18.10.05 – By Anthony D. Perillo: It couldn’t have been too long a meeting when the advertising execs got together to come up with a moniker for the December 3 rematch between Jermain “Bad Intentions” Taylor and Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins. “No Respect” is exactly what the current and former middleweight champions have been giving each other since Taylor’s disputed split decision win over Hopkins in July. Neither man seems willing to offer an ounce of praise to the other, creating a sense of distaste and hostility that will, undoubtedly, only get worse as we get closer to the rematch.
But is this “no respect” justified?
How did Hopkins cross the line from being angry over a fight he felt he won to ranting “F*** the American Cancer Society!” and asking Ring Magazine to disregard the decision and keep him as champion? How is it now to the point that Taylor acts offended by the mere mention of Hopkins, a future Hall of Famer who, in the twilight of his career, volunteered to give the anointed “future of the division” a shot in the present?
Hopkins is obviously fuming over the manner in which his title reign ended. He feels that he was Jermain’s first real test, that Jermain failed this test, and that he deserves no credit for the judges’ decision. This is no act, either. Seeing his reaction when the final bell rang, his preparing to celebrate as Michael Buffer read the scorecards, and his look of shock when he heard the words, “And NEW undisputed middleweight champion of the world…” it is clear that Hopkins was absolutely certain he had won the fight handedly. Judging by the past few months, it’s apparent that his feelings haven’t changed.
But no matter his immediate or current reactions to the result, this was no robbery decision. Agree or disagree with the scoring, this was a tactical fight that, when scored round-by-round, could have gone to either man (I scored it 115-114 Taylor the first time, 114-114 even on the replay). A close score for Taylor or Hopkins, or even a draw, could be acceptable. Sure, you could score the fight for Hopkins every time if that’s what you see, but let’s not act as though this was the middleweight version of Lewis-Holyfield I or, even recently, Hernandez-Bobby Pacquiao. This fight was nothing short of disputable, no matter how you scored it, and to call the decision a robbery is a severe stretch of the term. Sometimes when the verdict is debatable and unclear, you just have to accept the decision and focus on making the next fight less controversial.
Months have passed for Bernard to lower the intensity of his protests even a little, but he remains relentless in his opinion about the decision. Unfortunately, his behavior has hurt his standing with many in the boxing community (as a person, not a boxer) just as he was being seen in the positive light his career had merited. Of course, being a fan favorite or a crowd pleaser was never his primary concern, but in the process of being upset, Hopkins is putting another black eye on the sport by belittling the current champion and showing little tact in his behavior with those who disagree with him.
Don’t assume that these reactions are part of a publicity stunt by Hopkins similar to the Puerto Rican flag incident before his fight with Trinidad. Hopkins’ recent behavior, particularly his outburst regarding the American Cancer Society (which, while sometimes blown a little out of proportion, was a careless statement and an unfortunate disregard for a prior agreement), is not taking place at a press conference building the rematch. Jermain Taylor is not sitting by his side, and there’s no plaque with his name and a promotional poster in the background. This is part of his real life, a bitter man who cannot see anyone’s truth but his own.
Hopkins will surely hold a grudge against the new face of the division up to the rematch. After his win over Hopkins, Jermain Taylor has risen to star status (considering boxing’s current state, at least), becoming one of the biggest names in the sport. He’s interviewing for the magazines, making the publicity rounds, and appearing on sports talk shows. With one single win, Taylor has earned more public regard than Hopkins ever did in the popular media. Taylor’s mainstream looks, charismatic demeanor, and Olympic pedigree make him easier to embrace as well. But no matter how many public appearances Jermain makes, he cannot completely leave Bernard’s shadow. Everywhere he goes, people ask him about the decision and the things Hopkins has said about him.
Jermain has clearly reacted. No longer polite about the matter, Taylor has repeatedly claimed to have lost all respect for Hopkins after the fight. Hopkins’ failure to acknowledge the loss has personally struck a nerve in the normally stoic Taylor. There will be punishment, Jermain claims, for how Hopkins has behaved following the first fight. Make no mistake about it: Jermain Taylor genuinely feels he is a much better fighter at this point than Bernard Hopkins, and if he can’t get Bernard to step back from his rants outside the ring, he wants to make him eat his words in the second go-around.
Beyond the rants, however, some may find a bit of truth to Hopkins’ sentiments. Popular notion is that the challenger must go out and take the title from the champion (and in the case of Hopkins, what a champion we had!). Even if you scored the bout for Taylor, his victory was hardly inspiring or convincing. His punches were loopy, he lost steam quickly, and he didn’t finish the fight on the highest of notes. On the contrary, when Hopkins stepped it up in the final rounds, the disparity in boxing knowledge and polished skill was quite apparent. The rounds Taylor won came early, when he continually jabbed and kept Hopkins at bay while Hopkins circled, waiting for his chance to attack. These rounds were not nearly as impressive as the ones Hopkins won at the end, where Hopkins appeared to hurt Taylor, something Taylor couldn’t do nearly as convincingly in the early stages of the fight.
But while it sounds good in theory to suggest that the challenger must convincingly snatch the title away from the champ, scoring a boxing match is not designed in this way. Boxing is scored round-by-round, and while Hopkins showed superior skills when he turned it on, the judges thought, understandably, that Taylor outperformed Hopkins in more rounds than Hopkins outperformed Taylor. It may have been an unsatisfying passing of the torch, but when you leave it in the hands of the judges and willingly hold back punches while the other guy keeps you at distance with his jab, you run the risk of losing your title.
No matter how Taylor feels about Hopkins the man after his recent behavior, he could be in for a rude awakening if he gives the same disrespect to Hopkins the boxer. Bernard is a smart fighter who fought an unwise fight the first time. He will surely refine his strategy and look to regain his titles with authority, and if Jermain veers away from his normal game plan and looks solely to punish Bernard, he will leave himself vulnerable to Hopkins’ clever counterpunching and could be gone early. At the same time, Hopkins cannot assume he will be fighting the same Taylor. The nerves from being in his first megafight won’t be as prominent, and Jermain made plenty of mistakes he will no doubt attempt to refine during training.
Whether fair or not, any respect either fighter had for each other July 16 is now long gone. How this will play into the rematch is yet to be seen. We can all hope, though, that after the final bell rings on December 3, we will have a truly undisputed middleweight champion, one which will have earned the respect of his opponent and, just as importantly, the boxing community.