William Joppy and Keith Holmes have sparred together only briefly. The two middleweight champions run with different crowds -- Joppy prefers his cadre of cronies from Silver Spring and Round 1 Gym in Capitol Heights, Holmes keeps the company of his family and boxing associates out of the Sugar Ray Leonard Training Center in Palmer Park.

Tonight at MCI Center, they will share the same ring again. They won't be fighting each other, at least not yet. And although both speak of a possible meeting, both know they first have to take care of some business.

Joppy (27-1-1), the World Boxing Association title-holder, has a third meeting with Julio Cesar Green (25-3) of the Dominican Republic. Holmes (33-2), owner of the World Boxing Council belt, has a second meeting with Landover's Andrew Council (30-6-3). Both bouts will be televised on Showtime, starting at 8 p.m.

"Keith and I are friends, you know, not real close, but cordial," said Joppy, who has made no secret of his desire to unify the titles in his weight class, declaring "war against all the middleweights" this week. "I think we'll meet up. I hope so. First I have to take care of Green, then we'll see."

Two weeks before his last title defense, scheduled for the Convention Center in February, Joppy was in a car accident outside Round 1. He suffered a fractured vertebrae in his neck and was unable to train for almost four months.

He had a July tune-up in Las Vegas against Napoleon Pitt. It was stopped 2 minutes 38 seconds into the first round, when the referee called a halt to Joppy's attack after Pitt was unable to return fire. Since, Joppy says he has sparred nearly 100 rounds at Round 1, working with trainer Adrian Davis.

The first Joppy-Green fight happened in August 1997, when Green won a decision that put the first blemish on Joppy's record and cost him his WBA belt. Doctors determined Joppy suffered a fractured metacarpal bone in his right hand during the fight. That might have explained why his hand speed, perhaps his greatest attribute, seemed diminished after a third round in which he floored Green twice.

"I fought in his home town, broke my knuckle in the third round, and I still thought I won the decision," Joppy said.

In their second fight, less than six months later in Tampa, Joppy reclaimed his title, convincingly winning on all judges' cards. After Joppy was in the accident and unable to make his mandatory defense against Australian Darren Obah, Green fought Obah and won, claiming the interim title and setting the stage for Joppy-Green III.

"I beat [Green] on neutral ground. Now I will beat him in my own back yard. I know what he has, and there's no way he can stop me."

Green, speaking through an interpreter at Wednesday's prefight news conference, declined any boasts, saying "justice will be done.

"I know William Joppy and respect William Joppy. He's a very strong fighter, but I have confidence in my ability," Green said.

Holmes and Council, both 30, also share some history. Almost five years ago to the day (Sept. 23, 1994), Holmes won a unanimous decision from Council for the U.S. Boxing Association 154-pound title at Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro. The circumstances surrounding that fight, Holmes is not reluctant to point out, are a bit cloudy.

"I was so tired, and I was just trying not to think about everything else that was going on. I just didn't want to quit, and I didn't; it was so hard to keep my focus," said Holmes, referring to the fact that, the day before the fight, he was charged with assault with intent to kill for his alleged role in a 1993 drive-by shooting. He also faced a fugitive-from-justice charge for failing to appear at a court hearing. He was later acquitted on all charges.

"This time my head is clear, and I'm in great shape."

Council lost three points that night because of low blows. This time, he welcomes the shot at redemption.

"This is a big chance for me, a second chance, and I intend to make the most of it," the challenger said. "I'm going to keep my punches up, take the fight to Keith, and win the title."

Late Addition

A late feature was added to tonight's card, and it was good news for Washington junior welterweight DeMarcus Corley (18-1-1). Corley will fight Ener Julio (19-2), a former International Boxing Organization champion, for the vacant USBA title. The title shot will be Corley's first. . . . Legendary ring referee Arthur Mercante Sr., the third man in the ring for the first Ali-Frazier fight in March 1971, will work the Holmes-Council bout tonight for the WBC. The title fight will be the first of the year for Mercante, 79, who worked three world championship fights in '98. "I got to keep staying active," the Hall of Famer said yesterday. "They can't slow me down just yet."

FIGHT NIGHT AT MCI CENTER

Where: MCI Center.

When: Doors open at 4:30 p.m., first fight shortly thereafter (main event will not start before 8).

TV: Showtime, 8 p.m.

Featured fights: William Joppy (27-1-1), Silver Spring, vs. Julio Cesar Green (25-3), Dominican Republic, for Joppy's WBA middleweight title; Keith Holmes (33-2), Washington, vs. Andrew Council (30-6-3), Lanham, for Holmes's WBC middleweight title; DeMarcus Corley (18-1-1), Washington, vs. Ener Julio (19-2), Colombia, for vacant USBA junior welterweight title.

Undercard: Lonnie Bradley (27-0-1), New York, vs. Eric Holland (21-25-3), Tacoma, Wash., middleweights; Lincoln Carter (18-0), Miami, vs. Fermin Chirino (13-21-2), Brooklyn, light heavyweights; Sammy Retta (13-0), Alexandria, vs. Osvaldo Bello (8-5-2), New York; Vincent White (11-0-1), Capitol Heights, vs. Chantel Stanciel (11-1-1), St. Louis, welterweights; Bridget Riley (8-2), Studio City, Calif., vs. Donyale Williams (0-3), Ashtabula, Ohio, women's feature; Charles Clark (10-3-1), Baltimore, vs. Mackie Willis (3-15-1), Dalton, Ga., super welterweights; Norman Smith Jr. (5-0), Washington, vs. Mike McFail (5-2-1), Baltimore, welterweights.

Tickets: Available ($25-$300).

Note: All bouts subject to change.