Arkansas’ Superhero Ends Executioner’s Reign

BY Benn Schulberg ON July 25, 2005
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In the latest pugilistic battle between good versus evil, that being Jermain “Bad Intentions” Taylor versus Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins, the popular Hollywood ending featuring the hero conquering the menace came shockingly to fruition in front of 11, 922 spectators inside the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas. But just like all the comic book tales that have captivated their audiences on the big screen such as Spiderman, Superman, and Batman, the menace always seems to come back stronger the second time, posing an even greater challenge to our beloved superhero.

In this case “The Executioner,” the aging yet youthful undisputed middleweight champion, making his record 21st defense of his crown, lost a narrow split-decision to his younger counterpart “Bad Intentions,” causing pandemonium amongst the thousands of Arkansas faithful who came to see their hero emerge victorious. The sequel to this battle, already planned for later this year, will surely bring out the best in the 40-year-old Hopkins, the self-proclaimed bad man, who is as determined to play the role of the “evil” character as he is to stamp his legacy as the greatest middleweight ever to lace up the gloves and to go out as a champion.

After dismantling both Felix Trinidad and his new business partner in Golden Boy Promotions, Oscar De La Hoya, with relative ease, Hopkins was supremely confident that he would win and show the younger Taylor that youth is overrated. He accomplished part of his prophecy, finishing the fight strong and showing a greater endurance than the man 14 years his junior. Ironically, Hopkins’ record-setting reign of the middleweight division came to a surprising end when Taylor was awarded the controversial split-decision.

When the decision was announced, Hopkins was in disbelief as his archenemy, Lou DiBella, lifted and kissed Taylor in triumph. DiBella, who won a $610, 000 libel award against Hopkins in 2003 and had an appeal upheld, felt vindicated by Taylor’s victory.  “With respect to me and Bernard, I feel an ugly chapter of my life is over. I feel freed. I beat him in court. Jermain beat him in the ring.”

But did he?  As it turned out statistically, the fight could easily have been declared a draw, considering the fact that judge Duane Ford scored the 12th round for Taylor, with both other judges scoring the round for the champion (Ford scored the fight 115-113 for Taylor).  Hopkins clearly won the final round, pressing the fight and using his aggression to put Taylor on the defensive. (Hopkins has since filed an appeal to the Nevada State Athletic Commission based on judge Duane Ford scoring the 12th round for Taylor, which has since been denied.). As Taylor later admitted, “I may have started out too strong and got winded down the stretch.” Hopkins’ promise that by the end of their fight Saturday night he would look 26 and Jermain Taylor would look 40 did in fact come true. And Taylor knew it.

HBO commentator Larry Merchant picked up on the sullenness of the new champion.  Instead of celebrating in triumph as DiBella and the rest of his corner were doing, Taylor seemed subdued with a look of slight disappointment in his eyes. He realized just as we did that if the fight had gone any further there would’ve been no question as to who the better fighter was. The younger man was supposed to outlast his older foe, but the reality was that Hopkins ran out of time and Taylor survived to barely hold on to the biggest fight of his life. “I should have cut the ring off a lot more,” he said. “I should have thrown a lot more body shots.”

The record of title defenses is over but Hopkins clearly is not.  After overcoming the brutal streets of Philadelphia, five years in Graterford State Prison, numerous contractual lawsuits, and an unbreakable will to continually go against the boxing grain and do things his way, Bernard Hopkins has no problem stepping back into the ring to avenge his loss to Taylor. "I’m a big boy. I can go home tonight and be comfortable because I know I won the fight.  This was not like when I fought Roy Jones and I knew I lost. This is the case where I know I won and they gave it to the other guy,” Hopkins said. "I will certainly take the rematch because it's already in the contract."

Acting more like a professor examining his pupil’s mistakes than a fighter who just lost his middleweight crown and a shot at Joe Louis’s all-time record for title defenses, Hopkins spoke to his PPV audience after the fight about what the new champion did wrong: “Jermain made a lot of mistakes. He left his hands down. He threw wide punches and I countered him every time. I backed him up more than he backed me up. The judges saw something different.”

Fitting that pupil persona, Taylor admitted that he gained some valuable boxing knowledge in fighting Hopkins. “I learned so much in the fight. I can’t wait for the rematch.”

And a rematch we will have.  CompuBox statistics showed that the fight was almost even with Taylor being credited with landing 86 of 453 punches (19 percent), while Hopkins landed 96 of 326 (27 percent). Considering Duane Ford’s controversial scoring of the 12th round (if he had scored it for Hopkins the fight would’ve been declared a draw) and the fact that Hopkins landed more punches at a higher connect percentage, there is no doubt a rematch is warranted. Taylor himself is calling for a rematch, seemingly eager to show the world his developing skills and that this nail-biting decision was no fluke. Can the student beat the teacher again or will experience and Hopkins’ soon to be 41-year-old legs carry him back to the throne that he has ruled for 12 years? That’s the question we can’t wait to have answered.

From the opening bell through round eight, “The Executioner” was like a sharp, calculating tool failing to execute the job it’s designed to do. A drill spinning in air instead of heading into its target, Hopkins was feinting and moving and looking youthful – except for the fact that he was barely punching. This great “plan” of his turned out to cost him dearly as he was unable to make up the deficit. He insists he did enough to win and that he hurt Taylor badly on two different occasions in the late rounds, yet his “plan” tempted fate and two of the judges who decided his fate were obviously not overly impressed.

Hopkins was quick to defend his mystifying performance in which he squandered away a lead in the first half of the fight by allowing Taylor to dominate with his jab and control the bout, only to come back with a vengeance in rounds nine through twelve with an aggressive onslaught. “I felt like I won the fight,” Hopkins said. “I baited him in and I was able to use my strategy and counter him. It was easy to hit him when he was coming in. That was my plan.”  Despite the controversial scoring in the fight, Hopkins’ indestructible ego finally got in the way of his historic run of consecutive middleweight defenses.

And his ego continues to expand in the wake of his loss to Taylor. Many fighters in the history of boxing could’ve argued at one time or another that they didn’t deserve to lose a close decision, yet how many of those fighters actually filed an appeal to make their point? Boxing athletic commissions around the country would be overwhelmed with appeals if every fighter had the freedom and ego-driven mindset to challenge a judge’s scorecard. But Bernard Hopkins is different. He does things his way because he can.

Taylor reacted to Hopkins’ formal protest of judge Duane Ford’s scoring of the 12th round to the Nevada State Athletic Commission and the World Boxing Association by telling the former champion to face reality. “Stop crying. Take your loss like a man. I am the middleweight champion of the world. Deal with it.”

Hopkins is dealing with it in the only way he knows how and that’s to fight the odds. Marc Ratner, the Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director, said that he’d never heard of an appeal overturning the results of a fight. Nevada’s boxing rules state that the invalidation of a result is only warranted based on score miscalculation, improper adherence to rules, or collusion. Hopkins will likely have to win back his middleweight crown in the ring rather than in the court of appeals. He won’t fight for the title again until at least December because of the 11 stitches Taylor received from an accidental headbutt in round five. Fast forward to that December night, on the eve of his 41st birthday, and we may witness the final farewell of not only one of the greatest middleweights of all-time, but also THE most difficult fighter to deal with of all-time. For Hopkins, it’s “My way” or “No way.”

Hopkins’ way Saturday night was to play the role of the master poker player giving away chips to his prized student because he thought he was that much better. The reality was that he wasn’t. Even the greatest of poker players won’t be able to overcome a deficit if they provide too large a handicap. On Saturday night in Las Vegas, this boxing master fell victim to his ever-growing ego, and contributed his own demise, and he has no one to fault but himself. In boxing, leaving a close fight of this magnitude in the hands of the judges is like flipping a coin, and in this case Jermain Taylor won the toss.

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