Antonio Tarver and Bernard Hopkins at Tavern on the Green

Light heavyweight champion Antonio Magic Man Tarver and his opponent Bernard The Executioner Hopkins met the New York press at Tavern on the Green in Central Park Tuesday morning. The Tavern on the Green, for those who haven’t been there, is quintessential tourist heaven. It’s great place for weddings and bar mitzvahs, for celebrations and whatnot of all kinds. It’s even safe for the kids. And after that romantic horse and buggy ride through Central Park with your extra-special someone, there’s no better place to stop if you’ve got a hankering for an authentic Manhattan pricey so-so meal.

Most New Yorkers go to the Tavern on the Green only at the threat of eviction or the end of a gun, and even then not without making a fuss, but being a member of the boxing press inclines one to be intrepid, to take the plunge and wallow in those perks. Since I’m not in on the hooker-limo-cigar-hot tub boxing writers circuit, even though I have a ticket and I’m standing in what someone told me was the line (come to think of it, he also tried to sell me the Brooklyn Bridge), the finest perk I know of, hands down, is being ringside at the fights. Talk about your treat of treats. And the second best perk has to be the regular press conferences/photo ops/all-you-can-eat smorgasbords/buffets. The grub is always gloriously abundant, and always gloriously free, and includes everything from the Not-too-bad to the They-call-that-food? The chow at Tavern on the Green sits squarely in the Not-too-bad food range, maybe not something you’d want to eat every day if you hope to live past fifty, but really quite palatable if you’re homeless.

Into this timeless world of scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, of mini croissants, mini bagels, cream cheese and smoked fish, of faux Tiffany glass twinkling in the sunlight through a maze-like series of mirrored walls, hidden doors and secret rooms, Antonio Tarver and Bernard Hopkins, and those hired to control their every movement and record their every utterance, brought a little life (but not too much life) to the staid and cheesy environs of Tavern on the Green. The usual suspects were in the Terrace Room for the usual reasons, namely to prime the pump, to beat the drum loudly, to hype the June 10 bout at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City between Tarver and Hopkins for Tarver’s light heavyweight crown, a fitting swansong for The Executioner called “Fight to the Finishâ€? that will be broadcast on HBO Pay-Per-View.

There was some security at the press conference at Tavern on the Green, de rigueur it seems in our post-9/11 world, but the security was more restrained for Tarver-Hopkins than it was for Rahman-Toney not long ago in the same room, and way more restrained than attending one of Lou DiBella‘s Broadway Boxing cards, which feels like visiting day at Rikers Island. That said, Antonio Tarver and Bernard Hopkins, whatever their faults in and out of the ring, are both amazing cats. It never ceases to amaze me how much larger than life they still both seem. They were as gracious, polite, funny, smart and alive as usual, and both were dressed to the nines.

(The slovenly boxing press corps looks even more slovenly when Tarver and Hopkins are in town. Maybe the BWAA should take a vote on adopting a dress code.)

Seated on the dais were the two principals, Tarver and Hopkins, as well as Tarver’s promoter, Joe DeGuardia of Star Boxing, and Richard Schaeffer, CEO of Golden Boy. Tarver was the first to speak and said, Bernard Hopkins was a great fighter, but his time is past. My time is now, and I see it as a personal insult that Hopkins would even consider coming up to light heavyweight to challenge me.

Personal insult? Personal insult is Hopkins’ middle name. (And you thought it was The Executioner.)

After everything I accomplished in this sport, Hopkins said, and with all the obstacles I had to go through to get here, I don’t even entertain the thought of losing in my final fight. I will win this fight over Antonio Tarver, cement my legacy and finish my career in fashion where no one will ever forget what I brought to the boxing ring.

The stage is set, said Tarver, pausing for effect like a seasoned showman. The only problem is they picked the wrong guy.

The difference between Bernard Hopkins and Tarver, Hopkins countered, is Bernard Hopkins has something to prove and has something to go into the ring and fight for and that’s my legacy.

He has big goals, Tarver said. He has big dreams. It’s up to me to close the door.

Antonio Tarver vs. Bernard Hopkins aka Fight to the Finish is June 10 on HBO PPV.