Some people say it's better to be lucky than good. Former middleweight champion Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins doesn't believe that, not for an instant. What he does believe is another old saying about luck: It is the residue of hard work.

So when a media inquisitor asked him whether taking on an undefeated, power-punching man 17 years his junior might push his luck, Hopkins responded as might someone who understands the difference between dividends paid through sweat equity and the sheer chance of purchasing a winning lottery ticket.

"It's not luck," Hopkins (48-5-1, 32 KOs) said of his longshot bid for victory in tonight's HBO Pay-Per-View bout against Kelly "The Ghost" Pavlik (34-0, 30 KOs) in Boardwalk Hall. "Luck didn't get me out of the penitentiary without getting killed, stabbed, raped or whatever. Luck didn't get me out of the ghetto. Hard work creates luck.

"Luck and Bernard Hopkins are enemies. I believe that everything that has been mapped out for Bernard Hopkins, even the bad stuff, has been part of my legacy. It made me the person I became. It has a lot to do with my whole demeanor. Whatever it is, it's worked for me.

"When I decided I would never go back to the penitentiary, I had no money. I had no fame. I had no star power. So how did I pull that off? It wasn't luck. "

Hopkins, who spent 56 months behind bars for strong-arm robbery, is the reformed North Philadelphia street thug who is now available for photo-ops with district attorneys and police commissioners, who hold him up as an example to city kids of how determination trumps despair. He is a multimillionaire who wears tailored suits, has an opulent home in Delaware and drives a Bentley. But this remarkable 43-year-old has continued to succeed in an unforgiving business because he always has regarded himself as the outsider who had to bust his butt to create his own luck, even when he was regarded as one of the world's top two or three pound-for-pound fighters, a perennial favorite who went 12 years without losing.

Now that Hopkins is filling the underdog role he always has preferred - Pavlik, the reigning WBC/WBO middleweight titlist, is a 5-1 favorite in this 170-pound catchweight bout - he finally might need to draw on the luck he has shunned.

If he pulls off the upset, there no doubt will be more seven-figure paydays for this pesty pugilist who has been harder for the boxing establishment to eradicate than the cockroach. But if Hopkins, who figures to make at least $3 million for the Pavlik fight, takes a real drubbing, and maybe is on the wrong end of his first knockout, then sport's foremost contrarian might finally be forced to acknowledge that his career has busted, like a hand of 22 in blackjack.

"If I'm not the same fighter that I was in 2001 [when he dominated Felix Trinidad in his watershed performance], I want someone to prove that by putting me on my [butt]," Hopkins said in what is tantamount to a gauntlet thrown at Pavlik's feet.

Hopkins, of course, does not even contemplate the beatdown that so many have expected for him for so long.

"If you think bad, bad will happen to you," he reasoned. "That becomes another burden on you. I don't need that in my life. "

One of Philadelphia's brightest prospects, welterweight Danny Garcia (7-0, 6 KOs), is on tonight's undercard in a six-rounder against Deon Nash (5-5, 1 KO), from Lutcher, La. Garcia, from the city's Juniata section, is coming off a one-round stoppage of Tyrone Wiggins on Sept. 13 in Las Vegas. *