In his last major title fight, middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins disparaged Felix Trinidad by twice throwing a Puerto Rican flag to the ground and tossing a bag of beans and rice in the direction of his opponent. But as Hopkins prepares to fight Oscar De La Hoya on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, he has had nothing but kind words for his more popular opponent.
"Oscar is no chump," Hopkins said, when asked about his opponent's history of wearing down in later rounds. "He will fight to the end."
Hopkins has a history of looking for any possible slight by an opponent in the days before a fight and using it as motivation. De La Hoya has not obliged, however. And the only time Hopkins (44-2-1, 31 knockouts) has criticized De La Hoya was during a conference call with reporters earlier this month, when he ripped his opponent for showing up in poor condition June 5 for his fight against unheralded Felix Sturm. De La Hoya (37-3, 29 KOs) won a narrow 12-round decision over the German -- all three judges scored the bout, 115-113 -- but many boxing observers felt Sturm should have won.
"De La Hoya knows that he made a big mistake by not being in shape," Hopkins said. "Top Rank [the promoter for Saturday night's fight] should have been mad as hell that [he showed] up like that. You never say to the fans . . . that you shafted him on this one because you didn't prepare for this fight, knowing that you've got a $30 million payday right around the corner. If nothing motivates you, the $30 million should motivate you to get in shape."
When Hopkins arrived at the MGM Grand Hotel and checked into a suite on Monday, he told reporters: "You are looking at the new Golden Boy," referring to De La Hoya's nickname. "That's how I will be announced after the fight on Saturday night."
De La Hoya also doesn't seem to disdain Hopkins, even though he has referred to Hopkins as a "bully" and criticized him for using his 56-month sentence in a Pennsylvania prison as a means of trying to intimidate De La Hoya.
"I'm not afraid because Hopkins spent time in jail," De La Hoya said. "When we get in that ring, it will be just me and him."
Hopkins said he isn't using his ex-con status as a way to intimidate De La Hoya; he says he's trying to motivate others to stay out of trouble and jail.
"I'm a role model," Hopkins said. "That's why I talk about the penitentiary a lot. I read something Oscar said recently about me talking about jail, like that's something hip or good or that scares him. I don't mention prison as a thing of pride. I don't brag about it or talk about it to show how big and tough I am. It's a period of my life I'm embarrassed of, but I've grown to know that I remind myself and others that if you come from a place that's close to death, then there's nothing that you cannot overcome."
A Couple of Adjustments
Hopkins, who was forced to flee his training camp in Miami because of the threat of Hurricane Ivan, arrived in Las Vegas more than a week ago to continue training. De La Hoya, who has been training at Big Bear, Calif., didn't arrive in Las Vegas until Wednesday, when he participated in the final pre-fight news conference.
The weigh-in is Friday -- the fight limit has been set at 158 pounds, two pounds lighter than the usual middleweight division limit of 160 pounds. De La Hoya demanded that limit to take advantage of his speed and counter Hopkins's power. . . .
Referee Kenny Bayless, 54, was a somewhat surprising choice to referee Saturday night's fight. Bayless never has officiated a fight that involved De La Hoya or Hopkins, and his previous most high-profile assignment was the first bout between Roy Jones Jr. and Antonio Tarver last November. Bayless, who was chosen by the Nevada Athletic Commission, underwent surgery for prostate cancer on May 24 and has worked nine fights since. . . .
Paul Smith and Dave Moretti, who both scored De La Hoya's controversial win over Sturm, were appointed as judges by the commission, along with Keith Macdonald, secretary of the Nevada State Board of Pharmacy.