Hopkins: "My Way" To The End

12.06.06 - By Thomas Choong: I became a boxing fan in 1996. It was the night of the first Holyfield-Tyson fight. Holyfield came in as a 25-1 underdog, which later narrowed down to 8-1 by fight time. The numbers didn’t matter. Holyfield’s heart and determination broke down Iron Mike at a time when Mr. Tyson once again seemed invincible. It was a night for cheering for the underdog, as most nights are. That night, at 15 years of age, I wrote what could be seen as my first boxing article. I haven’t written one since.

That was until witnessing last night’s mesmerizing encounter.

In all honesty, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about with there being two pay per view events competing against one another on the same night. Debates raged online over which fight was the one that was worth ordering. For the true boxing fan, there was only one fight that mattered; Tarver vs. Hopkins for the Light Heavyweight Championship of the World..

The challenger: Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins, a living legend in the sport while also living the American Dream. He had initially made the decision to turn his life around through boxing while incarcerated for strong armed robbery. He quickly moved through the rankings, winning the International Boxing Federation middleweight title in 1995. He would reign unbeaten for a decade while making 20 consecutive title defences, shattering the previous record of 14 held by the great Carlos Monzon of Argentina that had stood for over two decades. Within that period, Hopkins defeated a myriad of opponents, among them being future fellow hall of famers “the Golden Boy” Oscar De La Hoya and handing the revered Felix “Tito” Trinidad of Puerto Rico his first loss.

Hopkins stood in a class of his own until June of last year when coming face to face with the heir apparent to his throne, Jermaine “Bad Intentions” Taylor. Taylor, a 2000 Olympic Silver Medalist, had advantages in both speed and strength when he challenged Hopkins reign. However, both of these factors were non-issues as Hopkins left no doubts that he was still the superior fighter, a defensive wizard having honed his craft within the gyms of Philadelphia’s boxing rich tradition. In the end, the key dynamic that was in Taylor’s favour was his youth. Hopkins was narrowly outhustled by the younger, fresher 26 year old fighter on back to back occasions. Argue how you will about the outcome of those two encounters; I’ll only say that had occurred back in the days of 15 round championship bouts, both would have had a different outcome.

Now, in his final bout, Hopkins sought to do the impossible, to succeed in a feat that even his own hero, the great Sugar Ray Robinson (former 5 time middleweight champion, and generally regarded as the greatest fighter ever to lace up gloves) had failed to do in his own attempt: move up 15 pounds in weight to the light-heavyweight division to take the title. It wasn’t just Robinson who hadn’t done it. Nobody had. In addition to this, Hopkins, now a geriatric wonder at 41, professed this to be his final fight. It was to be the dramatic finale to the fabled career of the most dominant champion in the history of middleweight boxing.

For the champion, Antonio “Magic Man” Tarver, this was his chance to affirm his claim as being the best boxer in the world. Tarver was perhaps the most celebrated fighter in the history of American Amateur boxing and captain of the 1996 Olympic team. He captured Olympic Bronze, and as a professional he rose steadily through the rankings until getting the opportunity to prove himself in November 2003 against Roy Jones Jr.

Jones had dominated the sport since being robbed in Seoul at the 88 Olympics and returning to the U.S. with the silver medal. As a professional, he swept through like a hurricane, tearing through weights and winning titles at middleweight (160) (*note that Jones defeated Hopkins early in both of their respective careers while first battling for the then vacant IBF title, which Jones chose to vacate rather than giving Hopkins a rematch), super-middleweight (168), light-heavyweight (175), and attaining the pinnacle of professional boxing, the heavyweight championship. For those of you who are wondering why I’ve said so much about Jones, here’s why: Tarver knocked him out, and emerged as the victor of a riveting trilogy.

Tarver’s claim to fame was solely based on having defeated Jones. He called himself a “Legend Killer”, but questions still loomed, particularly after Tarver split a pair of fights with Glen “The Gentleman” Johnson, losing the first fight controversially and narrowly winning a rematch. (*Johnson was also a previous Hopkins victim). Tarver sought to show the world that through defeating Hopkins he was more than simply a “one hit wonder.”

Pre-fight press conferences had both men showing a exuding a great deal of confidence, with both sides claiming to have held unparalleled training camps. There were no excuses to be made. Although a 3-1 underdog, Hopkins carried himself as always, un-phased by the challenge that he faced, while stridently telling the world that this would be a legendary ending to his career. As for Tarver, the naturally bigger man, he had gone as far as to bet 250 000 dollars with Hopkins saying that Bernard would not see the sixth round.

Tarver could not have been more wrong.

From the beginning of the opening bell, it appeared clear that Hopkins had a clear sense of what he sought to accomplish in that ring. Showcasing his amazing counterpunching abilities and a virtually unstoppable lead right hand, Hopkins dominated the fight, even scoring a knockdown in the fifth round when a right hand counter to a Tarver uppercut left Tarver staggered, requiring him to touch the canvas with his glove to steady himself. Hopkins, fighting at a steady, measured pace never lost the upper hand, consistently beating Tarver in all areas of the fight: clean punching, defense, effective aggressiveness, and ring generalship.

Hopkins put on a boxing display that once again showed the world just why boxing is called “the sweet science.” At the end of the bout, Tarver’s face was clearly battered, while Hopkins was mostly unscathed. At the end of the bout, Michael Buffer’s reading of the official scorecards was merely an academic formality. I myself had Hopkins winning a complete 12 round shutout, while the official score keepers John Coyle, Clark Sammartino, and Al Bennett would have Hopkins winning unanimously by scores of 180-109. Hopkins achieved the impossible, winning the light-heavyweight championship of the world in astoundingly dominant fashion.

In the aftermath of this bout, I cannot help but feel some pity for Antonio Tarver. Already 37 years old and a three time light heavyweight champion, it would appear that there is little more for him to accomplish. What stood out for me most was the expression on Tarver’s face after the bout. Although he stated that he felt it was an off night for him, it also seemed clear that he had never expected to be beaten so decisively. Even mid-way through the fight, it was evident that Hopkins skills and style had made this fight an absolute mismatch for which Tarver could find no answer. With his confidence shaken and weaknesses clearly made witness for all to see, it would appear that Tarver’s best days are behind him. Whatever happens from here on in, I wish him the best of luck and respect him for accepting a challenge that had he had far more to lose than gain.

For Hopkins, it is the end of an era. Hopkins now leaves the sport leaving no more questions regarding his greatness. Having reached the pinnacle of his storied career in his final bout, Hopkins will forever stand among the pantheon of this great sport. Although many may want Hopkins to fight again and continue showcasing his unparalleled ring wizardry, this writer hopes that he to stay firm in his decision to retire. There is often the urge for fighters to return for one last big paycheck or greater glory, often with unfavourable results. However, Hopkins now exits with even his detractors left speechless. Hopkins has accomplished everything he ever wanted in this sport on his own terms, and I hope he retires in the same manner. Mr. Hopkins, it has been a pleasure and honour to be witness to your remarkable career.

Bernard “the Executioner” Hopkins

47 victories
4 defeats
1 draw
1 no-contest

Former Undisputed Middleweight Champion of the World.
Former Undisputed Light-Heavyweight Champion of the World.

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Article posted on 12.06.2006

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