tricks.
Be they cleverly contrived or genuinely spontaneous, the camera-luring antics often find their way to the mainstream sports media cycle, where highlight jockeys replay them and self-involved pundits dissect them all while simultaneously generating exactly what Hopkins the businessman covets.
A palpable pre-fight buzz.
And with his "I'll never let a white boy beat me" taunt toward Calzaghe this time around, Hopkins may or may not have landed a verbal blow to get under the cool Welshman's skin, but he certainly scored a KO in terms of advance editorial copy and, quite likely, viewers for the HBO broadcast.
More than 100 fight-related stories from various print and other media outlets were available online as of midday Wednesday, with many addressing the incendiary comments via catchy headlines -- including USA Today's "Verbal jabs escalate as Calzaghe-Hopkins nears."
So whether you find them patently offensive or eminently vanilla, Hopkins' signature antics have for the most part done precisely what they were designed to do -- provoke a reaction from those who disseminate the information and convince even the casual sports fan to pay closer attention.
Nonetheless, the boxing question still remains: Will any of it matter on Saturday night?
And the answer here, regardless of a clear-cut decision for Hopkins in hype mongering...is no.
In the naturally heavier and unquestionably fleeter Calzaghe, the 43-year-old faces a foe unlike those he'd routinely encountered during a methodical 20- defense run at 160 pounds and in a subsequently stunning two-fight reinvention at 170/175.
The 44-0 challenger to Hopkins' linear reign is among the few athletic enough to make the old man compete for three minutes each round, and the fewer strong enough to handle himself during spurts when things inevitably get rough in the trenches.
In whipping 168-pound fireplug Jeff Lacy, Calzaghe took to boxing school a foe widely assumed too powerful for a protected UK hero, and in his most recent outing, the 36-year-old melded style and substance in handling Mikkel Kessler, widely figured too sturdy for a combat-averse thoroughbred.
He'll need to concoct another stick-move-stand-fight blend against the Hall of Fame-worthy Hopkins, whose maddeningly unspectacular -- yet undoubtedly effective -- style has made clear-cut losers of marquee cohorts like De La Hoya, Tarver and Wright just since his 39th birthday.
But, tasteless as it may be, this "white boy" likes his chances.
FitzHitz says: Calzaghe by decision.
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The score: Puerto Rico 1, Mexico 1...with one killer tiebreaker to follow.
In competitively-separate-but-brutally-equal performances in Atlantic City on Saturday night, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito not only established themselves as legitimate Nos. 1a and 1b behind Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the 147-pound pecking order, but also set the stage for what's already got to be a prohibitive odds-on favorite for 2008's "fight of the year."
And heck, maybe "fight of the century" as well.
Convincingly regaining a slice of the division's championship pie, Margarito methodically beat down a game-but-outgunned Kermit Cintron over six rounds to capture the IBF's title belt, displaying once again the violent automaton style that had yielded seven successful WBO defenses before last summer's misstep against subsequently-exposed pretender Paul Williams.
Later, WBA belt-holder Cotto added another name to an ever-burgeoning victims list at welterweight, dominating every second of every round before eventually dispatching overmatched reality TV alumnus Alfonso Gomez, in the latter's punishing 15-minute payoff for consecutive wins over faded contenders-turned- trialhorses Arturo Gatti and Ben Tackie.
In his win, Margarito showed an ability to absorb heavy fire without damage while eventually walking down and stopping a foe who'd proven superior to each of the 29 men hed faced previously.
Meanwhile, Cotto did exactly what he was supposed to do against an in-over- his-head challenger, removing all doubt about the eventual outcome by the close of the initial three minutes.
Put it all together and it spells, well...classic.
Post-fight reports out of Boardwalk Hall indicate the fight is being penciled in for July 26 at Madison Square Garden, with the fate of Margarito's new IBF belt among the lone details to be worked out.
In the most likely scenario, it seems, Margarito would voluntarily relinquish his title and No. 1 contender Joshua Clottey would be slotted in for a shot at the vacant championship. Or, in another possible sequence, Margarito would keep the belt and Clottey would get first crack at the unified July winner.
Either or, it's a small preliminary price for a can't-miss main event. And, regardless of what else might be needed to facilitate it, the mandate from fans to Top Rank promotional guru Bob Arum is clear:
Get it done.
FitzHitz says: Cotto by decision.
* * * * * *
Elsewhere on Saturday, the performances weren't so convincing, but the final product may prove equal compelling at light heavyweight.
Dueling champions Chad Dawson and Antonio Tarver each staked their claim to 175-pound superiority at the palatial St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla., with Dawson gutting out a close verdict over ex-kingpin Glen Johnson for the WBC belt while Tarver looked rejuvenated in scoring a wide decision over frozen-by-the-moment British import Clinton Woods that unified the IBO and IBF titles.
Dawson's win, though audibly unpopular with a crowd that favored the Miami- based Johnson, was fair in rewarding the 25-year-old for clear superiorities in clean punching and ring generalship, offsetting the 39-year-old Jamaican's intermittent successes with a consistently plodding stalk and a willingness to absorb three punches for each one he landed.
The surprisingly one-sided points win by Tarver was wholly supported by the hometown crowd and serves as a resurgence of sorts for the previously uninspiring 39-year-old, though its margin was as much a product of Woods' inability to handle the spotlight as it was a sign that the "Magic Man's" stay at the top will be a prolonged one.
In fact, though he surely possesses one-shot KO power in his left hand, Tarvers pick-and-choose punching style is far less taxing on opponents over 12 rounds than Johnson's grinding manner, and may actually provide the younger and quicker Dawson a better platform from which to again proclaim himself the division's best inhabitant.
Nonetheless, it was Tarver doing the talking Saturday night.
"It's all about the belts," he said. "I want all the belt-holders. Chad Dawson, right now, is easy pickings. He's not the fighter that he was before tonight. He got hit by Glen Johnson. Getting hit by Glen Johnson is different than getting hit by Antonio Tarver. He's a wounded duck."
FitzHitz says: Dawson by decision.
* * * * * *
One full-fledged championship belt and two more "interim" titles are up for grabs this weekend.
First, on Saturday at the Caribe Convention Center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Edgar Sosa risks his WBC light flyweight crown for the fifth time against ninth-ranked Panamanian challenger Carlos Melo.
Sosa, a 28-year-old Mexico City native, won his title and subsequently defended it three times in a busy 2007, then returned to the ring in February to defeat Jesus Iribe by unanimous 12-round decision and improve to 31-5 in his eight-year pro career.
Melo, a 25-year-old product of Panama City, has won two straight bouts since snapping a two-fight losing streak that included a failed try for the WBA's interim minimumweight title in 2006.
He regained winning form by defeating Javier Tello via unanimous eight-round decision in September 2007, and then downed Edwin Diaz by a unanimous six- round verdict three months later.
A pro since 2001, Melo is 18-6 in 24 fights.
Elsewhere, in Bucharest, Romania, unbeaten hometown favorite Adrian Diaconu looks to cement his place in the light heavyweight title lineup when he meets fellow unbeaten Chris Henry for the WBC's interim crown at Sala Polivalenta.
The bout will be carried live on the Internet at donkingtv.com.
Diaconu was scheduled to meet WBC champion Chad Dawson late in 2007, but had to pull out after sustaining an injury in training just 10 days before the fight. His last in-ring appearance came May 9 in Montreal, when he stopped Rico Hoye in three rounds in a WBC title eliminator.
He is 24-0 with 15 knockouts.
Henry, who fought at 198 pounds as recently as last summer, was last active when he stopped Derrrick James in six rounds for the NABF and NABA's 175-pound belts in August.
The 27-year-old Houston resident is 21-0 with 17 KOs.
Finally, the WBA's challenger-in-waiting for welterweight kingpin Cotto will be determined when interim claimant Yuriy Nuzhnenko defends his position against No. 15-ranked Irving Garcia at the Sports Palace in Kiev, Ukraine.
Nuzhnenko, a 31-year-old Kiev native, earned the interim slot with a unanimous 12-round nod over Frederic Klose last December in France. That win was the 27th straight in a career that began in 2000 and has also seen him compete in Poland, Australia and Russia.
Garcia, meanwhile, is 7-1-1 since enduring a two-fight losing streak in 2003-04.
He last fought in March at the A La Carte Pavilion in Tampa, Fla., defeating Sergio Garcia on a technical decision after eight rounds to improve to 16-3-1 overall.
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He is a periodic contributor to the Dave Smith Show on Sporting News Radio (radio.sportingnews.com), provides 'In The Ring' boxing commentary for Speeding Bullet Network (speedingbulletnetwork.com) and can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.