Next in Line… to take the belts or to be added to Hopkins resume?
By Danny Serratelli (July 17, 2005) 
Photo © German Villasenor
When Bernard Hopkins made his pro debut against Clinton Mitchell back in 1988, Jermain Taylor was only 10 years old. On that night Hopkins dropped a four round majority decision in Atlantic City in a light heavyweight fight. While Mitchell didn’t do much after that with his boxing career, he is to this day one of only two men to defeat Bernard Hopkins in a professional fight, and he is in good company with Roy Jones Jr. After that ill-advised debut in the light heavyweight division, Hopkins moved down to his weight class at 160 and won 22 fights in a row before losing a decision to Roy Jones. Since the Jones fight back in 1993, Hopkins has gone 24-0-1, and he avenged the draw back in 1994 to Segundo Mercado with a knockout. Jermain Taylor is looking to join the Roy Jones and the answer to a boxing trivia question, Mitchell, as the only fighters who were able to beat Bernard Hopkins as a professional.

When Taylor made his pro debut in 2001, Hopkins was already 37-2-1 and had defended his IBF middleweight championship 12 times. Since then Hopkins has passed middleweight greats Marvin Hagler and Carlos Monzon in breaking the record for the most title defenses in the history of the middleweight division.

Taylor is supposed to be Hopkins’ heir apparent. He is a gifted fighter, who represented the U.S. at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. He appears to be the bigger, stronger and more athletic of the two fighters. He is by far the younger and more explosive looking fighter. While Hopkins has basically owned the middleweight division for the last ten years, he is not impressive looking the way Roy Jones was or Floyd Mayweather is. If you see him train in the gym or even in fights with mediocre opponents, he often does look ordinary, but he hasn’t lost in twelve years.

If this was an amateur fight, Taylor would beat him. If this was a sparring session Taylor may beat him and showboat a little in the process, but it is not; it is a 12 round championship fight. Hopkins has probably forgotten as a pro what Taylor hasn’t learned yet. Expect both of them to start out the first round cautious a mutual feeling out process. In the early rounds Taylor will work his famous left jab and have some success with it early, but he will have less success as the fight goes on and Hopkins starts to figure him out.

Hopkins is a master technician. He has seen it all and dealt with it all in his long career and as middleweight champ. I expect Taylor to take the early rounds and look better early as he gains confidence when he realizes he is a little bigger and a little faster. However, that trend will change as the fight wears on. I expect Hopkins to behave less like the Executioner and more like former champion Azumah Nelson, ‘The Professor’. Many boxing insiders are going with Taylor and predicting a changing of the guard in the middleweight division. Although Hopkins is 40 years old, I expect him to figure Taylor out midway through the fight and win enough of the late rounds to take a close decision win.

Due to the obvious difficulty in picking a winner of this fight I asked my friend Jerson Ravelo, a fighter who fights just a little heavier then these guys and another 2000 Olympian in the Sydney Games, what he thought. He told me he disagrees with my prediction. Jerson, who is as talented a fighter as you will find at 168 pounds, knows both of the fighters well and told me that Jermain Taylor will win by decision. He took his prediction a step further and told me that if Taylor goes after Hopkins in the early rounds that he will stop him.

This disagreement between Jerson and myself is why this is one of the better match-ups and most interesting fights in recent history in the middleweight division, or even in boxing period. Jerson is right; Taylor is the bigger, stronger, quicker and younger fighter. Hopkins is the more experienced champion who has yet to show that he is slipping at the age of 40. While it may appear Taylor has all the advantages he needs to win the fight, there are two more factors that favor Hopkins. The first is quality of opposition.

While Taylor has dominated everyone he has fought, he hasn’t fought anyone on Hopkins level to date, or shown that he can handle adversity in a pro fight yet. The second factor is Hopkins additional personal motivation to beat Taylor. That motivation is named Lou DiBella. A Harvard law school alumnus, DiBella has already beaten Hopkins in a defamation suit. This fight is Hopkins’ chance for revenge against DiBella’s fighter. Hopkins never went to law school, and DiBella already beat him in court, but the place where Hopkins does his work and is at his best is in the ring.
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