Hopkins Runs Out of Time Against Taylor
By Brent Hedtke (July 18, 2005)  
Photo © German Villasenor
Bernard Hopkins has been a notoriously slow starter throughout his career. He has never rushed across the ring to smother his opponent in a Tyson-like fashion, instead preferring to let the fight develop at his pace which is a slow, deliberate and ultimately successful one. Like any great chess player, Hopkins has been able to anticipate his opponent’s next move, wait for him to make a mistake and then finally put him into an irreversible checkmate. For a man who has been supposedly racing against father time for the better part of this decade, Hopkins’ patience in the ring is nothing short of miraculous. Saturday against Jermain Taylor though, that patience may have been The Executioner’s worst enemy.

In front of nearly sold out crowd at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and a reported 4,000 plus Arkansas natives, the 26-year-old Taylor brought the fight to the veteran Hopkins from the opening bell. His plan was to pressure the long reigning champ and not let him set the pace that has allowed him to dispose of a record 20 other challengers to his titles. Taylor made it immediately clear that if Hopkins wished to sit back in the driver’s seat and coast to another victory then, damn it, he was going to be his co-pilot.

The first round saw Taylor landing the majority of the power shots. He was staying on the outside of Hopkins and not allowing him to utilize his infamous inside tactics that include but are not limited to low blows, holding and hitting, elbowing, rabbit punching and host of things that you might see in a back room brawl in a Philadelphia bar. He has used these and other ‘tricks’ to intimidate his opponents into realizing that he will do anything to win and points on the scorecard are about as important to him as Lou DiBella and Don King.

Everything with Hopkins is mental. It’s a scary prospect when you’re up against someone who you think has nothing to lose or even worse you suspect they might be a little crazy. Muhammad Ali scared the confidence out of Sonny Liston by using the age old strategy of acting like a damn lunatic at the weigh in. Ali’s screaming and ranting had convinced Liston that he was going to battle with a guy that didn’t care about feeling pain and when Liston’s initial thudding jabs and jarring right hands failed to produce the result that they did against the Floyd Patterson’s on his resume, he was defeated even before he quit on his stool in the eighth round.

Hopkins uses similar, albeit much less animated antics. Like Ali and Tyson, most of Hopkins’ opponents have been beaten at the weigh in when Bernard is able to stare into their face and like a lion pouncing on a wounded gazelle, convince them that resistance is futile and victory is fervent prayer that will not be answered. Everyone that is, except Jermain Taylor.

The distance that Taylor created also allowed him get full extension on his laser-like jab and pop Hopkins more frequently than he is used to and definitely more than he likes. Hopkins maintained his usual composure but for the first three rounds the chess match that most were expecting was playing out in Taylor’s favor.

In the fourth Hopkins started giving Taylor previews of his counter right hand that were no doubt to make a much more frequent appearance in the upcoming rounds. Taylor however, was landing power shots of his own and pot-shotting the pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet with relative ease. His jab was getting inside of Hopkins’ tight defense and disrupting the rhythm of a man who thrives on tempo and pace.

At the halfway mark of the fight, Taylor was comfortably ahead on points and looked to be gaining confidence. The mistakes that Hopkins was looking for and hoping to exploit were few and far between. Though it was obvious to most that Taylor was landing more frequently and controlling the pace of the fight, the rounds were closer than most observers may have thought. Both ringside analyst Max Kellerman and official judge Jerry Roth both had the fight even after eight rounds. Hopkins showed no look of panic or sense of urgency which is typical but also maybe corroborates his post fight comments that he believed he was winning the fight.

In the ninth round, the fight took a hundred and eighty degree turn as Hopkins began to land his thunderous counter right hand with much more frequency and he started to hurt Taylor. Rounds ten and eleven saw more of the same and twice it seemed as though Hopkins was going to nullify the scorecards altogether and stop Taylor. The younger fighter stayed on his feet however and it was high drama in the 12th.

Hopkins came out to finish as Taylor, though incredibly winded, looked to show his championship heart and finish strong and standing tall. Hopkins pressed the action and with under a minute left looked to have hurt Taylor again. When the final bell rang, most had Hopkins taking the final stanza with ease and herein lies another of the controversies in the fight.

When the scorecards were tallied and read, 116-112 for Hopkins and 115-113 twice in Jermain’s favor, Taylor won a split decision over the now former undisputed middleweight champ. Somehow, Judge Duane Ford gave the 12th round to Taylor. If he scored the round like most did and gave it to Hopkins the fight would be ruled a draw.

Regardless, when two warriors of Taylor and Hopkins’ skill level wage battle, the fight is bound to be close. Close fights often turn into a numbers game. This fight eerily shadowed the first meeting between Roy Jones Jr. and Antonio Tarver in November of 2003. The rounds that Tarver won, he won decisively but the rounds that were close, which there were more of, were scored in Jones’ favor. Like Taylor, even though Jones suffered more damage and came out looking worse for the wear, he won more rounds than his opponent and was declared the victor.

Hopkins was obviously perturbed by the scoring but refused to make excuses, claiming only that “From the fifth or sixth round on, I dominated the fight. I did everything except knock him out.”

Taylor expressed extreme interest in a rematch, should Hopkins choose to exercise it, which he undoubtedly will. HBO is already holding October 1st open for chapter two of this drama. Until that day comes though, long live the new undisputed middleweight king of the world, Jermain Taylor!
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