Hopkins-Taylor II: The Plot Thickens
By Chris Ackerman, (November 13, 2005) 
There is still some purity, drama and high-level competition in boxing despite its state of general disrepair. The sport is suffering too many ills to list and the virus has spread, causing a malaise among fans and media alike. Symptoms include fatigue, irritability, depression, difficulty concentrating and in advanced cases, nausea and diarrhea. The cure is hopefully being developed and in the meantime the only treatment is relentless optimism, some desert air and the occasional adrenalin shot; my next appointment is December 3rd in Las Vegas.

We could continue to lament the fact that the heavyweight division has been reduced to nothing more than a sideshow, a curiosity…a train wreck. We could talk about who Floyd won’t fight, why Tarver is looking to Tyson and away from Lacy, why Calzaghe won’t leave Wales or why Senator McCain won’t swoop in and wipe out every sanctioning body with a stroke of his mighty wand…er, pen. But it’s all been done. Every headline, article and message board is saturated with frustration, anger and apathy. Instead of adding to it, let’s get jacked for the second installment of Hopkins vs. Taylor. Let’s talk about it, hype it and when the time comes, let’s buy it. Let’s show every jackass commissioner and promoter what happens when a huge, dramatic epic like this is presented for our consumption, instead of some paltry sparring session or despicable mismatch.

The magnitude of this fight has been mysteriously understated in the press, perhaps because it is overshadowed by other issues of the moment. In reality, there are not enough superlatives to do justice to the showdown we have looming before us. This is old school. Not only are the two best middleweights in the world (go ahead and argue if you must) gonna rumble for a second time, but this time is for all the marbles…and I don’t just mean belts, money and respect. For Jermain Taylor, this is his first exposure to life at the top. As king, he will be constantly under siege by those seeking the crown. He must prove he can rise to the occasion right from the jump. For Bernard Hopkins it’s life and death, do or die, with no third chance.

From a purely boxing perspective, this is a sequel to a classic match-up that was analyzed to the nth prior to the first engagement, including the ultra-trite, irritating ‘young lion versus veteran tactician’ phrase. Annoying clichés usually do get the point across and this is no exception: youth versus experience, size and strength versus patience and precision, current champ versus former champ. Based on everything we know, how will the rematch unfold?

Jermain Taylor won the first fight. Call it close. Call it controversial. It may have been either or both, but a robbery it was not. December 3rd is a chance for Taylor to prove his championship mettle to the world and silence those who question him, including Bernard Hopkins. Jermain was the first to criticize his own performance and before the ink was dry on analysts’ recaps he had not just admitted his flaws, he had pointed them out. So had Bernard Hopkins…

Taylor was reckless, off-balance and left himself wide open for left hook counters when he jabbed. He didn’t impose his strength as often or as completely as he should have, particularly when Hopkins started in with the roughhouse tactics. What nearly cost Taylor in the final frames was the obvious stamina deficit that seemed to be brought on by the over-anxiousness of the preceding rounds. Whether that excitability can be considered a flaw is open for debate, but the fact is that Jermain used up too much gas chasing and flailing in the early rounds. Hopkins, as usual, coasted for the first half or more and kept the reserves chalk full for the late assault. Nerves are to be expected when a young fighter is in the ring with the champion. It’s understandable. What is not is how a professional can fall into the same trap a guy has used 20 times in 20 fights.

I have said before that what makes a fighter championship caliber is the ability to fight the best and, win or lose, expand on everything you learn from that experience and add it to your own arsenal. Tutorials don’t get any clearer than the first installment of this match-up, and Professor Hopkins was asking all the tough questions. Even with the answer key in hand, Taylor had a lot of problems with the exam and almost choked, but if it’s the same test on December 3rd, Bernard is going to get his a@# handed to him.

Taylor is a good student. He’s smart… he’s also bigger, stronger, faster and younger than Bernard Hopkins. The former champ however, is the craftiest, slyest and most deceptive player in the game…and he’ll need to bring it all to the fore. B-Hop thinks he needs to knock Taylor out just to get the decision, and has said that he intends to do just that. Given that Hopkins knows himself and knows his opponent, he could very well be hatching some diabolical new game plan. What’s he got cookin’? Will he come out firing and risk it all to try get Jermain outta there early? No, that’d be suicide and after a twenty-plus year career it’s unlikely a fighter can or would embark on a 180-degree style change. Only Hopkins knows for sure what he has planned but what is certain is that he should be far more apprehensive about this fight than any of other of his entire career.

Behind the scenes is where the real turmoil is bubbling and frothing. We have two guys who came through difficult times to become middleweight champions. Undisputed middleweight champions…and they are a couple guys who don’t much like each other. The usually soft-spoken Taylor has been rankled by Hopkins’ perceived disrespect and constant whining after the first fight. A tactic by the former champion perhaps…he knows as well as anyone how powerful psychological warfare can be.

However, if anyone is in a tumultuous headspace it is Bernard Hopkins. Imagine what must be going on in his mind in the lead up to the sequel. He made a promise to his dying mother that he would not fight past his 41st birthday. That date is January 15, 2006, meaning December 3rd will be his final fight. If he is defeated, his illustrious career comes to an end with two consecutive losses and can never get redemption because of a promise that cannot be broken any more than it can be rescinded. He will forever be plagued by a perceived failure. Consider for a moment how insane Hopkins went following his first loss versus Taylor. To put it mildly, he completely flipped his lid and as usual, it was everyone else’s fault. Now, imagine the extent to which a loss in the rematch would torment, haunt and gnaw away at Hopkins’ psyche when he retires as a fighter yet remains so close to the action as required by his position with Golden Boy Promotions. He will never have the opportunity to avenge the loss nor regain the title he held for so long because of a solemn vow made at the most heart-wrenching and poignant moments any life can offer.

This is big time drama from two guys willing to put everything on the line, and this is what it’s all about. So, to Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor: thanks in advance from all the real fans out there.

Boxing…ya gotta love it!

Questions or comments,
Chris at: Chris Ackerman
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