Sharkie's Machine: Bernard Hopkins Makes Historic 20th Title Defense

20.02.05 - By Frank Gonzalez Jr.: Saturday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins made history again as he improved his record to 46-2-1-32 KO's with a Unanimous Decision victory over Guyanese/British Challenger, Howard Eastman (40-2-0-35 KO's).

The Philadelphia native had a humble start to his pro career, losing his first pro fight in 1988 to another first time fighter, Clinton Mitchell. He followed that loss with a string of 23 wins in a row until losing again to a fighter named Roy Jones Jr. by UD 12 in 1993. Hopkins started his reign as Middleweight Champion in April of 1995, after facing then IBF Champion, Segundo Mercado in a rematch bout. Mercado floored Hopkins twice in their first match eight months earlier, which ended in a Draw. Hopkins won the rematch by TKO 7..

Hopkins took the WBC Title from Keith Holmes in April of 2001, winning a 12 round Unanimous Decision. He dominated in every round and scored a TKO 12 win to take the WBA version of the Title from Felix Trinidad in 2001 and KO'd Oscar De La Hoya to take the WBO Title last September. Since then, he has unified the Titles and is truly the "undisputed" Champion of the Middleweights.

Howard Eastman, who is trained by Robert McCracken, a former fighter that Eastman beat in April of 2001, came into the Hopkins fight with only one (controversial) loss on his record, against the diminished William Joppy. Many observers felt Eastman won that fight but Joppy got the nod.

Outside of William Joppy, Hacine Cherifi and Sam Soliman, unless you're from England, there aren't many recognizable opponents on his resume. But he has that beard that sometimes he dyes in colors that are weird. For that, he may be most remembered.

Bernard Hopkins is the cream of the Middleweight crop. He has not lost a fight since 1993. For twelve years, Hopkins has done nothing but win fights. He is clearly one of the most accomplished Boxers in the sport today.

Hopkins was one of the most under appreciated fighters for a long time until he fought Felix Trinidad and won by TKO in the final round. That made Bernard a big Star and he finally got the recognition he truly deserved. He eventually freed himself from Don King and is his own manager now.

Since beating Trinidad, Hopkins has fought and beaten Carl Daniels, Morrade Hakkar, William Joppy, Robert Allen and Oscar De La Hoya, who moved up from 154 to fight him. Bernard has not strayed from the 160-pound division. He has not faced any bigger men with notable skills but has faced his share of smaller ones.

Middleweight has historically been one of the glamour divisions of the sport but in Hopkins' era, it has been borderline pathetic. That is no fault of Hopkins'. Howard Eastman is a top contender who honestly deserved a shot at the Title.

The first round of Hopkins vs. Eastman saw both guys moving around each other, not throwing many punches. It was boring. With about four seconds remaining in the round, Hopkins jumped on Eastman and stole the round for actually doing something that resembled a fight.

Hopkins was making history Saturday night. He was extremely cautious and spent most of the rounds backing up or going side to side and avoiding confrontations with Eastman, who could rarely catch Hop with anything anyway.

It was not a very entertaining fight. But B. Hop got the job done and successfully defended one of his Middleweight Titles (the WBC version). His record of 20 Title defenses is going to be very hard to break for any fighter in any division.

In this fight, there weren't many dramatic moments, no turning tides, no knockdowns and nothing particularly newsworthy outside the fact that Hopkins won the most rounds even though he only fought in spurts. Eastman pressed the action most of the time and proved that being the aggressor does not mean you are winning the fight.

At times, Hopkins was actually avoiding confrontation and moving more than he was punching. Whenever they clashed, Hopkins usually got the best punches off.šTMost of Hopkins' best work happened inside the clinches and outside the view of the referee.

Howard Eastman, to his credit, came to fight. He was slick and almost Hopkins-like in his approach. He was aggressive but careful and measured in his every move for the most of the fight. Both fought extra careful and only on occasion, did the leather fly. When it did, Hopkins usually got the better of it.

The coverage on HBO was annoyingly biased. Whenever Eastman did win an exchange, neither Jim Lampley nor Roy Jones Jr. (the ringside announcers) bothered mentioning it.

At one point, when Hopkins missed with a left hook, Lampley was quick to credit Hopkins with a score. Roy Jones Jr. disagreed with Lampley, saying that Eastman blocked that left hook (which he did), but a moment later, Jones conceded that it probably was a score if Lampley said so. By the sixth round, it was pretty even on my scorecard. But from that point on, Hopkins imposed his will and won most of the following rounds, landing the cleaner punches, while confounding Eastman.

Eastman had some good moments. He landed some decent shots, but never anything that impeded Hopkins or prevented him from dictating the terms of the contest. Whenever they exchanged, clinches followed. There were a lot of clinches in this fight and that benefited Hopkins, who plied his trade in ways only a watchful eye would notice.

There were a few moments in the late rounds when Eastman aggressively took the fight to Hopkins, who craftily avoided the worst and managed to score with left hooks at will as Eastman kept his right hand too low in defense.

At 40 years old, Bernard Hopkins appears in excellent physical condition. His stamina has never been an issue. He moved more in this fight than any of his previous bouts. He reminded me of Oscar De La Hoya in the last four rounds against Felix Trinidad, where he moved more than he punched. But the difference was, when Hopkins ran, he was controlling the action, keeping Eastman off of him and frustrating him into making mistakes. Whenever Eastman made a mistake, Hopkins was there to land a punch and score another point. Exciting? Not really. Effective? Absolutely.

Why is it that the fighters revered as the, "best pound for pound" are so often boring to watch? The art of boxing is the art of hitting without being hit. There is a definite beauty in watching two skilled boxers go at it. This was a technical fight. Guys who like reading technical journals and happen to be boxing fans must've been in heaven watching this one.

If their names were not Hopkins and Eastman but two guys nobody ever heard of, most people would agree that this was a boring fight.

Bernard says he wants to fight Jermain Taylor, the winner of Antonio Tarver vs. Glen Johnson II and cap off his career with another fight against Felix Trinidad. That sounds too good to be true so I'm not going to hold my breath but I'd love to at least see a rematch with Trinidad before Hop hangs 'em up.

Tarver and Johnson are 175-pounders but Hopkins is crafty enough to possibly beat both of them on separate nights. Johnson's work rate and size could be a problem for Hopkins though, more so than Tarver's sporadic but power based style of fighting.

Jermain Taylor doesn't really deserve a title shot and he has not fought the quality of opposition so far that would lead me to believe he can deal with the likes of The Executioner. I'd pick Hopkins to win easily over Taylor. Hopkins would neutralize Taylor's jab and capitalize on the amateurish mistakes Taylor still makes, like pulling straight back on defense and dropping his left after jabbing.

The new and improved Glen Johnson may be the one guy in that group who could force Hopkins into a dangerous slugfest. Johnson's work rate and conditioning could present problems for Bernard and force him into fighting a style he doesn't prefer. Hopkins is a primarily a counter puncher and Johnson punches so often that Hopkins would have a lot of countering to do, more than he's comfortable with.

A rematch with Trinidad would sell a lot of tickets and has the potential to be one of the most drama filled rematches in recent boxing history. Trinidad has grown nicely into his new Middleweight frame by now and showed better footwork in his last fight against Mayorga, who he destroyed by TKO 8 last October. Hopkins finds your weakness and takes advantage of it. It was Trinidad's poor footwork that greatly contributed to his beat down by Hopkins in September of 2001.

At 40 years old, Hopkins has little left to prove and lots of money to make as he closes out a brilliant boxing career that spans 17 years. We fight fans are lucky to have been witness to the greatness that is Bernard Hopkins. When he finally hangs up his gloves, I hope he will help formulate a National Boxing Commission. Bernard is a very intelligent man who's a serious advocate for Boxer causes and the betterment of the sport. He would be an excellent choice for the first Commissioner of a legitimate Commission. If not that, he'd be a tremendous top man of a future Boxers Union. Whatever he does, I wish him all the best.

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In other action, Middleweight Prospect Jermain Taylor upped his record to 23-0 with 17 KO's after facing former sparring partner and friend, Daniel "The Haitian Sensation" Edouard (16-1-2-9 KO's), who might be one of the better fighters Taylor's camp has arranged for him lately. At least Edouard is a real middleweight and not just another blown up Welter.

Edouard had a good first round, aggressively exchanging with Taylor and scored some good shots but Taylor took control in the second round when he staggered Edouard with a left, right combo that wobbled Daniel's legs a bit. In the next round, Taylor used a lead left hook to set up a barrage of unanswered punches that caused referee Ray Corona to stop the fight.

The stoppage was a questionable since Edouard wasn't under pressure long enough to tell if he was going to respond with punches or get hurt. The ref could have at least asked Edouard to show him something before pulling the plug on the fight. Edouard protested and appeared fully capable of continuing. But, Taylor is being groomed by HBO for greatness so, that's how it goes for guys like Daniel Edouard. Better luck next time kid.

I'd like to see Taylor take on at least one of the top guys in the division like, Felix Sturm, Howard Eastman or Felix Trinidad before he gets a Title shot against the King of the division, Bernard Hopkins. If he beats any of those guys, he will have proved that he deserved a shot at The Executioner and all (or maybe just one) of his Middleweight Titles.

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Article posted on 20.02.2005

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