Great Beginning, Better
And when I die,
And when I’m dead and gone,
There’ll be one child born,
And the world to carry on, carry on …
_ “And When I Die,” Blood, Sweat
about life and death – well, not usually
– but you couldn’t help but make
certain analogies when considering the two pay-per-view
fight cards that took place Saturday night.
For one fighter (Tommy Zbikowski),
there was a glorious if bizarre beginning. For
another (Bernard Hopkins), an even more glorious
ending. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Thus has
it always been, and probably always will be.
The circle remains unbroken.
In Madison Square Garden,
site of so many outstanding boxing events involving
actual legends of the ring, debuting pro Zbikowski
upstaged the main event after the rookie had
basked in the glow of media coverage that suggested
the paparazzi’s relentless pursuit of
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Zbikowski, the Notre Dame
safety who figured he’d give boxing a
fling before the start of fall practice, became
the sport’s hottest entity since Oscar
De La Hoya began knocking men stiff and making
teenaged girls faint. There are reigning world
champions, veterans with 10 or 15 years of experience,
who would sell their souls for a fraction of
the attention that Tommy Z received for routing
a flabby designated victim named Robert Bell
only 46 seconds into their scheduled four-rounder.
However brief his boxing
adventure, Zbikowski enviably has been cast
in the role of crossover sensation. You have
to wonder if lining up against Michigan even
will give him such a rush.
“I love this
kid,” Angelo Dundee, the 83-year-old Hall
of Fame trainer of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray
Leonard, said of his latest protégé,
who is said to have compiled a 75-15 amateur
record. “He’s been a boxer since
he came out of the crib.”
And a source of torrents
of publicity since he accepted promoter Bob
Arum’s invitation to slobberknock someone
not wearing a helmet and shoulder pads instead
of a receiver coming over the middle.
Although undefeated WBO
junior welterweight Miguel Cotto and his unbeaten
opponent, Brooklyn native Paulie Malignaggi,
may have been responsible for attracting a majority
of the 14,369 on-site spectators (Cotto retained
his title on a unanimous decision), the rest
of the nation was more enthralled with Zbikowski,
a heavyweight in more ways than one.
Tommy Z was accompanied
into the ring by Fighting Irish quarterback
Brady Quinn and wide receiver Jeff Samardzija,
who will spend the autumn commanding headlines
of their own. Grammy-winning gospel singer BeBe
Winans belted out the Notre Dame fight song
in a manner no doubt not previously heard in
South Bend. At ringside, two-time former heavyweight
champion George Foreman did the commentary while
noted sports artist LeRoy Neimann captured the
surrealistic moment on his sketchpad.
At 5-11 and 214 pounds,
Zbikowski appeared to know what to do and how
to do it. He is undeniably a gifted athlete,
blessed with quick hands, good mobility and
a decent punch, although the level of resistance
put up by Bell, 32, didn’t qualify as
much of a goal-line stand. Bell, an Akron native,
wore an Ohio State football jersey into the
ring, but Buckeyes everywhere are disavowing
any connection with someone whose quick dive
to the canvas suggested a pugilistic Mark Spitz.
Don’t blame Zbikowski
for pocketing a quick $25,000. NCAA rules allow
an athlete in one sport to be a professional
in another, so long as they do not endorse products.
Such a wad of pocket money can buy a lot of
take-out pizza until Zbikowski, whose first
priority remains football, either makes it in
the NFL or takes another run at boxing.
Nor should anyone fault
Arum, who has elevated the novelty act to an
art form. Remember, this is the man who put
Butterbean and Playboy model Mia St. John on
the undercards of several pay-per-view shots
headlined by De La Hoya.
In 1999, following the “Golden
Boy’s” victory over Ike Quartey,
Arum explained his reasoning for giving prime
slots to Butterbean and St. John.
“I learned long
ago I could load up a card with good fighters
that would bring me no additional business,”
Arum explained. “That said, if my main
event is a piece of crap, none of this would
mean much. But the presence of Mia and Butterbean
made a great event even more interesting.
not selling (St. John) as the world’s
greatest female fighter. She’s an athletic,
sexy-looking dame. We’re not deluding
And if Arum could draw fans
in with a sexy dame, why not with someone associated
with a sexy (Notre) Dame?
Make no mistake, Zbikowski
got this gig not so much because he is semi-credible
as a boxer, but because of his appeal to the
hundreds of thousands of Notre Dame “subway
alumni” who Arum hoped would be tempted
to shell out the $39.95 PPV subscription fee
to see one of their favorite school’s
football heroes in action of another sort. If
Tommy Z played for, say, Temple or New Mexico
State, he still would be flying under the radar
Which brings us to the 41-year-old
Hopkins, a graduate of the University of Graterford’s
school of hard knocks who spent much of his
professional boxing career in dogged pursuit
of the sort of paydays and recognition he believed
his talent merited.
Just call “The Executioner”
the anti-Zbikowski. Nothing ever came easy for
Hopkins. Or, at least it didn’t until
Saturday night in Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall,
where the former middleweight champion from
Philadelphia ran roughshod over light-heavyweight
standout Antonio Tarver to win a ridiculously
easy unanimous decision in what had been hyped
as his farewell to boxing..
“When I came
home in 1988 from the state correctional institution
at Graterford, with nine years of parole, I
looked the guard in his face and, at 22 years
old, I said, `I’m not coming back,’”
Hopkins said, reciting his history for anyone
who hadn’t been paying attention to his
painstaking rise through the ranks. “He
laughed at me. And it was a laughable thing.
Nine years to walk off? That’s impossible
not to come back. That’s what the statistics
say. But I had to look at that to be where I
The memory of his nearly
five-year incarceration (for strong-arm robbery)
is Hopkins’ unseen tattoo, and the reason
why he is boxing’s enigma wrapped inside
a riddle, a hard case who can infuriate promoters,
insult opponents and alienate friends and associates.
trainer, Bouie Fisher, from whom he is now estranged,
still is resentful of the way he and a fighter
he sometimes referred to as his surrogate son
came to a parting of the ways.
been kicked around so much in my dealings with
the guy, it really doesn’t matter anymore,”
Fisher, 77, said in the days leading up to a
fight he chose not to attend. “I just
want to recuperate from Bernard Hopkins and
let him go about his business. All the wrong
deeds you do, you pay for. For all the mistakes
Bernard has made and will continue to make,
one day he’ll see that he wasn’t
right about a lot of things.”
But if Hopkins has his detractors,
there are those who are quick to point out that
he is a role model for anyone from the wrong
side of the tracks who dare to dream they can
escape their circumstances. B-Hop is so disciplined
as a fighter that he has gone 20 years without
eating so much as a single doughnut. He is,
by all accounts, a good husband and father who
has held on to his money and guarded his legacy
as if it were the gold in Fort Knox.
for history,” Hopkins said after the bout
with Tarver was announced. “I’m
always fighting for history. Enjoy me now, because
when I’m gone, you might never witness
the likes of me again.”
After two close and disputed
points losses to Jermain Taylor, which ended
both his 10-year middleweight championship reign
and division-record 20 successful defenses,
Hopkins made the curious decision to close his
career by moving up two weight classes and fighting
Tarver, who, off the strength of his two victories
over Roy Jones Jr., was widely considered to
be the best 175-pounder on the planet.
“In my opinion,
this fight will come down to who’s the
better fighter with the better plan,”
Hopkins said. “I believe in my heart I
am that guy.”
To help him gain muscle
mass properly, Hopkins hired noted New Orleans-based
conditioning guru Mackie Shilstone. To help
him prep for the lefthanded Shilstone, he brought
in a friend and former opponent, John David
Jackson, who won two world titles as a southpaw.
So confident was Hopkins
that he instructed his seconds – lead
trainer Brother Naazim Richardson, as well as
Jackson and Shilstone – not to celebrate
after he took care of business.
“My corner and
I are not going to jump up and rejoice like
something dramatic happened,” Hopkins
said. “We expect to win.”
As it turned out, Hopkins
won nearly as easily as he said he would. He
won nearly as easily as Zbikowski did against
Bell, except that the battered Tarver was not
allowed to exit as early.
said Hopkins, who had insisted the Tarver bout
would be his last regardless of the outcome.
“I don’t need to risk anything else.
What am I gonna do, go to cruiser? Heavyweight?
There’s nothing else to do.”
Hopkins leaves as the finest
40-plus practitioner of the pugilistic arts
since Archie Moore regularly outpointed Father
“What I did
tonight, it’s something you cannot downplay,”
Hopkins said. “I think I removed any doubt
that anyone could possibly muster up that I
don’t deserve to be a Hall of Famer.”