Hopkins & Mayweather: Discipline from Different Angles

BY Greg Smith ON June 29, 2005
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On most pound-for-pound lists, Bernard Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather Jr. are ranked as the top two fighters in the world today. Hopkins and Mayweather have ascended to the top from different backgrounds and pedigrees. They are drastically different people outside of the ring as well. Some would deem Hopkins as a rebel with a cause who beat the establishment, while some would deem Mayweather as a rebel without a clue. Regardless of the differences, as it applies strictly to their chosen profession, they are the most disciplined and focused champions today. In an age when fighters balloon 20-30 pounds over their weight class between fights, Hopkins and Mayweather are always in shape, and can concentrate on strategy and tactics instead of rapid weight loss while preparing for high profile fights. Hopkins and Mayweather, more than any other top fighters in boxing today, come to the ring in better mental and physical condition than their opposition. They work harder in the gym than their opponents, and both are in control of pre-fight psychological warfare.

To understand the breadth and depth of similarities and differences between Hopkins and Mayweather, it’s important to examine the pre-fight hype, actual ring action, and post-fight analysis of their signature fights. Hopkins’ signature win to this day is actually his delayed coming out party against Felix Trinidad. Mayweather has been in tougher fights in the past compared to his destruction of Gatti last week, but it’s indeed the Gatti fight that has catapulted him into the consciousness of the buying public for many reasons. All told, in comparing and contrasting Hopkins and Mayweather, it’s a study of discipline from different angles.

Bernard Hopkins TKO12 Felix Trinidad – September 29, 2001

Prior to facing Trinidad almost four years ago, Hopkins stated that Trinidad was a fighter who never had to go to plan B in his career. Bernard’s belief was that Trinidad was a one-dimensional “left hook guy,” and if you took away his main weapon, Tito wouldn’t be able to adjust. As Bernard was analyzing Tito’s style while planning his own game plan, he said that he would present Trinidad with a diverse set of styles. In separate interviews, The Executioner said that Tito would see elements of Bennie Briscoe, Gypsy Joe Harris, Jersey Joe Walcott and Marvin Hagler. The most important thing to realize about the aforementioned fighters is that Oscar De La Hoya’s name wasn’t mentioned. Many boxing people, including HBO commentator Jim Lampley, mentioned that Hopkins’ strategy was simply a “blueprint” that was established by Oscar De La Hoya in his bout with Trinidad in September1999. In reality, Hopkins’ multi-faceted destruction of Trinidad couldn’t have been more different than De La Hoya’s controversial loss to Trinidad in 1999.

First, Hopkins beat Trinidad before they ever stepped into the ring. In the months prior to Hopkins vs. Trinidad, the press built Trinidad up, and tore Hopkins down. Ironically, it was Hopkins who was in charge the entire time. He played the role of the villain, but it wasn’t a mindless game. The boxing establishment outlandishly disrespected Hopkins and his advisor at the time, Lou DiBella. The crux of the tournament was transparent. Put Trinidad into a position where he could unify the middleweight belts, and step up to fight Roy Jones Jr. in the biggest mega-bout of the new millennium.  In the eyes of the powersthat be, Hopkins was just a pawn in the grand scheme of things. HBO commentators were mentioning Trinidad in the same breath as Sugar Ray Robinson while Tito concussed William Joppy in May 2001. Trinidad was the star of the show regardless of the fact that he only had one middleweight fight under his belt, and Hopkins was shooting for his fourteenth defense.

While Hopkins’ status and credentials were being skeptically scrutinized, he went on the offensive from various fronts. He was too smart, too disciplined, and too resourceful. As the press heaped praise on Tito, Hopkins took control of Tito’s psyche. Hopkins’ antics at the press conferences in New York, Philadelphia, Miami, and the infamous riot in Puerto Rico are well documented. What many don’t remember is that Hopkins actually got physical with Tito in Miami. Sporting a washboard stomach and looking near the middleweight limit, Hopkins actually had the audacity to call out his more heralded opponent’s physical condition by aggressively grabbing Tito’s flabby love handles. It was a smart move. Tito was probably somewhere between 175-180 pounds and seemed to be living the life of a contemporary spoiled superstar while he was out of training. It was a not-so-subtle attempt at intimidation, and Tito appeared both shocked and surprised by Hopkins’ aggression and disrespect. It also demonstrated that Hopkins was the more mentally and physically prepared opponent. Tito had no recourse but to complain. He never attempted to turn the tables on Bernard during face-to-face psychological warfare.

Bernard got under Tito’s skin at all of the press conferences. From the time Tito went into serious training, to the 9/11-related postponement, and just before the men stepped into the ring on 9/29/01, Tito was a different person than we’d been accustomed to seeing. Even though he was guaranteeing victory and revenge, Tito was admitting that he might need to change his game plan against Hopkins. He was working on lateral movement, holding, and clinching. He was averse to press attention, whereas he was normally open and engaging in the past.

Tito Trinidad was worried about Bernard Hopkins.

What Tito didn’t know was that Bernard’s pre-fight rhetoric and open disrespect was a misdirection play. Tito thought Hopkins was going to work an inside game like he did with Keith Holmes, but Hopkins and Bouie Fisher were actually working on a different strategy the entire time. The design was to set the bait, and lure Tito into a game he didn’t expect.

It worked.

To add to Tito’s pre-flight plight, just an hour before Hopkins and Trinidad entered the ring at Madison Square Garden, Hopkins’ camp rattled Tito further by asking the New York State Athletic Commission to re-examine Tito’s wraps. The NYSAC noticed an irregularity, and asked Tito to re-wrap. At one point, the Trinidads reportedly threatened to pull out of the fight, but ultimately relented.

Score another pre-fight point to Hopkins.

The story of what happened in the ring between Hopkins and Tito is well known. It was one of the best performances of the decade, and I’m still stunned to this day that Hopkins vs. Trinidad wasn’t part of HBO’s stellar series, Legendary Nights.  Hopkins utilized purposeful lateral movement, a punishing jab, and jolting, short right hands to get Tito drunk, and drown him in the late rounds.

I attended Hopkins vs. Trinidad at Madison Square Garden, and it reminded me of a fight I attended almost twenty years before in Las Vegas: Holmes vs. Cooney. The eastern Pennsylvania fighters defused the vaunted left hook of their more popular opposition, and used a better rounded skill set to dissect and destroy them in the late rounds. Certainly, Trinidad was a more accomplished and decorated fighter than Cooney, but the styles and tempo of the fight were eerily similar. Like Holmes, Hopkins was cool and collected under enormous pressure, whereas Tito and Cooney didn’t know what to do when their power was nullified. They kept trying, but ultimately wilted under the accumulation of punishment. Both Tito and Cooney were never the same. They were beaten both mentally and physically.

In the end, Hopkins outsmarted, outboxed, and outfought Trinidad. The twelfth round stoppage was both devastating and definitive. Bernard Hopkins, an underdog who bet $100,000 on himself, upset the odds and the boxing establishment. Tito Trinidad was a tough fighter and a tremendous puncher, but he simply wasn’t as disciplined or prepared as Hopkins to assume the throne as the best middleweight in the world on September 29, 2001.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. TKO6 Arturo Gatti – June 25, 2005

Floyd Mayweather Jr. might be the best fighter in the world today. Like Hopkins, he is known for outside-the-ring problems. Scrutiny reveals that Pretty Boy Floyd’s problems aren’t so pretty. His problems are actually much different in nature than Hopkins. Mayweather’s problems typically land in criminal court, whereas Hopkins’ cases are determined in civil court. Since being released from prison in 1987 at the age of twenty-two, Bernard Hopkins has never been involved in a criminal proceeding.  In most of Hopkins’ legal cases, he’s challenged promoters and prevailed. He beat both Butch Lewis and America Presents in court, and the combined awards from both cases totaled over two million dollars. To date, the only man to beat Bernard Hopkins in civil court is Hopkins’ former advisor, Lou DiBella. Arbitration with Don King is still pending.

As stated above, Pretty Boy Floyd is no stranger to the criminal justice system, and that’s part of the reason he’s been so difficult to market. Hopkins was hard to market because he was challenging the establishment while trying to get ahead. The combination is difficult to achieve in the labyrinth of politics in professional boxing. Hopkins’ plight was based on principle, whereas Floyd’s plight is one-dimensional and self-inflicted. Whether it’s a domestic dispute or a bar altercation, Floyd makes the news in the wrong way. However, to this point in his career, Floyd’s problems outside of the ring haven’t interfered with his performances or pre-fight preparation. Like Hopkins, Floyd is mentally tough, but not in an activist mode. Floyd is more narcissistic, and perhaps his narcissism works for him. He’s able to concentrate on the task at hand because the attraction of external rewards of money, jewelry, cars, and other forms of ostentation define his persona. You won’t hear Floyd talk about Bill Russell or Curt Flood. Floyd Mayweather Jr. represents the hip hop generation.

During the pre-fight build-up to his WBC light welterweight battle with Arturo Gatti, Mayweather blatantly denigrated his more popular opponent. To be sure, Mayweather was considered the better fighter by most boxing experts, and was correctly installed as a 4:1 favorite. However, the disrespect and disdain he showed Gatti was over-the-top. He was cocky and egotistical. As we all know, he called Arturo a C+ fighter, and claimed that Gatti would be easy money.

Like Trinidad, Gatti was visibly upset. He was so angered by Mayweather’s bombast that he requested separate pre-fight press conferences. Mayweather, sensing vulnerability and realizing he had gotten under Gatti’s skin, crashed Gatti’s press conference by showing up about a half-hour before he was scheduled to take the podium. Floyd was loud, obnoxious and boisterous. Gatti and his crew left minutes later. It wasn’t pretty or respectful, but nobody ever accused Mayweather of playing by the rules.

Score another pre-fight psyche job for Mayweather.

Two days later, separate weigh-ins occurred. Mayweather didn’t show up early this time, but the tone was set. Gatti didn’t want anything to do with Mayweather. Mayweather had established psychological control regardless of whether Gatti knew it or not.

More importantly, Mayweather was better prepared physically for this fight than Gatti. Mayweather was reportedly at weight about a month before the fight. In contrast, Gatti entered camp at 168 pounds and lifted weights during camp. Naturally, it’s more difficult to lose weight when you’re building muscle mass, and Gatti appeared drained and somewhat disoriented at the pre-fight press conference just days before the fight. He admitted to reporters that he was wearing sunglasses to hide the fatigue in his eyes.

Arturo Gatti was probably going to lose to Mayweather last Saturday regardless of his preparation. Realistically, he made it a lot easier on Mayweather by not being 100% physically and mentally prepared to do battle. He barely made the weight, was depleted in the process, and actually entered the ring with the wrong game plan. In this fight, Gatti had a puncher’s chance. He attempted to box the boxer, and that allowed Mayweather to establish control of the fight from the opening bell. Even the eccentric Washington, DC counterpuncher, DeMarcus Corley, attacked Mayweather more effectively and aggressively.

In the end, Gatti was completely embarrassed by Mayweather, and Buddy McGirt stopped the slaughter after six one-sided rounds. In the opinion of this writer, if Arturo Gatti was better prepared, both mentally and physically, he probably would’ve lasted to the tenth or eleventh round while providing some anxious moments along the way. Arturo Gatti is not a C+ fighter. He’s beaten some good fighters. If he would’ve entered camp aerobically fit at 150 pounds, and concentrated on old school training instead of lifting weights, he would’ve been capable of forcing a war at times in this fight. He should’ve thrown that left hook until his shoulder required rotator cuff surgery. Ultimately, he would’ve been outgunned, but at least he might’ve been able to make the fight more interesting.

All told, Floyd Mayweather Jr. was more disciplined, both mentally and physically, than his opponent in his biggest fight.

Bernard Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather Jr. are both similar and different. Bernard Hopkins comes from a family of fighters, but none of them made it to the big time before Bernard. Pretty Boy Floyd comes from a family of fighters as well. His father, Floyd Sr., was a welterweight contender and is considered a top flight trainer. Floyd’s uncle Roger was a world champion, and is his current trainer. Floyd’s other uncle, Jeff, held a third-tier world title belt, and is also a trainer. Bernard had a 95-4 amateur record, but his amateur career was cut short by incarceration. Mayweather had a great amateur career, and was a 1996 Olympian. Prior to their highest profile fights, both men engaged in psychological warfare that drew a collective frown from the boxing public. After dominating their respective foes in the ring, both showed respect to their conquered opposition after the fights were stopped.

Bernard Hopkins railed at the establishment during much of his career, but it was done in the voice of activism instead of narcissism. Both men are individualists, but you won’t hear Floyd enter the ring to Sinatra’s “My Way.” Rather, you’ll see him advertise “Philthy Rich Records” on his trunks. When all is said and done, however, both men are experts at physically and mentally preparing themselves for combat, and that is why they’re considered the top two pound-for-pound fighters on the planet today. The only question that remains is: How much longer can Bernard maintain his status considering his age, and how much longer can Floyd keep the chaos of his personal life from interfering with his professional life? In the end, age will probably derail Bernard Hopkins, whereas the only opponent who can beat Floyd Mayweather in the future is himself.

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