Hopkins vs Taylor: From the Alpha to the Omega

05.07.05 - By Kevin Kincade: Do you ever stop to think about why they do it; the fighters? Everyone who logs on to ESB is a fight fan; this is a passion we all share. But did you ever stop to question why these chosen few do it and why we are drawn to watch? Why do we feel compelled to watch two men engage in hand-to-hand combat with no more protection than a cup, a gum shield, two 10 oz gloves, and their individual skills of self-defense?

Boxing is the granddaddy of all sports. It is the purest, most simplistic, most naked form of competition and is as old as man; actually, it’s older. All you have to do is tune into any nature special on social animals and, sooner or later, you will witness the plight of the aging Alpha Male; fending off challenge after challenge to his right to dominance over the group until he finally succumbs to a stronger adversary as much as he succumbs to the great adversary of us all, time. For those who do not know, the Alpha Male is the one male in the pride, pack, herd, group that has dominion over all the females and decisions the group, as a whole, makes: which prey to bring down, where to nest, which pride members get the prime choice in food, etc., etc. In other words, He’s The Boss.

The only way to become the Alpha Male is to defeat the Alpha Male in one-on-one combat, which brings this safari back to the human animal and boxing. Civilized, though we claim to have become, that primitive beast, who once emerged from the deepest darkest jungle of Africa, still lurks within the very recesses of our souls. Boxing is our “civilized” expression of our most primitive instincts; we must have an Alpha Male and for those who don gloves, they must be the Alpha Male. Men who would be champion need to prove they are the best, the top dog, the Alpha Male.

Bernard Hopkins, without a doubt, has been the Alpha at 160 lbs for the last 10 years. Since April 29th, 1995 and the present day, “The Executioner” has fended off a record 20 challenges to his ultimate supremacy. He may not be the best to ever rule over the division; but he’s earned his place among the best.

The upcoming match between Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor is more than just another in Bernard’s long string of title defenses. It is the confrontation between the aging silverback and the one who would take his place. While it is nothing new, the symbolism of the clash is no less dramatic, whether the actual fight is or not.

When a fighter is on top for so long and defends his title with seemingly effortless perfection so many times, there is a tendency to elevate his mortality to mythic proportions; to forget that he’s human and that the basic laws of nature apply to him just as they apply to we mere mortals.

That was the case on January 14th, 1891 when former blacksmith, “Ruby” Robert Fitzsimmons challenged the first man to ever hold the distinction of “Middleweight Champion of the World”, Jack Dempsey; no, not that one, the original “Jack Dempsey”, the “Nonpareil One”, the one without equal. With the exception of a controversial 32nd round knock out loss to George LaBlanche, in ’89, Dempsey had never experienced defeat since the inception of his career in 1883. Then, something happened; he faced two opponents on the same night at the same time: “Ruby” Rob and Father Time. Though he was just one month removed from his 28th birthday, he was old in fighting years, having competed in 90 + bouts and exhibitions, many times bare-fisted or with very little padding against men who outweighed him by 25 or 30 lbs. The younger Fitzsimmons dominated the “Nonpareil One” and stopped him after 13 brutal rounds.

Joe Louis, another great champion who had shown longevity, was 34 years old when he retired and vacated the heavyweight throne; but the people refused to recognize his successor, Ezzard Charles, until he faced the man who had never lost his title in the ring. “The Brown Bomber” had been champion since beating Jimmy Braddock in 1937, won America’s heart in his famous rematch with Max Schmeling in ’38, and had defended his title a record 25 times before he hung up the gloves. Only Dempsey and Sullivan had achieved the kind of popularity Louis enjoyed. Who was Ezzard Charles to take his place without facing him down?

In 1950, one year after his retirement, and in dire need of cold hard cash, Louis squared off with the “Cincinnati Flash” and after fifteen one-sided rounds, finally lost the second fight of his professional career. The torch had been passed; there was officially a new sheriff in town.

Yet another example: very few question the Greatness of the immortal Muhammad Ali. In his prime, it’s hard to imagine any heavyweight who has ever lived besting him in the square ring. The previous statement might draw some argument; but does anybody really believe Leon Spinks could have accomplished what he did in February of 1978 without the aid of the old hooded figure with the scythe? Twasn’t Neon Leon; but the immortal beast slayed beauty that night.

Bernard Hopkins has been a good champion and he turned back a young lion, himself, when he schooled Felix Trinidad in 2001; but that was four years ago and “Tito” was not equipped to deal with a crafty boxer of ‘Nard’s experience.

What about Jermain Taylor? Does “Bad Intentions” have what it takes to oust the old lion and take over his berth as the head of the pride? He’s younger, he’s faster, he’s got a pretty good punch and good stamina; but he is green. After 23 professional bouts he’s only fought two opponents of note: the tough Raul Marquez, whom he stopped in 9 and the former WBA titlist, William Joppy, whom he dominated over the 12 round distance. However, Joppy, at his best, was overrated and he was far from his best when he took the first class whuppin’ Taylor dished out.

Jermain is 26 years old and has room to grow; but can his youthful enthusiasm and physical advantages overcome Hopkins’ edge in guile and experience? Depends. Guile and experience don’t mean squat if you’re physically unable to use them. Ali, surely, had more guile and experience than the raw Leon Spinks, who had just 7 pro bouts, when he faced the greatest, who at 36, was four years younger than Hopkins is now. Larry Holmes, who had compiled a record of 48-2 over vastly superior opposition, was two years younger than Bernard when he faced a 21 year old Mike Tyson in 1988. Surely he had more guile and experience than the man who stopped him in 4 rounds.

Of course there are exceptions. Marvin Hagler turned away John “The Beast” Mugabi, Tony Zale bested Rocky Graziano two of three times, Sugar Ray Robinson beat off young challenger after young challenger and came back and bested those who did defeat him well into his late 30’s. So, the truth is, you never can tell on an individual by individual basis; but sooner or later, the “old man” wins…..and I’m not talking about the champion.

Bernard Hopkins, as masterful as he looked four years ago against the undefeated, heavily favored, and younger phenomenon, Felix Trinidad, hasn’t looked that great since. True, it could be the opposition; but I submit the obvious: B-Hop has been masking his slowing reflexes with intelligence. A come-ahead volume puncher like Eastman is not going to uncover this secret, a blown up lightweight with no middleweight punch is not going to pull back the curtain, either. Trinidad came right at Bernard, as well, which highlighted Hopkins’ technical supremacy. See, it’s brilliant. If a fighter isn’t naturally aggressive like Trinidad or Eastman, Bernard just outwits them, making his opponent fight his fight the way he wants them to in order to win. Did you expect Hopkins to make De La Hoya come to him?

Jermain Taylor is a boxer, with a little bit of youthful aggression; but he is first and foremost a boxer. Otherwise, William Joppy would have never seen the end of their fight. Taylor’s green and has a lot of growing to do; but every young fighter sooner or later faces the challenge that makes him a man; a fight of such immense pressure that the young fighter has only two choices: give in or overcome. This fight will offer Taylor that choice, whether Bernard does or not; the fight and the meaning of the fight will. It’s put up or shut up time.

Bernard Hopkins still believes he’s the best and that’s half the battle. He’s smart enough to have overcome his declining skills to this point in the game, echoing George Foreman’s cry, “Age 40 is not a death sentence.” The pressure falls squarely on the shoulders of young Jermain Taylor. This fight is going to take him to a place he’s never been before and he will be asked questions that aren’t in Cliff’s Notes. How will he react? Will he be overwhelmed by the occasion and prove to be a one dimensional boxer who is unable to think on his feet under the spotlight of a big event while facing the craftiest of veterans or will he just go out there and do his thing? This is, indeed, the fight that could make or break young Taylor, whether he wins or loses. If he loses, it’s how he reacts to that loss. Truthfully, he’s under a lot of pressure.

In my opinion, July 16th, 2005 will be the date when the green Jermain Taylor comes of age; and age finally comes to the Ancient Executioner. I could be wrong. Great fighters have a tendency to overcome the odds despite all logic; but I suspect the Alpha will meet his Omega this time around.

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Article posted on 05.07.2005

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