Compared to Bernard Hopkins, Jermain Taylor doesn’t even register on the Talk-A-Meter of pre-fight badmouthing. This despite the fact that Hopkins is telling the press he made Taylor a guy “who can’t stop trash talking now.” In fact, it’s Hopkins who has renewed his verbal assaulting of the middleweight champion. Being a gentleman still comes from the heart with Taylor. When’s the last time you heard Hopkins call someone sir or the short form of madam? One gets the idea that Taylor understands that even journalists have a place in the business of boxing. As we all know, or should know, the truth of the first fight between Jermain Taylor and Bernard Hopkins is that both fighters know Taylor won the fight. Not unexpectedly, since the summer, Hopkins has used every excuse short of calling Taylor a dirty fighter in his public excoriation of what happened in the ring. The sheer irony of Hopkins calling Taylor a dirty fighter almost defies the imagination.
In keeping with his essentialist personality, Taylor admits he made many mistakes in claiming the championship. As one would expect he’s promised to fight a smarter fight. Well, he’d better. Being the younger, stronger fighter only counts if you have the technical apparatus to employ it; that lesson was the lesson of the first fight.
Heading into the return match with Taylor, what the 40-year-old Hopkins has left is mostly bluff and bark. What has ebbed away from his ring constitution is the ability to go out and rigorously dominate from the opening bell, as in his fights with Joe Lipsey and Glen Johnson. Hopkins’ main defense mode and weapon at his disposal comes in the form of his reputation for intimidation. When Hopkins airs his vitriolic nature, the searing spiel of him against the boxing world, the “I am the people’s champion victim-survivor who punishes the wicked” diatribe, the old man keeps captive his intended audience and intended ring opponent.
Team Taylor is indeed fortunate to have the presence of Lou DiBella, Taylor’s promoter and sage speaker of counter-truths. DiBella knows the Hopkins routine cold and acts as a calming buffer and angst moment interpreter. As Hopkins seeks to take away Taylor’s mental equilibrium, DiBella and trainer Pat Burns keep the champion in the gym, focused and energized for the purpose of fighting their best fight. Hopkins’ greatest fear would be Taylor coming into the ring in December ready to fight his best fight.
All Hopkins can do is try to distract and dissemble. Thus, Hopkins constantly repeats that Taylor didn’t really beat him; veteran judge Duane Ford stole a victory from him. And Ford did not, in Hopkins’ fantasizing, act alone, but “was an agent” for the boxing administrative body of Nevada – and even for “the system” of boxing generally in a conspiracy against him. A statement, incidentally, he’s never had to prove, a statement, journalists on the scene, have never thrown back in his face, let alone in his lap. Oddly, Hopkins’ analysis of the scoring of the fight ignored the judging that incredibly had him winning four of the first eight rounds, one round during which he threw only 9 punches. Need we mention that he was frankly shuffling about in protective mode for the first seven rounds; Taylor’s speed and power shots literally freezing him with apprehension. But you won’t hear Hopkins admitting he was flat out put on the defensive from which he couldn’t counter.
According the ex-champ, the great executioner was just “laying it down” and biding his time. Talk about disinformation!
Taking bombast to a new stratosphere of relativism, Hopkins now says he “dominated the fight” and that “over 80% of the writers who were there had me winning.” He dominated the fight? One can only ask in what dimension of time and space? And that writers for Hopkins percentage has been going up from a simple majority, ever since he began sounding out his argument for complaint. Hopkins insinuates, accuses, sermonizes, defiles, recounts, brandishes, barbs, insults, jokes, cajoles, prophesies, judges, scorns, rationalizes, denies and generally disdains on subjects so varied that boxing sometimes has to be brought surreptitiously back into his vexing rants. Mostly, Hopkins professes that he only speaks the truth, a marginal streaming babble, but always he entertains and actually informs, on himself mostly, the essential subject of his oratorical waxing.
And all of his verbal formulations that spout forth as provocation serve the undercurrent of his lifelong agenda, The Con. The Con moves into centrality more and more as he ages and can no longer fight with the authority he once could. The ex-felon from Philadelphia still thinks he’s up against a kid, an Arkansas sapling, one with great athletic talent, but still a boy searching to be a man, in a monster’s world of big, bad people. Hopkins remains convinced he can pull an Ali on the kid, make him chase phantoms of Hopkins past, waste his youthful energies in idol pursuits, making all the wrong choices to squander all his formulating potential.
Thus, Hopkins wants to invade Taylor’s mind, encamp there and wage an insurgent war immolating as the enemy from within. Just keep up the torrent of words and innuendo, telling him did didn’t really win, that he needed the aid of a corrupt system to be handed the middleweight championship. Tell him he can’t even enjoy the championship because it was a foul reward. Make the kid over reach and then hit him where he lives, so there’s no time for joy or satisfaction in having gained a crown. Most of all make sure his investiture feels like a fraud, usurpation devoid of legitimacy. If your voice replaces his own, the mind becomes a prisoner.
We all expect Hopkins to recite thusly: “I’m in the hurt business, the pain business.” That would be considered a Hopkins fast ball, right down the middle of the plate. Just as we expect Hopkins to remind us, “I destroy fighters in rematches!” But where there is no trace of grace, unbridled becomes the ventilation of spirit. The ex-champion can’t help himself. He’s desperate to the point of self-parody.
Jermain Taylor has been saying he’s going to be more disciplined this time out. No wild swinging for the fences to KO Hopkins. Control baby, that’s what the middleweight champion of the world is convincing himself is a major key to silencing Hopkins. Two months ago, on the Canadian TV show “In This Corner with Russ Amber,” Taylor again repeated his need to avoid late round exhaustion by avoiding just teeing off. “I won’t be just chasing him around the ring next time,” said the champion. The mercurial Amber – known in Canada as “The Coach” – saw a red flag, the same red flag that had been waving in front of yours very truly. Doesn’t that play into Hopkins’ hands asked Amber; he of the increasingly low work rate and cautious counter hitting. Taylor repeated his sense of fighting with more precision and taking the offensive chances when they came. Enough said.
Two days ago Jermain Taylor brushed by the subject adding one key ingredient. “I won’t be waiting on him or swinging at him … I’ll be throwing more combinations.” There it was, the word: combinations. How the world unspoken can turn on one word. Yes, combination punching, ready to repeat and punish, but not flailing and searching out a target to level. It was almost as if Taylor was giving us a preview, a picture for examination. Patient, constant combination punching behind a punishing jab, his body cutting off Hopkins’ avenues for retreat; the picture of Taylor becomes video, kinetic with intended movement.
No more loading up, but throwing hard combinations until he breaks Hopkins down? Now that sounds like an executable plan, sounds like a man about to do his business, his way. And to think, he only needed one word to convey his meaning. Reminds one of how he took responsibility for not “fighting his fight” and only “doing enough to win.” “Next time there won’t be any doubters, there won’t be any mistakes; we won’t have to hear Hopkins’ crying like he does.” How novel, here’s a guy with the world on a string and he’s confident enough to let us fill in the good parts, now that’s refreshing. Comes across as honest too, like he really believes what he’s saying. Probably because he’s doing the best he can to tell you how he understands the world he’s making with his own hands.
“This is about respect. And I can’t wait.” We believe you champ!