Undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins backed off his threat to pull out of Saturday's title defense against Robert Allen when referee Joe Cortez promised Friday to follow his trademark expression and be fair but firm.
Hopkins, who on Thursday ignited a controversy when he objected to Cortez's appointment by the Nevada Athletic Commission, said he became satisfied Friday that Cortez won't be biased.
Hopkins shares billing on the HBO pay-per-view card with Oscar De La Hoya, who will fight Felix Sturm for the World Boxing Organization title.
Hopkins was concerned that Cortez, whose trademark phrase he says to the fighters prior to every bout is "Remember, I'm fair but I'm firm," may have a vendetta against him because of several previous incidents.
Prior to his Sept. 29, 2001, knockout of Felix Trinidad, Hopkins twice threw the Puerto Rican flag to the ground. Hopkins then nixed the selection of Cortez -- who is of Puerto Rican descent -- as referee for that fight and then for last year's fight against William Joppy.
"They made it clear to me that he will be fair and he will be firm," Hopkins said after the weigh-in Friday. "You've heard that many times. Those are his patented words, and that's all I wanted." Francisco "Paco" Valcarcel, the president of the World Boxing Organization, mediated the dispute. Valcarcel, who is friends with both men, never spoke to Hopkins. However, he spoke to Cortez twice and then relayed the results of that conversation to promoter Bob Arum and Arnold Joseph, Hopkins's attorney.
Arum then met with Hopkins and settled the dispute.
"Hopkins really respects Paco, and Paco was able to convince him that Cortez would be fair and that he held nothing against him," Arum said. "That's all Bernard wanted."
The athletic commission had refused Arum's request to conduct an emergency meeting on Friday. Executive director Marc Ratner said the commission backed Cortez and the only way there would have been a change would have been if Cortez had voluntarily withdrawn.
Cortez, though, refused to do that, believing it would have set a bad precedent.
"I'm as honest as they come, and I think now they understand the kind of person I am," said Cortez, who met privately with Hopkins about an hour before the weigh-in.
Hopkins said that he tried to prevent a problem before it occurred by going to the media and expressing his concerns. Hopkins, who acts as his own manager, said he privately worked on the issue last week without success.
De La Hoya, who is seeking a title in his sixth weight division, said he would have fought regardless of whether Hopkins was on the card.
He said he thought Cortez was fair and said he didn't think he had anything to worry about unless he planned to break the rules.
"If he plans to fight dirty, then I can understand his reasoning," De La Hoya said of Hopkins's threats to withdraw. "A low blow is a low blow, an elbow is an elbow, and a rabbit punch is a rabbit punch. Those types of punches are not allowed in boxing, but Cortez is always firm but fair."