Hopkins no lock at 8-1

Feb 15, 2005 1:58 AM

In what could be a recipe for poverty, take one live underdog, stir in some divine intervention, and bet against champ Bernard Hopkins.

But, I tell you, it’s very tempting to take the 5-1 odds on Howard Eastman, the Battersea Bomber, Feb. 19 in Los Angeles. And this is not because last month the long- reigning middleweight champion turned 40. It would not be a bet against the 8-1 favorite, but a hunch that the challenger has a real shot to add to Philadelphia’s losing streak.

Of course, the Eagles did cover, but the only way for Hopkins to cover is to beat a pretty fair boxer with some snap in his punches. Hopkins may deride Eastman as "a B- fighter," but the challenger is 40-1 with 34 knockouts and the only loss on his ledger was by a controversial decision over 12 rounds to William Joppy.

What makes Eastman a tempting morsel for this underdog lover is not the way he looked, but the way he sounded the other day on a teleconference call with the media. There was confidence in his voice, and not the bravura kind. He did not demean Hopkins; he just happens to believe "it’s destiny" that he wins.

"I believe I am the greatest middleweight of this era," said Eastman, who I believe is the biggest danger to Hopkins since Felix Trinidad Jr.

He has been predicting a knockout by the fifth round. Now no one even floors Hopkins, let alone knocks him out. And Eastman is not that kind of puncher. But listen to this:

"I get my information from God himself and he told me. No. 5 is in my head. I don’t know how it got there, but No. 5 is in my head. "No disrespect to the champion."

Eastman is a native Guyanan, who emigrated to London when he was a week shy of his 15th birthday. When returning to the flood-ravaged South American land, he said he realized there was divine intervention involved here.

A few months ago in Guyana, he was able to walk away from a bad motorcycle accident with just a scratch on a knee. Most people, he said, would have been killed.

Eastman said when he was six years old, there was a bully in his New Amsterdam, Guyana, neighborhood and finally, "out of frustration," he just closed his eyes and swung, knocking the bully out. He said he realized then he was going to be a world champion. He said he has been blessed.

"Life is so precious, and doing something you love doing is like icing on the cake and to be the best at it, figure it out," Eastman said. "Hopkins is not a very difficult style to overcome."

Never mind that nobody since Roy Jones Jr. himself has overcome it since 1993 or that the Executioner is trying for his 20th successful middleweight title defense.

"It’s very difficult to hit me and hurt me," Eastman said.

Eastman may well be the one. He died his beard and connecting sideburns white for the Joppy fight but said that he would not fight Hopkins looking like an old man. He explained his family didn’t like the dye job, which he called a "publicity stunt."

For all his mystical charms, it should be noted that he is listed as 34 years old. There are those who think his age may be closer to Hopkins. We know that at 34, or 37, Hopkins is still pretty damn good. We don’t know that about Eastman.

My feeling is that he may believe it is his destiny to win, but even at juicy odds on a live underdog, it may not be our destiny to cash in on him. On the other hand, laying long odds on Hopkins is absolutely silly.

Let’s just watch the HBO Saturday telecast and observe Jermain Taylor (the next great middleweight according to the network) against his toughest test, Daniel Edouarde.

”¡ Just want to congratulate Zab Judah, who made it look inevitable in knocking out Cory Spinks. He deserves credit for his in-focus performance and grace in winning — embracing Spinks’ trainer and the ousted champion, even asking the referee to please stop the fight sooner because "he’s got a family, he’s got a wife and he’s got children."

The kid from Brooklyn has grown up.

EASTMAN FILE

Age: 34

Birthplace: Guyana

Record: 40-1

Division: Middleweight

Highlights: Has won eight straight bouts since controversial loss to William Joppy four years ago in Las Vegas. Last September, defeated Jerry Elliott in England to keep European title.