B

ERNARD "THE Executioner" Hopkins

is on the lookout for a new trainer - but only temporarily.

Los Angeles-based Freddie Roach, twice named Trainer of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America (for 2003 and 2006), is the apparent front-runner to pinch-hit for Brother Naazim Richardson for Hopkins' July 21 catchweight bout against Winky Wright at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

Hopkins' IBO light-heavyweight title will not be on the line (although his Ring magazine belt will be) in the bout, which has a contract limit of 170 pounds.

Richardson is rapidly recovering from a stroke he suffered in late March, but his doctors have cautioned against him doing too much, too soon.

"I'm feeling great," Richardson said from his North Philadelphia home. "I'm doing follow-up now. I'm blessed. My doctors couldn't believe I recovered that fast.

"They really didn't give me restrictions, other than to say I should slow down for a while. That's why I didn't go out to Vegas [for the Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather Jr. mega-fight]. It would have been a little too much activity for me at this point."

As for Hopkins replacing him in the short term, Richardson said, "Bernard has to go with whomever he's comfortable with. If I can't give him 100 percent, I wouldn't want to do anything to hinder the team."

Hopkins (47-4-1, 32 KOs) said he remains hopeful Richardson will be in his corner against Wright (51-3-1, 25 KOs), but he has to be prepared to go in another direction.

"Naazim will be there, if his doctors will let him, and so will [assistant trainer] John David Jackson," Hopkins said. "But if Naazim can't go, I have to do what I need to do to get ready for Winky.

"I had a meeting with Freddie Roach. We don't have a deal yet, but I'm 99 percent sure we can get something done. Freddie learned from the best. Freddie has been with Eddie Futch [the Hall of Fame trainer who died on Oct. 10, 2001]. He's not just a trainer, he's a teacher."

Roach, who for the Mayweather fight served as De La Hoya's lead cornerman for the first time, also works or has worked with Mike Tyson, Manny Pacquiao and James Toney.

"We sat down and went over a game plan [on how to defeat Wright]," Roach said. "It went pretty well. Nothing's definite yet, but we're on good terms. We're negotiating.

"Bernard is a great fighter. He has an outstanding work ethic. I like that. It'd be an honor to work with someone like him."

Pay-per-listen

Former IBF light-heavyweight and WBA cruiserweight champion Bobby Czyz, who took pride in being boxing's only known member of Mensa, once bragged that while he had lost fights, he never lost a press conference.

That's only because Czyz never shared a dais with Bernard Hopkins, who can turn even the dullest such affair into an impromptu stand-up routine.

At a Saturday media gathering in the MGM Grand's Hollywood Theater to formally announce Hopkins' July 21 pay-per-view clash with Wright, the preceding speakers were so solemn, Hopkins was beginning to think he was in church. So, as is his wont, B-Hop decided to shake things up a little when his turn at the podium came.

"You're going to get beat up by a 42-year-old man," Hopkins said, turning toward Wright, no spring chicken himself at 35. "I'm your grandfather. How can a 42-year-old man whip your butt?

"Let me tell you about fighters. We all got egos. Some are in check. Some are not. But nobody wants to be known for getting his butt kicked by a senior citizen."

Hopkins, who was the underdog in his last bout, in which he scored an emphatic unanimous decision over Orlando-born, Tampa-based Antonio Tarver on June 10, 2006, noted that Wright lives in St. Petersburg.

"I got a fetish about beating up Florida boys," Hopkins said, which elicited the response from Wright he wanted.

Wright, who had made only a few brief remarks earlier, glared at Hopkins and said, "I'm going to beat you so bad, you ain't never going to come back."

I would make Hopkins a 2-1 favorite over comedian Howie Mandel, who played the same room 2 nights earlier, as a chuckle-inducer. In the ring, against Wright, he's a 7-5 opening-line underdog.

"I will never lose a press conference to anyone," Hopkins said afterward. "I think I could hold my own with [Muhammad] Ali, who was the greatest in this kind of setting.

"The way this thing started, I felt like I needed to change the pace. I can be diplomatic. I can be mean if I choose to. I can be funny. That is a talent. Sometimes it has bit me on the butt, but that's me."

Glitz and glamour

You know a boxing event is big-time when A-list celebrities gravitate to it like thirsty cattle toward water.

So many Hollywood, recording and sports stars were at ringside for De La Hoya-Mayweather, you would have thought it was the Academy Awards, or at least the ESPYs.

Jim Carrey, Leonardo DiCaprio, Eddie Murphy, Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington, Helen Mirren, Will Ferrell, Tobey Maguire, Eva Longoria, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jennifer Lopez, Charlie Sheen, Jay-Z, Puffy Combs, Usher, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Reggie Bush, Jerome Bettis, Tommy Lasorda and Tyson were among those present, and that's only a partial list.

Punch lines

HBO will televise the replay of the De La Hoya-Mayweather bout on Saturday at 10 p.m. ... Three Philly fighters won in Las Vegas on Friday. Heavyweights Eddie Chambers (29-0, 16 KOs) and Malik Scott (28-0, 10 KOs) won 10-round decisions, outpointing Dominick Guinn (28-5-1, 19 KOs) and Charles Shufford (20-7-1, 9 KOs), respectively, at the Palms. Welterweight Mike Jones (8-0, 8 KOs) bombed out Gilbert Guevara (5-2-1, 1 KO) in one round at the MGM Grand . . . North Philadelphia welterweight Aaron Torres (14-5, 6 KOs), who appeared in the second season of "The Contender," takes on Doel Carrasquillo (9-4-1, 7 KOs) on Saturday night in Lancaster.

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