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It's on tonight!: Hopkins vs. Jones Jr. in rematch 17 years in the making

Photo by Isaac Brekken

Photo by Isaac Brekken

LAS VEGAS -- Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. each blame the other for the delay, of course.

Nearly 17 years after two up-and-coming middleweights fought at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. on the undercard of a heavyweight title defense by Riddick Bowe, Hopkins and Jones finally will meet again at Mandalay Bay tonight.

They're a combined 86 years old, and they've earned armloads of title belts and untold millions since Jones' unanimous decision over Hopkins on May 22, 1993. Yet they never managed to make a deal for a rematch until this twilight moment in both remarkable fighters' careers.

So why did it take this long? Why did Hopkins and Jones wait until well past their physical primes, until long after boxing fans' optimum interest in what would have been a scintillating bout in 1998, 2002 or even 2007?

"He didn't want to fight me because after 1993, I got better, but he didn't," the 45-year-old Hopkins said.

"I love the fact that he hates me so bad," the 41-year-old Jones said. "He hates me so bad, but he still never chose to get back in the ring with me."

No matter who's to blame, the space between the first fight and the rematch is among the longest in major boxing history. Frankie Gomez, a talented 140-pound amateur making his pro debut on the undercard, was a 15-month-old toddler when Hopkins first fought Jones.

Beyond the fighters' entertaining bluster in the weeks leading up to the bout, Hopkins and Jones acknowledge it all came down to money and ego, as it usually does in boxing.

When Jones (54-6, 40 KOs) was the world's best fighter in the 1990s, he says he wouldn't agree to meet Hopkins for a 50-50 financial split. When Hopkins (50-5-1, 32 KOs) surpassed Jones in accomplishments over the past decade, Jones was never the most attractive matchup until this pay-per-view light heavyweight bout.

"A desperate man is a dangerous man, and that's Roy Jones in this bout," Hopkins said. "It's a personal fight for me. I don't know why a fight wouldn't be personal. Our rivalry is just a little bit spicier."

Hopkins is still motoring along smoothly in his two-decade career. Although he hasn't stopped an opponent in eight fights since knocking out Oscar De La Hoya in September 2004, he has won four of his last five bouts, with only a split-decision loss to Joe Calzaghe.

But Jones is long removed from his dynamic, near-unbeatable prime after losing five of his past 10 bouts, with three by knockout -- including a first-round stoppage in his last fight against Australian Danny Green. The former pound-for-pound champion agreed to a financial deal heavily favoring Hopkins just for the chance to revitalize his career.

"I can't regret that man for not wanting to get in the ring with me until my career is over," Jones said. "The only reason he's fighting me now is because he feels like I'm done. He feels like I'm washed up. He feels like I'm old goods. He feels like there's no way I can survive 12 rounds with him now, but he's wrong. That's the only reason he came to fight now."

The fighters have a mutual distaste that doesn't appear manufactured. Hopkins taunted Jones by giving him an Easter basket on Wednesday, saying Jones had been running like a rabbit and fighting like a chicken. Jones reciprocated with a gift basket filled with adult diapers, a large bottle labeled "VIAGRA" and other old-man accouterments at Friday's weigh-in.

Jones was a half-pound over the 175-pound limit when he first stepped on the scale, but eventually made the limit on his second try. Hopkins weighed in right at 175, flexing and making his "Executioner" gesture at the cheering crowd.

The light-punching Hopkins has said he can knock out Jones, who realizes some friends and family members are worried about his safety. But Jones had won five of his previous six fights before losing to Green on what he believes was an early stoppage.

"I thank them for being concerned about me putting my life on the line," Jones said. "When you get to know somebody who puts their life on the line, it's hard for you to tell them when to stop, because I have that gung ho-ness about me. Maybe I put my life on the line, but then the world would have never known me. So how can they tell me, 'It's time to stop so you don't get hurt?'

"If I (thought) that I could get hurt, I would have never got to be who I am."