Thursday, March 27, 2003 | 9:31 a.m.
Dean Juipe's column appears Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. His boxing notebook appears Thursday. Reach him at email@example.com or (702) 259-4084.
Push the right buttons and Bernard Hopkins invariably comes out swinging.
Self-managed and promoted, the undisputed middleweight champion habitually feels both underappreciated and feared.
Ask him anything pertaining to his somewhat under-the-radar career and he'll inevitably respond with a lengthy diatribe, as he did during a conference call promoting his Saturday fight in Philadelphia with Morrade Hakkar.
"I'm one of the most fierce fighters since (Marvin) Hagler," Hopkins said. "I'm the old grizzly bear with three belts ... a free agent and a renegade ... and the most feared fighter in the world.
"You don't see any young turks out there knocking on my door and saying they want to fight me -- and that includes (Oscar) De La Hoya."
Hopkins, 38, is 41-2-1 with 30 knockouts and is an off-the-board favorite to defeat Hakkar in the HBO-televised bout. Hakkar, 30, a former European champion, is a Frenchman with a record of 29-3 with 18 KOs who is described as busy and durable, yet without the talents or power of Hopkins.
"I see a guy that's tough and is going to try and show my age, to see if it's caught up to me," Hopkins said of Hakkar. "He's not as bad as people pretend him to be.
"I'm not sleeping on this guy."
But Hakkar has never fought anyone even remotely close to the caliber of Hopkins, who has been a world champion since 1995 and will be making his 16th title defense, having beaten such stalwarts as Segundo Mercado, Simon Brown, Robert Allen, Antwun Echols, Keith Holmes and -- most important -- Felix Trinidad.
Trinidad retired after losing to Hopkins by 12th-round knockout two years ago in New York.
Hopkins would like to do the same to De La Hoya.
"That's who I'm shooting for," he said. "Nobody cares about him fighting Shane Mosley."
De La Hoya and Mosley may be rematched this September, although the contracts have yet to be signed. If Mosley doesn't get that fight, it's possible that Floyd Mayweather Jr. will.
De La Hoya has told confidants that he would be willing to fight Hopkins, but not until 2004.
Hopkins, in the interim, may have to keep himself occupied with fighters such as Hakkar, who is the WBC's mandatory challenger at 160 pounds.
"My goals are not complicated," Hopkins said. "I want to make 20 (title) defenses. I'm going to weather the storm and make my mandatory defenses.
"I'll sit here and babysit three world championships and wait for the knock at the door.
"You would think the world hates Bernard Hopkins and that I have no fan base, but I'm loved by the people. I'm the people's champion.
"I'm fighting the industry and winning. I'm always looking for a big fight but I'm not going to beg for one. I'm too intelligent to be hoodwinked."
Hopkins said he trained five weeks in Miami for this fight, which was originally scheduled for Jan. 11. But he has not fought since defeating Carl Daniels 13 months ago in Reading, Pa., and his fight with Hakkar is somewhat overshadowed by one between heavyweights David Tua and Hasim Rahman on the same card.
"I'm always the main event," Hopkins said both defensively and defiantly, when asked about the perception that Tua vs. Rahman is of greater interest.
Also scheduled: Cornelius Lock, 7-1, vs. Pedro Mora, 6-8-1, six rounds, featherweights; Arturo Quintero, 5-0, vs. Jorge Valenzuela, 6-3-1, six rounds, junior lightweights; Larry Banks, 6-13-3, vs. R.C. Fisher, 6-0, six rounds, middleweights; Avelino Chavez, 2-0, vs. Steve Marquez, 2-1, four rounds, welterweights; and Juan Carlos Santiago, 6-1, vs. Luis De La Rosa, 3-7-2, four rounds, bantamweights. First bell is 7 p.m.
"We did well. I'm excited," said head coach Skip Kelp. Only Air Force (with 11) and Navy (with 10) will have more fighters in the national tournament than the Rebels.
The UNLV fighters who qualified for the nationals include: Xenon Mallari, 112 pounds; Samuelson Go, 119; Lyle Nixon, 125; Jose Gonzalez, 132; Dave Bermudez, 139; Daniel Reese, 147; Joey Massa, 156; and Justin Masaniai, 185.
"From a strategic standpoint, Barrera has to make some adjustments due to Kelley's ring experience, the fact that he's left-handed and has punching power," said Barrera's trainer, Porfilio Perez, in quotes relayed by a publicist. "We cannot get careless in our preparation."
Barrera agreed, saying "You cannot underestimate someone with Kelley's experience. I'm anticipating this fight to be tough for me.
"My job is to out-think him."
Barrera is 56-3 and Kelley is 54-5-2.
"Fighting the best featherweight in the world is all the motivation I need," Kelley said. "The hunger I once had is back."
His trainer, Phil Borgia, has noticed.
"Kevin's very focused and motivated," he said. "I don't think Barrera is taking this fight lightly and neither are we."
"Things went just as we planned," Spinks' manager, Kevin Cunningham, said Wednesday from Colorado Springs, Colo., where he was watching the USA Boxing national tournament. "Cory dominated the early part of the fight and was never hurt."
Spinks, the son of former heavyweight champ Leon Spinks, earned the crowd's respect even though he may have ruined their dinner. The fight was in a tent atop a mountain and before 500 fans who had dinner included in the price of their ticket.
"It was weird," Cunningham said. "I think the Italian people felt bad about Piccirillo getting the decision last year and they gave Cory a standing ovation. It was like they took a real liking to him."
Cunningham is looking for an HBO or Showtime date for Spinks and a somewhat attractive opponent for his next fight.
Michalczewski, a light heavyweight with a record of 47-0, has said his remaining goals are to get to 50-0 and fight Roy Jones Jr. as a heavyweight. But he told his publicist he wasn't looking past Harmon.
"You always have to be prepared to go the full distance," Michalczewski said of facing Harmon, who is 23-3. "You can never plan a knockout (but) the best that could happen for me would be a knockout in the second or third round."
The Flamingo Hilton has picked up an afternoon card May 3 that will feature featherweights Rocky Jaurez and Frankie Archuleta in the main event. NBC will televise the card. Jaurez is 15-0 and Archuleta is 22-3-1. ... In an effort to extract himself from contractual obligations, Johnny Tapia has filed a lawsuit in Nevada district court against Guilty Boxing of Las Vegas. When Tapia defeated Manuel Medina last year for the IBF featherweight title, his contract included upcoming fight options for Guilty (which handles Medina) in the event Tapia won. ... Wayne McCullough was hospitalized overnight in Glasgow, Scotland, following his loss there Saturday to Scott Harrison. McCullough, of Las Vegas, lost the fight by 12,11and 10 points on the judges' cards, prompting some in the audience to criticize his trainer, Kenny Croom, for not stopping the one-sided assaul t.