Sharkie's Machine: Sizing Up Hopkins vs. Taylor

14.07.05 - By Frank Gonzalez Jr.: Philadelphia native, Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins (46-2-1-32 KO's) has successfully defended his Middleweight Title (a record) 20 times. Outside of the then electrifying, Roy Jones Jr., who was 21-0 when they fought in 1993; Hopkins' opponents have not been great Middleweights. Jones beat Hopkins by UD 12 in a fight so boring, that it almost knocked me out watching it. Since then, Hopkins has never lost a fight.

Besides his reputation as a sneaky, dirty fighter, Bernard had tenacious talent but hardly anyone was paying much attention to him until 2001, when he faced Puerto Rican sensation and former Welterweight Champion, Felix Trinidad, who had just moved up from Jr. Middleweight. Trinidad was dangerous because of his punching power but he was one-dimensional in terms of his boxing skills.

Hopkins exploited Trinidad's deficiencies all night, winning every round and ultimately knocking Tito down and out in the 12th round. After his annihilation of Trinidad, Hopkins emerged at long last, a big Star. Better late than never..

Hopkins squandered his newfound popularity by fighting less than stellar competition for the next three years until 2004, when he TKO'd another former Welterweight Champion, Oscar De La Hoya with a suspect body shot that didn't look too menacing but saw DLH cringing in pain on the canvas after the count of 10.

Arguments can be made that a Middleweight Champion beating even the best Welterweight of their era didn't mean much except that Hopkins could beat smaller men. But in terms of recognition and the big paydays that go with it, Hopkins had truly arrived.

It's no fault of Hopkins that in his time, the Middleweight division was sorely lacking top-level talent. Hopkins made the most of a forsaken division that once upon a time was home to legends like Carlos Monzon, Tommy Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard. Today, the Middleweight division is something of a last stop for guys who can't make weight at 147-154. Questions of how Hopkins would have fared had he fought in the Hagler or Monzon era can never be answered and such speculations are a waste of time.

In spite of existing in a weak division, watching Hopkins exhibit his craft left no doubt about his exceptionally cultivated skills. At 40 years old, he is still one of the most dangerous fighters in a sport where guys his age are usually retired or washed up. Hopkins' date with Father Time is like that famous, 'check in the mail.' It's coming. The question is when?

Little Rock Arkansas native, Jermain "Bad Intentions" Taylor (23-0-0-17 KO's) is 14 years younger than Bernard. He's a muscular, 6'1" and easily one of the biggest Middleweights out there. He always looks like a Light Heavyweight on fight night and bangs with authority. He has a great left jab and enjoys using it to set up his power punches. He's yet to face a top quality opponent and naturally, questions linger about his presumed greatness.

Taylor is photogenic, has a likeable personality and to his credit, I've never heard him talk any trash. His Bronze Medal performance in the 2000 Olympics was his springboard into the pros. As a fan, he's easy to like, he puts on a good show and seems destined for greatness. Taylor's handlers have carefully managed his career in the last four years. If any fighter's ever been 'groomed' for greatness, it has been Jermain Taylor. For a man of his apparent talents, it's been a relatively safe and easy road so far.

Many of Taylor's opponents have been smaller guys that moved up from Jr. Middle or Welterweight. There are plenty of worthy prospects he could have fought, but so far, he's faced only one of them, Daniel Edouard (16-3), who he quickly dispatched by TKO 3 in their fight (on the under card of Hopkins vs. Eastman back in February of 2005). It's been a steady diet of declining or going-no-where fast fighters that account for most of Taylor's recent successes.

Taylor is ranked above all the other highly regarded prospects in the division like, Kingsley Ikeke (23-1), Arthur Abraham (16-0), Chad Dawson (18-0), Ian Gardner (19-2) Troy Rowland (22-2), Aslanbek Kodzoev (16-1), Fulgencio Zuniga (17-1) and Sebastian Sylvester (18-1), though he's fought none of them. Taylor's is also ranked higher than some quality veterans he's never fought, like Felix Sturm (24-1) and everyone besides Winky Wright, Sam Soliman and of course, Bernard Hopkins.

None of that should suggest that Taylor isn't as good as he's touted to be by the boxing media. But they are issues worth considering as Jermain takes the biggest step up in his career. Bernard Hopkins is a true Middleweight and arguably one of the best fighters in boxing. Hopkins has neutralized big punchers, out brawled brawlers and out boxed top-notch boxers and turned fouling into an art form almost worthy of praise. He has a wealth of ring experience, tremendous stamina and a body that defies his age. He's also the smartest and cagiest fighter I've ever seen in the ring.

Taylor is a young, strong fighter who's still a work in progress. He naturally makes a fair amount of mistakes on defense and often leaves himself open while executing his offense. Hopkins is the master of exploiting the weaknesses of his opponents and is always in the kind of shape to do it. Unless Taylor can smother Hopkins with effective aggression and force Hopkins out of his game plan, or just get lucky, Taylor will leave the MGM Grand in Las Vegas next Saturday night with his first Loss. If Taylor gets rattled and loses control, he could get knocked out midway into the fight.

For Hopkins, this could be his last fight. If he beats Taylor and Taylor goes on to become a major Champion in the future, it will have been a fine end to a storybook career.

For Taylor, this is a win-win situation. If he loses to Hopkins, he'll have lost to a legend and will be the benefactor of a tremendous boxing experience that will help shape the future of his career. If he wins, he's going to be a Super Star overnight.

I predict that Hopkins out boxes Taylor and wins a Unanimous Decision. But in this sport, anything can happen. Let's just hope this clash of styles turns out to be an entertaining and memorable fight.

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Article posted on 14.07.2005

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