Can Hopkins Win a Decision?

16.07.04 - By Jason Peck: In "On The Waterfront," the late, great Marlon Brando plays a second-rate prizefighter who threw fights for his gangster brother: "I coulda been a contendah, Charlie," he laments. Nowadays, the judges are the ones who ought to be remorseful, for they have become the suspect party in a boxing match. Now the action happens not with the fighters, but with the forces that control them.

Despite the fact that the De La Hoya-Sturm fight tends to leave a bitter taste in one's mouth, the fight itself was undoubtedly pure. Nothing was rehearsed; quite the contrary. De La Hoya endangered his reputation and fortune by underestimating the talented warrior, and was clearly taken aback by Sturm's power. If the fight had been rehearsed, De La Hoya would have ended Sturm easily, proving his salt to a skeptical boxing world. As it stands, he probably lost Bob Arum a lot of pay-per-view money.

The Sturm decision forces us to cast an unfortunate eye to the judges, who may have their minds on something other than fair and impartial judging.

Come this fall, Bernard Hopkins will take his shot with De La Hoya. And it's not De La Hoya's knockout power Hopkins should watch out for. It's a decision that might cost him his belts.

This notion brings me back to the Marvin Hagler- Sugar Ray Leonard fight, to which Hopkins-De La Hoya is so commonly compared. It ended with a split decision in favor of Leonard, the Golden Boy of his time and place. The Leonard camp claims Sugar Ray as the legitimate winner; but Hagler fans will always claim the fight was stolen from Hagler for the simple reason that Leonard was the fan favorite, while Hagler was the outsider of boxing.

Oscar De La Hoya obviously plays the role of Golden Boy Leonard, and Hopkins is obviously the Hagler. But this next point is important. The truth is that Hopkins will never cross over into the mainstream. Even if he destroys De La Hoya and becomes the P4P champion, De La Hoya will still be far more popular and profitable. The reasons are as follows.

A). Hopkins' style of fighting - Mike Tyson became the last boxer to win serious mainstream appeal, and it's easy to see why. While other boxers played it safe, Tyson would leap in like a savage animal and rend his foes limb from limb. It was fun to watch, and even someone who didn't really follow boxing could appreciate it. Arturo Gatti does a little of this today; he too has captured some mainstream attention with his well-deserved nickname "The Human Highlight Reel."

But Hopkins' style isn't nearly so exciting. He has power and speed, but is a tactician above all else. And so his fights are incredible displays of subtle maneuvering, psychological assaults and gradual deconstruction. The opposing fighters style is analyzed to its most miniscule twitch, and Hopkins finds the opening.

It's great to watch, but only for serious boxing fans who understand the nuances of Hopkins' style. For the rest it's 12 uneventful rounds of pushing and grappling. Hopkins is the wine for connoisseurs, while the mainstream sports fan would be happier with a cheap beer.

B). Hopkins doesn't cater to the boxing world - When he fought Robert Allen, the crowd booed for more excitement. If his gloves weren't on, he probably would have flashed them his middle finger. That's about how much regard he has for the crowd. He feels no need to be their friend or the always popular "people's champion." Bernard Hopkins is his own champion, and the people can take it or leave it.

Hopkins' contemporary Roy Jones Jr. rose through the ranks by challenging fighters in different weight classes and winning titles in each. By the time Jones made it to heavyweight, he was more or less established as the greatest fighter alive.

Hopkins is a throwback to the classic model of a prizefighting champion, when jumping from weight class to weight class wasn't the rule. If anyone wants to fight Hopkins, they have to come to him as a middleweight. And so he often fights against mandatory while lucrative possibilities surround him within a weight class or two. But what does Hopkins care?

C). He's not very pretty - Beauty is in the eye of beholder, but a lot of eyes behold that Hopkins won't make the cover of People magazine anytime soon.

Now if I were a sleazy promoter, I would take this into consideration. Felix Trinidad's comeback fight against Ricardo Mayorga is scheduled to be aired on Pay-Per-View the week following Hopkins-De La Hoya. And it will be a middleweight fight as well. Whoever wins the latter match-up will most likely have a future run-in with the former.

Now suppose Hopkins beats De La Hoya and Trinidad beats Mayorga. Hopkins-Trinidad II will certainly be a big payday, for it would be Trinidad's chance to redeem himself against the only man who handed him defeat. Hopkins- Mayorga would be a big fight as well, a match-up between the two men who beat two of the most highly regarded fighters in the sport. But the most profitable fight involves Oscar De La Hoya winning over Bernard Hopkins.

The first fight between Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya is the only top payday in the top 10 of all time that didn't involve heavyweights. A rematch has been in the works for years. And so here you have the best possible scenario: Oscar De La Hoya, the first truly undisputed middleweight champion in history steps into the ring for the last time against Felix Trinidad to settle the score once and for all.

De La Hoya-Trinidad II would shatter records like Hopkins-De La Hoya cannot hope to. The incentive is there, and so is the power. Don King, the most powerful name in boxing, promotes Felix Trinidad. Bob Arum, the second most powerful, promotes De La Hoya.

This is far from conspiracy theory nonsense. The promoters have already proved they cannot be trusted, and giving De La Hoya another controversial win is hardly out of the question. Hopkins has to fear a decision just because he's no Golden Boy, and like Hagler, many people won't miss him if he's gone. I hope for his sake that his fight plan involves a knockout win, for this is a fight best not left to judges.

Either way, Oscar's last fight showed just how driven the industry is when dealing with fights of this magnitude, and suggested that fight promoters, if they could, would gladly arrange things if they could see the best ones happen. I have no doubt that Hopkins and De La Hoya will show up in prime condition, and ready to lay everything on the line. But nowadays, the fighters are the best and truest element of boxing. I can't say the same of the promoters.

Article posted on 16.07.2004

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