NEW YORK - The first leg of the promotional tour for the July 21 Bernard Hopkins-Winky Wright boxing match took place yesterday at the ESPN Zone in midtown Manhattan, where the two fighters exchanged more respectful banter than trash talk.

The traveling show will touch down in Hopkins' hometown of Philadelphia tomorrow afternoon, at the Blue Horizon.

Hopkins, the 42-year-old former undisputed middleweight king, successfully defended his title a record 20 times. Wright is a former two-time 154-pound champion. The two agreed to meet in Las Vegas at 170 pounds. The fight will be on HBO pay-per-view.

Hopkins' record is 47-4-1 with 32 knockouts. The favorite in the fight is Wright, who is 51-3-1 with 25 KOs.

"Bernard's got his little crafty stuff and all the little things he does, but it ain't going to work," said the 35-year-old Wright, a native of Washington who owns two victories over the highly regarded Shane Mosley. "I run away from no challenge. In round No. 1, I'm going to be in his [chest], and it's going to be a fight."

Hopkins will enter the ring for the second time since saying he wanted to live up to a promise he made to his late mother to retire at age 40. He last fought June 10, when he took the IBO light-heavyweight crown from Antonio Tarver with a unanimous decision in Atlantic City.

"What's he going to say?" Hopkins said of Wright's comments. "You're only as good as your last fight. Well, if you base it on my last fight, I guess it would probably be a straight vote, if you saw the fight. I've heard everything you can hear from my opponents, and I have to admit that I'm kind of numb. But I'm in this game still because I can do it."

Hopkins' championship belt will not be on the line, but his Ring Magazine title will be. The "Bible of Boxing" lists Hopkins as the light-heavyweight champion of the world.

"This is for the Ring Magazine belt, which I am proud to represent," said Hopkins, who serves as his own manager. "Most boxing experts and writers give a lot of credibility to it. And most importantly, I don't have to pay sanctioning fees. I paid for 21 defenses of them, so I think I'll do a pass on them."

Wright, who has not lost a fight since 1999, is coming off a 12-round decision over veteran Ike Quartey in December. In his previous outing, Wright earned a draw with Jermain Taylor, the man who broke Hopkins' 12-year winning streak and 11-year reign as the middleweight champ.

Both Hopkins and Wright have beaten Puerto Rican star Felix Trinidad. Hopkins registered a spectacular 12th-round TKO in September 2001, and Wright won by decision in May 2005.

"These are two of the best and biggest fighters in the sport today and over the last 10 years," said Mark Taffett, a senior vice president for HBO Sports. "They've taken on every challenge that's come their way, and they have defeated some of the biggest names in the sport of this era. And finally they're going to face each other in a great showdown."

Notes. The Bernard and Shirley Hopkins Make-A-Way Foundation will hold its first annual dinner at the Ritz Plaza tomorrow night. Cocktail hour will begin at 6 p.m. For more information, call 215-665-5506.

Hopkins established the foundation early this year in honor of his late mother. It is dedicated to helping Philadelphia's underprivileged children.

Nazim Richardson, who is Hopkins' trainer of record, suffered a mild stroke three weeks ago. Richardson may be able to help out by fight night.

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