Joe Calzaghe and Bernard Hopkins fielded questions from the media at their final organized press conference on Wednesday.
I took a look at selected quotes, and tried to make some sense of them as we head to the Saturday showdown.
I like to see if a fighter tips his hand, verbally, prefight. Is he fixated on a KO? Are his replies curt, which could signify that his game face is on, or curt because he is tight, and full of apprehension? Does he share a gameplan? Is that meaningful, or does he share his strategy only to attempt to swerve his foe with a spurious blueprint? First, I look at Hopkins’ responses, then Calzaghes.’
After being handed a cane (a "present" from Enzo Calzaghe) Bernard Hopkins: I'm going to find something to do with it. Something kinky.
Um, OK. This is a time honored tradition in boxing, and in prison for that matter, trying to show superiority towards a foe by threatening them with unwanted orifice exploration. Unfortunately, I’m having trouble removing this image from my head.
BH: This is going to be my third assassination of a southpaw in the last year and a half.
I’d hardly call his wins over Tarver and Wright assassinations, but let’s not quibble.
BH: There is nothing for me to hype. Even my worst critics have to bow down and admit that I'm in great shape. The times have changes where 43 is not what it used to be.
Bow no, admit yes. I will not be bowing with that cane image in my mind.
BH: I don't have days off. I don't do anything to my temple—my body—that's why I'm here. It comes from discipline that I got from a dark place 20 years ago.
The prison experience was indeed a most formative one for Hopkins. This is not mere hyperbole.
BH: Being an underdog, that's not a negative to me. That's a positive. Everything I have I had to fight for.
It’s true, Hopkins chooses foes and causes that he knows will keep him amped. Being an underdog has had him doing that extra sprint when his mind is telling him to call it a day.
BH: I was just handling my business and I'm watching the Calzaghe-Kessler fight. And after he wins, what does he say? "I want to fight Bernard Hopkins." So I put my teeth in, I rocked back in my rocking chair, took a pop of Geritol, and I call Richard Schaeffer and told him to make it happen.
It appears Hopkins is maintaining his sense of humor. I wouldn’t expect anything else, he’s the consummate pro. But wait…the teeth thing. Was he joking?
BH: Joe is not a spring chicken. I'm already a senior citizen. He's knocking on the door.
This is clever. Politicians do this all the time. Lower expectations by degrading yourself, or your chances, and when you perform well, people are pleasantly surprised.
BH: I'll be able to show the world how I'll be missed when I leave the sport. You're going to see this athlete and man. It's going to be an eye opener. And every time I'm not supposed to win I step up.
He’s right, he will be missed. We all pontificate and wag fingers about his race comments, and flag stomping and the like, but say what you will, he is interesting, and we keyboard tappers like that. Thing is, smart money doesn’t usually make the wily vet much of an underdog. Against Trinidad, many thought he’d get bombed out, and against Taylor, many thought the youngster would be too vibrant against the “old” guy. But you see Hopkins as an underdog at your peril if you are a bettor.
BH: The competition that American and British fighters face is night and day. They get the residue of U.S. fighters.
Oh, snap. That’s mean. And somewhat true. Hey, hold the emails. I’m just saying, Frank Warren and others of his ilk are pretty smart about the types of Americans they import to build up their fighters’ resumes.
BH: I'm up for this fight for a lot of personal reasons. For me it's a cultural fight.
Uh oh, here we go again. This time, is Hopkins playing it smart and coding his remarks?“A cultural fight” could be his slick way of saying that he won’t let a Caucasian beat him. (By the way, I was curious and had to check it out. The Clinton Mitchell who beat Hopkins in his debut fight is in fact, black. Ted Panagiotis the matchmaker remembers Mitchell from when he fought RL Fredericks in 1998. So Hopkins has never lost to a Caucasian, for what it’s worth.) Or, maybe, he's just referring to the fact that Calzaghe represents the UK and he is representing the US.
BH: If he throws 1000 punches he's opening himself up to get hit 1000 times.
This remains to be seen. Bernard has a point. Even flurryers can get frustrated against his dipping and slipping and clinching and clutching and butting and the like.
Joe Calzaghe: It's my 11th year as world champion and I finally have arrived in America. Bernard was champion for nearly 11 years. I'm tremendously confident for this fight.
Question is, how will Joe do out of his homeland, away from the familiar faces, and judges, and sights and sounds and helpful fans shouting for their guy? As far as the confidence level goes, he does look loose, which is good. But Hopkins can make you tighten up real quick after you get a few rounds of his confounding style annoying the heck out of you. Joe is confident now, let’s see how he is in say, round four, on Saturday night.
JC: Bernard has never been stopped and that's something that I think I can do.
Volume is Joe’s greatest asset, not pop. I will not use the nickname I’ve employed before, Slappy Joe, out of respect to his hardcore fans, who might sap too much of our bandwidth as they flood my inbox with hate email. But my guess is no, Joe will not be able to put enough punches together on the slippery defensive master, and stop him for the first time.
JC: I have no respect for my elders come this Saturday night.
I like it that Joe is able to get into a humorous vein so close to fight time. Of course, he could well turn old on Saturday, so
I think the age edge may well be a wash.
JC: I want to be the first person to knock him out and to put him into retirement.
That’s some good motivation, to send Hopkins into promoting full time…if that motivation doesn’t make Calzaghe press too much, set down on his punches more than he’s used to, and gas himself. Bernard is ultra-wise in picking foes; he knows how much pop Joe has, and wouldn’t have signed on if he thought his chin would be in peril.
JC: I'm going to cut 1000 punches down to 500 or 600 punches and make them more powerful and punish him.
I’ll believe it when I see it. Fighters tend to revert to previous form when the going gets tough. Their muscle memory kicks in, and they do what they’ve done before, what feels comfortable. And Joe is comfortable being a swarm specialist, throwing five, six, seven punch combos. His output will likely not be at typical levels because Hopkins will clinch frequently, though. But Joe will have thrown more than 800 punches by the time the final bell rings on Saturday.
JC: If I bring my A-game against anyone in the world I win. All I have to do is bring my best.
He may well be right. An in shape, injury free, relaxed, motivated Calzaghe could show Hopkins that he’s not an overhyped UK import.
JC: Bernard had to go to prison to be hard. To me that's a sign of weakness. I don't have to go to prison to be hard. He's been to prison, big deal. In the end you're going to see a grown man cry.
Only a fella that’s been locked up, and seen what goes on in there can truly know what the experience does to you, so I have disagree with Joe. The Graterford education is a big deal. The majority of those incarcerated find themselves back in the prison population, but Hopkins bucked that trend. He used the experience to his advantage, and does so to this day. And I can say with certainty that we will not see Hopkins cry. The man does have a hardness to him, and let’s just say that his peepers don’t leak easily. Hopkins doesn’t reach for the Kleenex box when he watches a particularly poignant Gray’s Anatomy, OK?
JC: When I walk in the ring I'm going to be the home fighter…with the support from my fans.
True enough. Vegas won’t sound like Millenium Stadium in Wales, but the decibel level will favor Calzaghe, and that’s helpful. If he were fighting an American with a larger fanbase of ticket buyers, coming over here could be a more worrisome exercise. But Hopkins, while he has driven PPVs well in recent years, doesn’t have an outsized fan club.
We shall what, if anything, all this means, on Saturday, on “free” HBO, no less. As always, I hope for an entertaining bout, first and foremost. But I expect that Calzaghe’s volume will prove to be the difference and that the Welshman will leave Vegas with a hard-fought, unanimous decision win, a bunch of welts on his face and newfound respect for Bernard Hopkins, boxing’s best senior citizen.