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BOXING Hopkins set for 20th title defense against Eastman



Published: Sat, February 19, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The 40-year-old middleweight hasn't lost a fight in 11 years.

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Bernard Hopkins has a thing for numbers. He'll talk to anyone who will listen about being a middleweight champion at the age of 40, and will gladly tell you that his purse for his last fight with Oscar De La Hoya was an even $10 million.

The number Hopkins is most proud of, though, is 20. That's how many title defenses he will have made when he climbs into the ring Saturday night against Howard Eastman.

"This is very important to me to be in position for 20 defenses in one weight division," Hopkins said. "Very important to me."

In rare company

Hopkins' 20th title defense puts him in rare company among some boxing greats. He'll match Larry Holmes, who defended the heavyweight title 20 times, and draw closer to the great Joe Louis, who had 25 defenses.

The fight with Eastman isn't drawing the attention his last fight with De La Hoya did, but Hopkins remains focused even as the middleweight champion becomes middle-aged.

"I approach fights like it's my last fight and I have to make a statement," Hopkins said. "It's just maintaining my body, maintaining my mental state. That's what is important."

Hopkins (45-2-1, 32 knockouts) is a 6-1 favorite to retain his undisputed 160-pound titles when he meets Eastman in a scheduled 12-round bout at Staples Center (HBO, 9:45 p.m. EST). In an ironic twist, the fight is being promoted by De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, which signed Hopkins after he beat De La Hoya.

Other fights on card

Also on the card is a fight between unbeaten middleweights Jermain Taylor (22-0, 16 knockouts) and Daniel Edouard (16-0-2). Taylor, a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic boxing team, is being touted as a possible opponent for Hopkins in the near future.

The fight is the first for Hopkins since stopping De La Hoya in the ninth round Sept. 18, and his first since turning 40 on Jan. 15.

While most fighters have long since retired by that age, Hopkins stays in shape, stays focused and remains confident that he still can't be beaten.

"The talent speaks for itself, the longevity speaks for itself," Hopkins said.

"Enjoy me while I'm here because I don't think there have been too many fighters my age that have been on top like this for so long."

Some in boxing might argue that the reason Hopkins has been on top so long is that he has taken few chances against other top fighters. His last loss came 11 years ago against Roy Jones Jr., but aside from a huge win over Felix Trinidad and his win over De La Hoya, an argument could be made that Hopkins has not fought many top-name fighters.

Wears down fighters

Still, he's relentless, wears down other fighters and has persevered through one career crisis after another to get to what he believes is a magic number.

"I'm looking to set a standard that will last many years, maybe decades, with 20 defenses," Hopkins said. "To keep winning and winning and winning is really historic. I want people to understand that this is not ordinary."

Hopkins didn't get a pushover for his 20th defense. Eastman's (40-1, 24 knockouts) only loss was in November 2001 when he dropped a title fight to William Joppy by a majority decision even though he had knocked Joppy down in the fight.




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