Hopkins seeks to finish King for good

B-Hop plans send-off of former promoter with win over 175-pound titlist Cloud

Updated: March 8, 2013, 12:55 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

When fight time nears, Bernard Hopkins is always looking for motivation. He usually turns snarly as he rails against the boxing writers who have regularly picked against him in some of his biggest fights, promising to prove them wrong yet again.

And he likes to discuss his extra drive that comes from a belief that some shadowy force in the boxing business wants him out, and that by winning, he can continue to irritate the powers that be.

This time around, as Hopkins prepares to challenge light heavyweight titleholder Tavoris Cloud on Saturday in Brooklyn, N.Y., it's no different.

Besides a great desire, at age 48, to break his own record by becoming the oldest fighter in history to win a world title -- be beat Jean Pascal at 46 in 2011 to reclaim the title and break heavyweight legend George Foreman's record -- Hopkins has another target of his ire.

That would be the one and only Don King, Cloud's promoter. King used to promote Hopkins, and the two have had some legendary battles over contracts, finances and public relations. There have been a few lawsuits, too.

Also on the card, fast-rising 24-year-old welterweight prospect Keith Thurman (19-0, 18 KOs) of Clearwater, Fla., will meet former titleholder Jan Zaveck (32-2, 18 KOs), 36, of Slovenia, in a scheduled 12-round bout.

Hopkins' ire was so great this week that he refused to speak at Wednesday's final news conference -- a miracle considering how it's usually difficult to get him to stay quiet for 10 seconds. Instead, the Philadelphia legend sat sullen, wearing dark glasses, a black hoodie and a black bandana covering his face as he refused to talk to the media.

[+] EnlargeTavoris Cloud and Don King
Rich Kane/Hoganphotos/Golden Boy PromotionsTavoris Cloud is "the last horse" in Don King's stable, according to Bernard Hopkins, whose goal is to put his former promoter out of business with a win over Cloud on Saturday.

But in the weeks leading up to this bout, Hopkins (52-6-2, 32 KOs), who hasn't fought since losing his title to Chad Dawson by decision in their rematch last April, was happy to discuss one of his motivations for the Cloud challenge: King.

"I made my legacy off Don King fighters in the [2001] middleweight tournament," Hopkins said of the four-man tournament he won to become undisputed 160-pound champion; he dominated Keith Holmes to unify two titles and then knocked out heavy favorite Felix Trinidad to grab another belt in a major upset.

King, of course, put the tournament together hoping that Trinidad would win it all. While Hopkins was with King, he regularly defeated other King fighters whom King would have preferred to win. Hopkins estimates he went 15-0 against King fighters before leaving him for good in 2004.

"I got away from Don King," Hopkins said. "But if he shakes my hand, I shake his hand. Don is one of the legendary promoters, but he's not the power promoter that he was for so many years. But I still respect the legend even though things ain't always been great with us. But he will be shut down after [Saturday].

"Those folks who work for him, they better start putting their résumés together, because they're going to be looking for work when I shut him down."

Indeed, King is no longer the center of the promotional universe. His company, Don King Productions, has fallen on hard times. He no longer wields the enormous power he once held with the television networks and casinos because his cupboard -- once loaded with stars such as Mike Tyson, Julio Cesar Chavez, Evander Holyfield and Trinidad ring -- is all but empty.

It has been quite some time since King put on a mega-event, and Hopkins aims to keep it that way.

"After I beat Cloud, Don King will have to pawn his [famous American flag-sequined] jacket," he said. While the rest of King's fighters have either faded or dumped him, Cloud (24-0, 19 KOs) has remained loyal. Cloud, 31, of Tallahassee, Fla., will be making his fifth title defense and is fighting for the first time in 13 months since a controversial split decision win against former titlist Gabriel Campillo. Hopkins believes that by beating the last of King's marketable fighters, he would essentially put his longtime nemesis out of business.

"Whoever thought that Bernard Hopkins, out of anybody -- not the mob, not the street people, not the fighters who threatened him over the years, not other promoters, all the people that Don King faced (he can tell you better than I can) -- whoever thought that it would be me that would shut him down?" Hopkins said. "Whoever thought? No one, no one, no one would have ever thought."

Certainly breaking his own record as the oldest fighter to win a world title is also important to Hopkins, who will be fighting in New York for the first time since his historical win against Trinidad two weeks after 9/11.

"It will mean a lot to me," Hopkins said. "But it will mean more to the young guys that I see not only in the gym, but around the world in boxing that admire me, to understand if you keep your body clean in and out of the ring and you do the right things, you might not fight until you're in your 40s, but you have a great possible career. I'm an example and I might as well get all I can get out of it and let everybody see it because I doubt very seriously that you will see a longevity in any sport of a Bernard Hopkins. Not in my lifetime. I'm ready to go, and it's going to be a masterful performance."

As much as the history of the title would mean to him, Hopkins said that it was pictures of King plastered around his training camp that served as his main motivation.

"I know I'm not fighting Don King -- I'm fighting somebody much better, much younger, who's coming to make a reputation off of me," Hopkins said. "I understand that clearly. But I understand my biggest motivation, and it's always been -- even 80 percent of my [division-record] 20 [middleweight title] defenses were with his fighters. Do the math, look at the Internet, look at the fighters I've fought. Don King, willingly or unwillingly, helped me build my legacy, and I've been beating him ever since, and what a way to put the last nail in the coffin. I'm honored to do it."

Bernard Hopkins
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty ImagesBernard Hopkins last fought in New York in 2001, when he upset Felix Trinidad to scuttle promoter Don King's best-laid plans.

King laughed off Hopkins' promises to send him into retirement.

"I love Bernard," King said. "Bernard is doing a great job of promoting, and I just want to say that he's not a nemesis to me. He's a wonderful fighter, a great fighter.

"Bernard had a contract with me. I was promoting Bernard, and he was beating guys. I had a contract with some of the guys that he was in there fighting. It's never been nothing like a protagonist and an antagonist. It's been doing what you have to do to win the hearts and minds of the people by performance, and Bernard did that. Both of us are alumni, we got out of the penitentiary, and so it's a thing here that he's a guy that you've got to be able to look at. He's a penitentiary brother. So let him do his thing, but I think he's an excellent fighter, I think he's been a credit to the sport."

For Cloud's part, he said he's not concerned about winning for King. He wants to win for himself as he earns his biggest purse ($550,000 to Hopkins' $750,000) and has a chance to send Hopkins into a retirement of his own.

"I mean, it's not something I think about, because it's not going to happen," Cloud said of Hopkins winning and putting King out of business. "He's not going to beat me. Bernard is -- he believes all this stuff in his own head -- I mean, he's in his own world. So I'll let him be until [Saturday]. I'll let him be."

Hopkins, however, is having none of that.

"[King's] empire is on your shoulders," Hopkins taunted Cloud at one of their promotional appearances. "You're the last horse. There's no one left in the stable."

And at that same appearance, Hopkins then turned to King and added, "Enjoy your day, because after [Saturday] there will be a big celebration of your long-lasting promotional legacy as I send you into retirement."