Boxing will return to North Broad Street Wednesday but it won’t be at the legendary Blue Horizon -- with a name this big the venue is much larger and the national exposure greater.
Philly’s own Bernard Hopkins (49-5-1, 32 KOs) seeks to prove he has plenty of punches left against Enrique Ornelas (29-5 19 KOs) in a light heavyweight fight. He's using the rare weeknight made-for-TV fight -- especially for a boxer of his stature -- as the first step in a three-bout plan to achieve one final milestone.
Hopkins once promised his mother that he would retire at 40. He is now creeping up on 45 and still punching.
But, things aren’t the same for B-Hop as they were during his perfect 10-year reign as middleweight champion that earned him the name the “Executioner.”
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“Once you start that engine, you're cool,” Hopkins said. “It's starting the engine that takes time.”
Known for a clean and frugal lifestyle that bans alcohol, red meat and late nights, Hopkins feels he still has time to keep that engine purring. The end of his 21-year career, which he claimed was over after defeating Antonio Tarver in 2006, is no longer on the immediate horizon.
Hopkins, not a stylistically pleasing fighter but efficient at what he does, intends to go out on top as the heavyweight champion.
“There's no division after heavyweight,” he said. “It's over.”
Hopkins' first item on his to-do list is knocking out Ornelas. If Roy Jones Jr. wins his fight the same night in Australia, Hopkins said the two would meet in March at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Then, after four more months of training “to put some muscle on this lean body,” Hopkins said he would challenge WBA heavyweight champion David Haye.
“He's not the biggest heavyweight and I won't be either,” he said. “But at the end of the day, what a career.”
Hopkins started boxing in a Pennsylvania state prison, where he served five years beginning at the age of 17. He turned pro in 1988 and won his first bout in 1990. On May 22, 1993, he lost an unanimous decision to Jones for the vacant IBF middleweight crown -- a setback he vowed won't happen again if they sign for a rematch.
First thing is first for the “Executioner” -- he must beat Ornelas in front of his home crowd.
B-Hop is focused on revitalizing the Philly fight scene. The North Philadelphia native wants the city, where gritty contenders rose from the streets and became champions, to again be a destination where rising prospects can fight on solid cards on national television. One way for Hopkins to get his message out is fighting at Temple University and skipping the pay networks and pay-per-view in favor of cable exposure on Versus.
Hopkins, who usually trains in Miami, is a regular at the Upper Darby Boxing Club, training in a dingy gym in a dilapidated neighborhood just outside Philadelphia. One ring, a handful of punching bags, and walls tacked with Hopkins posters and faded newspaper clippings with headlines of big fights and local fighters who never made it big.
“It feels and looks like it's in the trenches,” Hopkins said. “You wouldn't eat your lunch in here. You need that other psychological piece and that piece is here for me.”
“Being home can be a little challenging because people are excited and they want to be a part of it,” Hopkins said. “The closer we get to the fight, the more they're hearing it on the radio, the more they're reading it on The AP or the Daily News, that brings curiosity. But it's been good. It's been energizing for me.”
B-Hop was discussing with Versus the possibility of the network televising weekly cards out of Philadelphia, he said. The area and the sport suffered a blow recently when 25-year-old Francisco Rodriguez was injured in the ring at the Blue Horizon, underwent emergency brain surgery and died.
All boxers know the risks when they step between the ropes. Hopkins called it a “kill or be killed” mentality.
“I hate to say it, but I have a better chance of getting shot driving in my car in Philadelphia with a stray bullet than actually getting hurt in the boxing ring,” he said.
Some tickets still remain for the fight and can be bought online or at the Liacouras Center box office. The undercard fights begin at 6 and Hopkins should take the ring some time after 8.