Hopkins vs Tarver: “Tarver’s Time?”

10.06.06 - By Steve Skinner: This Saturday Night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, we’re all going to be treated to what could be the most historically significant boxing event of 2006. Antonio “Magic Man” Tarver, reigning Ring Magazine Light Heavyweight Champion, will be defending his crown against a man who some call one of the 5 greatest Middleweights of all time, Bernard “the Executioner” Hopkins. Hopkins will be looking to cement his legacy into the boxing annals by taking Tarver’s Ring Belt and adding it to his already over-flowing trophy case. It was not long ago that Hopkins snagged the Sugar Ray Robinson Trophy by knocking out Felix Trinidad in the middleweight tournament back in 2001. Hopkins also broke Carlos Monzon’s long standing record for consecutive Middleweight title defenses. If Bernard beats Tarver on Saturday night, he could become one of the few Middleweight champs (former in this case), to jump straight up to the 175lb division to beat the recognized and undisputed champion. He has the opportunity to join a legendary group of boxers like Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, and Roy Jones Jr. At the same time, he has a chance to one up them by doing it without tooling around in the Super Middleweight division first. Bernard, at age 41, will be coming off of back to back losses to Jermain Taylor and jumping up fifteen pounds to tangle with the man who ended Roy’s reign with a single punch. Its been a long time since Bernard was an underdog in a fight, but the odds sure are stacked against him in this match-up..

One has to admire Hopkins for taking on such a tremendous challenge at this stage in his career-and at his ripe old age. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and say that Bernard has no chance, because we all know for fact that this 41 year old is still quite capable in the ring. Simply put, the guy’s a veteran, knows every trick in the book, and would be the most likely choice for being the best defensive boxer of this era. You also must take into consideration that Bernard holds an 11th round TKO victory over Glen Johnson (even if it was way back in 1997), the man who beat Tarver in 2004 via 12 round split decision. In addition, Tarver had to put on a bunch of weight for the Rocky VI movie so he’d look like a legitimate heavyweight-now he’s had to shed it all back off in a reasonably short period of time. Hopkins appears to be banking on the fact that Antonio might have made the same mistake that Roy Jones Jr. did in going way up in weight and then having to starve himself to come back down-this can take its toll on a fighter and surely Tarver’s had to dry himself up to make the 175lb limit again. Nevertheless, I think you still have to favor Tarver pretty heavily. Tarver seems to be in that stage of a fighter’s career where he’s still retiring guys; First Roy, and now possibly Hopkins. You also have to factor in that Hopkins pro career started off at Light Heavyweight, only to lose his first fight. He then was forced to conclude that he’d make a better middleweight. Hopkins is also coming off consecutive decision loses to Jermain Taylor -controversial or not. In a way, Hopkins has turned the tables on himself. In the past few years he’s been chasing bigger paydays for less risky fights by taking on smaller guys coming up from Jr Middleweight like Trinidad and De La Hoya. On Saturday night, he’ll be taking on bigger risks and a smaller payday to fight Tarver. One must realize that by the time they step into the ring that Tarver will weigh as much as a cruiserweight in there, while Hopkins will barely tip the scales at 175. It will be up to Hopkins to figure out a way to be competitive with the naturally bigger and stronger man-and stay out of harms way at the same time. For Tarver, he just needs to be himself and figure out how to land that magic punch just like he did to Roy.

The outcome of this showdown will certainly tell us if Bernard Hopkins has anything left in the tank-and more importantly in those old legs. Win, lose, or draw; my guess is that on Saturday night we might very likely be watching his last fight. Years back he had promised Sugar Ray Robinson’s mother that he wouldn’t fight past age 40-a promise that never came to fruition. This fight will ultimately tell us if Bernard is merely infringing upon what really is Tarver’s time and Tarver’s era, or if he really does deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with the greatest boxer of all time-Sugar Ray Robinson. It will be no small feat if Hopkins beats Tarver. Others have tried and failed-even Sugar Ray Robinson himself retired on his stool after the 13th round to Joey Maxim as he succumbed to heat exhaustion in 1952 at Yankee Stadium. Others were too intelligent to think they’d be successful by taking such a leap. One fight I always wish came off was Marvin Hagler vs Michael Spinks-but at 5’9” Hagler must’ve realized he’d be at a too much of a physical disadvantage against the bigger guys? Or maybe he just realized that his most effective weight was at Middleweight and that there was more money to be made with guys like Leonard, Hearns, and Duran who were climbing up in weight at the time. Ultimately, Bernard’s only victory may be a moral one similar to De La Hoya’s when he stepped up well beyond his natural weight class to challenge Hopkins for his middleweight belts. The type of courage that Bernard Hopkins has displayed throughout his career is not something you can purchase off a shelf at Wal Mart or at your local shopping mall. Simply put he’s a future Hall of Famer whose had a legendary career, and in the end we can only hope that Bernard will still have his health to take with him into retirement.

Article posted on 10.06.2006

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