Taylor-Hopkins: Will Father Time Catch Up with The Execution?

13.07.05 - By Paul Ruby - At an age where most boxers are more than a decade removed from their prime, Bernard Hopkins is seeking to eclipse twenty consecutive title defenses. To suggest that Bernard Hopkins’ physical ability is impressive would be an understatement; it is simply amazing. Hopkins, however, will be faced with a young, hungry test Saturday evening in Las Vegas when he steps between the ropes to take on 2000 U.S. Olympian Jermain Taylor on HBO Pay-Per-View.

Experience facing youth is scenario that has been played out consistently in the annals of boxing history and there is typically only one certainty – the winner will not get the credit he deserves. When Marciano defeated Louis or De La Hoya took down Chavez, the loser was “too old” and the victor did not get the credit he deserved. When an undefeated prospect like Zab Judah gets stopped by a wily, tough vet like Kostya Tszyu or Fernando Vargas gets beaten by Felix Trinidad, pundits suggest that the loser is not a talented fighter, but merely a prospect who had been “protected” and subsequently “exposed.” Suffice it to say, the cry Sunday morning will be that either Hopkins got old overnight or Jermain Taylor has been exposed.

In reality, this is an exciting match-up. Conventional wisdom suggests that Bernard Hopkins’ age should catch have caught up with him five or more years ago, but it has not appeared that way in the ring. Hopkins did, however, appear to be slowing down just a bit in his fights with Oscar De La Hoya and Howard Eastman. To handle Taylor with the relative ease he handled both of those opponents, Hopkins improve his focus in the ring.

Bernard Hopkins possesses many strengths and relatively few weaknesses. Hopkins consistently arrives in peak physical condition and never has trouble making weight. Hopkins is a precise counter-puncher with excellent patience. Even when the Executioner is seeking to merely counter his opponent’s shots, he maintains good ring generalship and appears to be in constant control. An exceptional inside fighter, Hopkins is like a scientist in the ring. He begins by evaluating his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and then working to neutralize them, often by working the body and tiring them out early. Hopkins is willing to give away occasional early rounds on the cards to ensure the he seizes opportunities to tire his opponents out; J.C. Chavez was another master at this tactic. Defensively, Hopkins is a more skilled fighter than most would give him credit for being. Hopkins may not be as flashy on defense as Pernell Whitaker or Floyd Mayweather, Jr., but he is nearly impossible to hit cleanly. Hopkins tucks his chin better than anyone in the industry and keeps a high guard whenever he is in close quarters.

Jermain Taylor is an exciting young prospect, but he still has a great deal to prove. To be honest, I wish Taylor would have taken on a guy like Howard Eastman, Felix Sturm, or even Maselino Masoe before this fight. Like many writers, though, I believe there is a finite amount of time in which the Little Rock-native can continue to make 160 pounds and he is now forced to take on the guy who’s dominated the division for nearly a decade. I really cannot fault Taylor for his level of competition recently, though, as many writers have. Each of his last three opponents – Raul Marquez, William Joppy, and Daniel Edouard – were projected to be much tougher than they wound up being. Edouard showed the unpolished ability that earned him two draws with the unheralded and modestly talented Dorian Beaupierre while Joppy ran like a coward for 15 minutes after Taylor sent him to the canvas. Marquez fought like the gentleman that he is and gave a spirited effort, but he showed his advancing years and simply could never figure out Taylor’s precise jab. In any event, Taylor has shown great composure in the ring. Still, it is troubling that he really has not faced a major test yet. Of course, people made the same claim about another young Southerner named Cassius Clay when he took on a grizzled veteran known to have a mean streak in Sonny Liston.

The major question marks in this fight revolve around how the fighters will deal with their opponents respective styles; neither has fought a man like the one he is going to face. In all likelihood, Taylor will be the stronger man in the ring Saturday night; Hopkins has not faced that in quite some time. Hopkins has never faced a fighter with a jab like Taylor’s or a style capable of frustrating him.

In my opinion, this fight will hinge on two things: to win, Taylor needs to pile up some early rounds and gain confidence and he must also react in kind to Bernard Hopkins’ rough-housing and dirty tactics. The toughest fights for Hopkins during his winning streak were those in which his opponent actually sought to win the fight and refused to accept his rough-housing – Antwun Echols headbutting and bodyslamming him 5 years ago and Robert Allen wrestling with him in their first fight. If Taylor takes a similar tack, he may face a similar result, but it is a risk he must run if he wants to win. If not, he will be lulled to sleep by the counterpunching of Hopkins and wake up some time in the late rounds like Howard Eastman and Robert Allen did recently with 6 minutes left in the fight and an unlikely knockout their only hope for a win. Bernard Hopkins is a dirty fighter and Jermain Taylor should know this going in. Hopkins hits low, he hits on breaks, he turns his opponent away from the referee and sneaks in a low blow, he hits behind the head. Jermain Taylor is surrounded by knowledgeable boxing people, and I’m quite sure they know this. Taylor must react when Hopkins challenges him in this way. Taylor must also pile up some early rounds, but he cannot be sloppy in doing so. Taylor must work behind his jab and lay off of his right until finding his range. Few people are capable of controlling a fight with just their jab; Taylor could be one of those people.

Bernard Hopkins is a favorite in this fight for good reason, but many question marks remain. Neither man has been in a competitive fight in quite some time – probably five years or more for both fighters. For Hopkins to win, he must counter-punch and fight on the inside. For Taylor to win, he must do the things I mentioned above as well as protect his chin – something he has neglected to do at times in the past.

I would like nothing more than to see Jermain Taylor do to Hopkins what a young Ali did to Sonny Liston some 41 years ago. I would love to see him come out as the unheralded underdog with a so-called padded record like a young Felix Trinidad did when he stopped veteran Maurice Blocker in two rounds. Unfortunately, even if Jermain Taylor is Felix Trinidad on Saturday night, history suggests it might not be enough to get past Bernard Hopkins. I believe this fight goes this distance with Hopkins pulling away in the later rounds. Taylor will live to fight another day, but I cannot see him getting by the Executioner in Las Vegas.

Questions? Comments?

Article posted on 13.07.2005

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