Ocala, FL (Sports Network) -
Leave it to Bernard Hopkins.
Seven months after his last win in Las Vegas and several weeks from his next test north of the border, the imminent senior citizen still manages to make news with his mouth.
By alleging pound-for-pound phenom Manny Pacquiao is undeserving of consensus No. 1 status because he hasn't fought a top-flight black opponent, Hopkins regained in a single sound bite the relevance he'd apparently craved since embarrassing Roy Jones Jr. last April.
"Floyd Mayweather would beat Manny Pacquiao because the styles of African- American fighters -- and I mean black fighters from the streets or the inner cities -- would be successful," he said. "I think Floyd Mayweather would pot- shot Pacquiao and bust him up in between the four to five punches that Pacquiao throws, and then set him up later on down the line.
"Maybe I'm biased because I'm black, but I think that this is what is said at people's homes and around the dinner table among black boxing fans and fighters. Most of them won't say it (in public) because they're not being real and they don't have the [guts] to say it."
For those who've followed him, it was vintage Bernard.
"Floyd Mayweather would beat Manny Pacquiao because the styles of African- American fighters" said Bernard Hopkins.
It was the same guy who mocked Joe Calzaghe and said he'd never let a "white boy" beat him. The same guy who counseled Kelly Pavlik to be slicker and compete more like a black fighter. And the same guy who trashed Puerto Rican flags to hype a subsequent Manhattan beatdown of Felix Trinidad.
He's intensely provocative, delightfully edgy and deliberately controversial.
He's often toeing the boundary line of political correctness; and more often is a few steps beyond it.
But this time, when it comes to the assessment of Pacquiao, he's a little more than all that.
He's also dead right.
While all should dismiss Hopkins' chronic race-baiting verbiage for what it is -- chronic race-baiting nonsense -- it'd take a flag-waver of the nth degree to insist with a straight face that the Filipino in question's recent run to prominence isn't at least partially due to prudent matchmaking.
Pacquiao parrots the "I fight who my promoter tells me to fight" mantra as well as any fighter in recent history, but it's hardly a back-room accident that Top Rank czar Bob Arum has lined up the specific guys who've appeared opposite Manny on his rise to the boxing stratosphere.
When the curtain gets peeled back, it's evident that the congressman from General Santos City has been elevated to near deity in the last two years by pretty much beating the same guy five times -- David Diaz, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito.
All strong fighters. All credible champions. But all cut from the same slow- footed, stand-in-front, take-two-to-give-one cloth that a star with Pac's exact skill set was made to destroy -- hence his deserved status as a heavy favorite heading into each bout.
He punished Diaz, jolted Hatton and dismantled Cotto/Clottey/Margarito, thanks to clear advantages in speed and footwork and a fearless will to stalk bigger quarry.
He took whatever shots were dished out in solo and used superior athletic acumen to avoid the prolonged beatings each foe had been robotically programmed to deliver.
In the end, Manny's done with each of them exactly what he was supposed to do.
But simply reciting lines from memory doesn't make an oratory legend. And simply arranging beneficial matchups to yield a trophy room full of title belts doesn't make a Henry Armstrong clone.
So if Arum wants to legitimize the "best-ever" talk that's out there, there's more work to be done.
Which brings us back to Bernard.
Forgetting the racial prism through which it was delivered, the substance of his chatter holds true.
When Manny steps outside his competitive comfort zone, the terrain's been much tougher.
The last time he met someone known for more than winning via sturdiness -- 130-pounder Juan Manuel Marquez in 2008 -- he was pushed to the limit in a fight many still insist he lost. And when he encountered the same multi- faceted foe four years prior at 126, the result was similarly disputed.
After those scares, it's no wonder Team Pac chose to grow its investment under heavy shelter.
But to get from short-term alphabet rich to long-term Canastota wealthy, a new mix is needed.
Now that the Paul Williams spin doctors are temporarily stalled for hyperbole, the only significant fights out there for Pacquiao would pit him against a pair of accomplished slicksters whose very last game plan would be to engage their powerful foil in a face-first volley of heavy artillery.
Instead, Argentine southpaw Sergio Martinez presents a threat capable of both 12-round clinic and one-shot poleax, while Nevada-based enigma Floyd Mayweather Jr. has already beaten a laundry list of elite foes who'd planned to erase him with mettle-sapping intensity.
Any Pac fights with any other stand-ins are only a useless re-read of the same tired script.
And if he's got any real pull with promoter Arum and the Top Rank brass, now's the time to prove it.
Maybe Manny whips them both and silences the final contrarians.
Or maybe he falls gamely short in a career-defining attempt.
But only by making the attempt can he legitimize legacy in a way another series of cookie-cutters -- or untested upstarts Bradley, Alexander and Khan -- simply never will.
And until he does so, he gives an old mouth in Philly an audience its old fists no longer warrant.
Choose wisely, Pac Man. For all our sakes.
This week's title-fight schedule:
FRIDAY Vacant WBC featherweight title - Nagoya, Japan Juan Carlos Burgos (No. 1 contender) vs. Hozumi Hasegawa (No. 2 contender) Burgos (25-0, 18 KO): First title fight; First fight outside North America Hasegawa (28-3, 12 KO): Thirteenth title fight (11-1, 7 KO); Held WBC title at 118 pounds (2005-2010) Fitzbitz says: "Ex-bantam king should thrive in higher weight class." Hasegawa by decision
WBC super featherweight title - Nagoya, Japan Vitali Tajbert (champion) vs. Takahiro Aoh (No. 2 contender) Tajbert (20-1, 6 KO): Second title defense; Three fight win streak since 2008 (3-0, 0 KO) Aoh (19-2-1, 9 KO): Fourth title fight (1-2, 0 KO); Held WBC title at 126 pounds (2008) Fitzbitz says: "Southpaw local captures second weight-division title." Aoh by decision
SATURDAY IBF lightweight title - Tijuana, Mexico Miguel Vazquez (champion) vs. Ricardo Dominguez (unranked) Vazquez (26-3, 12 KO): First title defense; Two of three career losses in Mexico (22-2, 11 KO) Dominguez (32-6-2, 20 KO): Second title fight (0-1, 0 KO); Undefeated in Tijuana (4-0, 3 KO) Fitzbitz says: "Underappreciated Vazquez triumphs in initial title defense." Vazquez by decision
WBA/WBO lightweight titles - Las Vegas, Nev. Juan Manuel Marquez (WBA/WBO champion) vs. Michael Katsidis (WBO interim champion) Marquez (51-5-1, 37 KO): Second title defense; Held IBF/WBA titles at 126 and WBC title at 130 Katsidis (27-2, 22 KO): Second title fight (0-1, 0 KO); Unbeaten in Las Vegas (2-0, 0 KO) Fitzbitz says: "Veteran Marquez too skilled for gutty challenger at lightweight." Marquez in 10
WBA super middleweight title - Oakland, Calif. Andre Ward (champion) vs. Sakio Bika (No. 13 contender) Ward (22-0, 13 KO): Second title defense; Fourth fight in Oakland (3-0, 0 KO) Bika (28-4-2, 19 KO): Fourth title fight (1-1-1, 1 KO); Held IBO title at 168 pounds (2008-09) Fitzbitz says: "Ex-Olympian Ward climbing pound-for-pound rankings as champion." Ward by decision
WBC welterweight title - Las Vegas, Nev. Andre Berto (champion) vs. Freddy Hernandez (No. 10 contender) Berto (26-0, 20 KO): Fifth title defense; First fight in Las Vegas Hernandez (29-1, 20 KO): First title fight; Second fight in Nevada (1-0, 1 KO) Fitzbitz says: "Unbeaten Berto staking his claim to second tier at welterweight." Berto in 8
Vacant WBC super middleweight title - Helsinki, Finland Carl Froch (No. 1 contender) vs. Arthur Abraham (No. 2 contender) Froch (26-1, 20 KO): Fifth title fight (3-1, 1 KO); Held WBC title at 168 pounds (2008-2010) Abraham (31-1, 25 KO): Twelfth title fight (11-0, 7 KO); Held IBF title at 160 pounds (2005-2009) Fitzbitz says: "More skilled ex-middleweight king should overcome dangerous foe." Abraham by decision
Last week's picks: 3-0
Overall picks record: 247-83 (74.8 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz.