Bernard Hopkins' exit from the boxing stage was well scripted: having beaten two of the best fighters of his era, Felix Trinidad and Oscar De lL Hoya, he would then go on to defeat the future of the middleweight division in Jermain Taylor, leaving Taylor, upon Hopkins' retirement, to pick up the pieces of the fractured division and assume the role of middleweight champion. In the end everyone would be happy – Hopkins' ten year streak of title defenses would remain intact and Taylor would take his place on the middleweight throne upon the champion's abdication. But the understudy forgot his lines, and the plot was spoiled.
The decision that followed the fight unleashed waves of debate that are still lapping upon boxing's shores. The same writers that accused HBO's commentary team of cheerleading for Taylor stood firm in Hopkins' corner, pompons waving, claiming, as did Hopkins, that the “boxing establishment” had robbed the former undisputed middleweight champion of his title and chosen the fighter they wanted to win rather than the fighter who did win.
“Jermain Taylor didn't beat me, Duane Ford did,'' the former champion accused. Perhaps the December 3rd rematch should be promoted by Oliver Stone, such have been the conspiratorial aspersions cast upon the young champion's reign.
The Philly felon then proclaimed himself “people's champion” asserting that the fans also believed that he had been robbed: “The people and the media have spoken, and they know I won.” However, an ESPN poll after the fight and a perusal of boxing message boards show quite the opposite, with one fan referring to Hopkins as the “Excuse-tioner”.
The outcome of the fight is certainly one which sensible fans can debate, but to score it, as some writers did, 117-111 (or 9 rounds to 3) for Hopkins is an absolute detachment from reality. Apparently, employment with some publications does not require a urinalysis, for only through the use of recreational pharmaceuticals could one come to such a ludicrous assessment of this title bout.
There have been many arguments to discredit Taylor's win: the twelfth round was a gift, Hopkins inflicted more damage, Taylor faded down the stretch, and the always popular you have to take a champion's title. But if a challenger must show his best in trying to take a champion's crown, isn't it only fair to ask that a champion show his best in trying to defend it?
Duane Ford blew the 12th round. No argument here. But what The Executioner and his henchmen conveniently fail to mention is how Jerry Roth had the fight even after six rounds while judges Duane Ford and Paul Smith scored it 60-54 and 59-55 respectively, giving Hopkins only one of the first six rounds between the two of them. CompuBox statistics show that Hopkins outlanded Taylor in only one of those first six rounds. Furthermore, a Taylor combination in the second round sent Hopkins into the ropes causing him to use his gloved hand to steady himself and keep from falling. According to the rules referee Jay Nady should have scored that a knockdown which, of course, would have resulted in a 10-8 round for Taylor.
Hopkins landed 10 more power punches than Taylor, but the majority of the damage that Taylor suffered came from a Hopkins headbutt that, according to the ringside and emergency room physicians, caused a concussion, required six stitches and cost the Arkansas native a liter of his blood. The significant blood loss goes a long way in explaining Taylor's fatigue late in a fight in which he threw “only” 453 punches. In the first twelve round fight of his career, against Freddie Cuevas, Taylor threw 1017 total punches with 330 of those coming in the final four rounds. In another twelve-rounder, against William Joppy (580 total punches), Taylor threw more punches in the final four rounds than he did in the first four. Granted, Joppy is no Bernard Hopkins, but that does not discount the fact that during the 12 round bout Taylor's output not only failed to wane down the stretch, but actually increased against a fighter who landed more punches (115) than did Hopkins (96). It would be inaccurate to discredit Taylor's performance as that of a kid who just got tired and outworked by a crafty (read: dirty) veteran. This was a wounded warrior who, despite the gash in his skull, showed heart and continued to fight and defeat a man who had 20 straight title defenses to his credit.
But despite ending Bernard Hopkins'sstreak of twenty straight title defenses and giving him his toughest bout in years, some have already given the young champion's title reign a terminal date of December 3, as if he had already laid his head upon The Executioner's block. Many cite the former champion's KO record in rematches against Antwun Echols, Segundo Mercado and Robert Allen. The first Allen fight was declared a no contest after Hopkins was injured after being shoved from the ring, while the second ended in a 7 round TKO. But Allen met Hopkins for a third time and took the contest to a 12 round decision. Hopkins no doubt faces stiffer competition in a second bout with Jermain Taylor than he did with any of the contestants in his previous rematches. Taylor is a fighter who had not lost a single round in any of his previous 23 professional fights and who now has the experience of a major bout under his championship belts.
If there is any good to be harvested from this close fight it is the highly anticipated rematch, aptly dubbed “No Respect”. A decisive win by Taylor would quiet his critics and legitimize the first five months of his title reign. But if Hopkins regains the belts and retires, as he promised his mother he would do before turning 41 in January, the division would be fractured into four pieces.
In Hopkins' mind he is fighting not only Jermain Taylor, but also the establishment that “robbed” him of his belts and selected a champion of its choosing. So, Hopkins wishes not only to beat Taylor, but to destroy him and his future claiming, “I must and I will leave the game with a knockout victory over Jermain Taylor.” But if he was unable to finish off a weak and wounded Taylor in the first fight, it is unlikely he'll be able to do so in the rematch.
No matter what happens, one thing is certain: on December 3 both fighters look to command the other's respect.
“I don't think Taylor got the respect he deserved after the fight,” HBO's Larry Merchant said.
“I respect [Hopkins], and when he was champion I gave him so much respect because he deserved it,” Taylor said. “Now I'm champion. At least give me the respect that I deserve. That's all I'm saying.”
“There will be no respect for him this time and come December 3,” Hopkins responded. “I will set the record straight.”