IT'S ONE of those interesting subjects that lends itself to debate, such as supporters of the respective greats arguing the merits of Willie, Mickey and The Duke as the best centerfielder in New York in the 1950s.

Boston Herald sports columnist Ron Borges wasn't in Montreal last weekend, but I called him to find out whether he watched HBO's telecast of Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins' unanimous decision over WBC light-heavyweight titlist Jean Pascal to become the oldest winner of a widely recognized world championship.

"I did," said Borges, who acknowledged being impressed that the 46-year-old Philadelphian still had so much spring in those middle-aged legs.

But Borges isn't about to change his mind as to who would win a prime-on-prime matchup between Hopkins and one of the Massachusetts fighters he covered, Brockton's Marvelous Marvin Hagler. They are, along with the late Argentine Carlos Monzon, the most accomplished middleweight champs of the past 40 years.

"Marvin sends Bernard to the emergency room," Borges said. "Punching power, in the end, would make the difference. Marvin hit a lot harder than Bernard does. The end wouldn't come quickly, because Bernard has such a good defense and he takes a pretty good shot. But Marvin would stop him eventually."

Interestingly, Hagler's name was raised by Hopkins' trainer, Naazim Richardson, soon after his guy took Pascal, 28, to school before a crowd of 17,560 in the Bell Centre, a Canadian record for an indoor boxing event.

I asked Naz whether B-Hop could really keep his career going until he's 50, as Hopkins had hinted a few weeks ago. Richardson said it's possible, and maybe even likely.

"No matter what age Bernard is when he finally retires, he'll be able to beat much younger guys ranked in the top 10," he opined. "And if Marvin Hagler came back now, I guarantee there'd be five or six guys in the top 20 he could beat."

For those who like to compare numbers, Hopkins is 52-5-2 with 32 knockouts; Hagler, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993, officially retired in June 1988, 14 months after his final bout, that controversial, split-decision loss to "Sugar" Ray Leonard. The Marvelous one took his leave with a record of 62-3-2, with 52 victories inside the distance. (His other two losses were to Philadelphia fighters, Willie "The Worm" Monroe and Bobby "Boogaloo" Watts.) After quitting the ring, Hagler, who celebrated his 57th birthday yesterday, moved to Italy and became an actor in action flicks.

Like Borges, I have a very high opinion of Hagler. But I tend to agree with Hopkins, who said at the postfight news conference that he would be competitive with any fighter in his weight class, at any point in history.

"I believe in any era of boxing, I would have held my own and wouldn't embarrass myself," Hopkins said in a bit of relatively restrained chest-thumping.

Monster mash

It happened during the filming of one of those "Faceoff" segments involving two boxers scheduled to square off in an upcoming HBO-televised fight.

IBF/WBO heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko (55-3, 49 KOs) and WBA titlist David Haye (25-1, 23 KOs), after months of verbal wrangling, will square off in a unification bout July 2 in Hamburg, Germany, in what, at least in theory, should be the most intriguing pairing of big men since Lennox Lewis stopped Wlad's older brother, Vitali, on cuts on June 21, 2003.

The younger Klitschko, a Ukrainian who holds a Ph.D in sports science from the University of Kiev, might be fluent in four languages, but his English tends to be drab and monosyllabic. That is in contrast to Haye, a Briton whose responses to comments made by "Dr. Steelhammer" made for an impromptu comedy routine that could prove more entertaining than the fight.

The session took place on April 25 in New York according to Kery Davis, senior vice president of HBO Sports, who kept breaking into laughter during a group dinner Friday night in Montreal before the Pascal-Hopkins rematch.

Klitschko: "You are my creation."

Haye: "If that's the case, why did you make me so annoying?"

Klitschko continued to press the point that he had "created" Haye, who responded, "Haven't you seen 'Frankenstein'? The monster killed his creator."

Was it only last July that Davis' boss, HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg, said, "We're not playing in that [heavyweight] sandbox right now" because Wladimir and Vitali, who holds the WBC title, were not particularly charismatic and were too dominant inside the ropes against a succession of modestly talented challengers?

The Klitschkos, who fight almost exclusively in Europe, might not be more attractive to American audiences. But their opponents appear to be, which is why HBO is returning, at least temporarily, to the sandbox. Vitali (42-2, 39 KOs) defends his title against Polish challenger Tomasz Adamek (44-1, 28 KOs) on Sept. 10 in Wroclaw, Germany, which HBO also will televise.

Haye and Adamek, who maintains a residence in North Jersey and has drawn big crowds to the Prudential Center in Newark in seven appearances there, are regarded as the two top threats - maybe the only threats - to the Klitschkos' ongoing domination of the division.

So what happens if both Klitschkos win, and win handily? Probably no more heavyweight boxing on HBO unless the Klitschkos lose, retire or decide to go physical with any sibling rivalry they might have, something both swore to their mother will never happen. *

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