It has to hurt, walking around with Jermain Taylor stuck in your craw like a large chicken bone. Can’t cough him out, spit him out or perform the Heimlich maneuver. He’s lodged in there pretty good, a nagging reminder of what could have been.
Or, according to Bernard Hopkins, what should have been.
Hopkins (46-3-1, 32 KOs) won’t be looking for redemption Saturday night when he faces Taylor (24-0, 17 KOs) for the middleweight title at the Mandalay Bay Casino in Las Vegas (HBO PPV). It's bigger than that.
Still, you can‘t blame him if he feels revenge would taste pretty sweet.
But he’s looking for more important things. Confirmation. Legitimacy. Some kind of proof that he’s still king of the middleweights and will stay that way until he decides it’s time to go. History is important to Hopkins. He‘s looking to leave behind the kind of legacy that requires years of doing something better than anyone else in the world.
Considered one of the best middleweights of all time, maybe he feels he has to justify the high praise, knock this Taylor kid on his butt and send a message to the record keepers that “The Executioner” is back, though he never really left. That first loss to Taylor? A silly mistake at the scorer’s table.
At least that's what some believe.
“Whatever Jermain Taylor brings, I’ll make sure it backfires on him,” Hopkins said on a recent conference call. “Taylor is in great denial right now. I hope he comes in confident. I’m going to sit back and let him run his mouth.”
Hopkins understands the “mouth” part. He‘s taken that particular skill to new levels of excellence in the course of his enduring career. He doesn’t talk as much as he preaches and lectures, offers up thoughts and sentences in sometimes random order, everything spilling out of his mouth like bats storming out of a dark cave at dusk.
But he knows what he’s saying, even if some of the rest of us get lost trying to keep up.
In the first fight against Taylor, Hopkins assumed too much, which is always a mistake in the fight game. He had successfully defended his title 20 times. He figured he’d successfully defend it 21. Take something for granted and it’s gone before you can tie your shoe lace.
If Taylor, 27, has youth and the confidence from that first big win on his side, Hopkins, 40, has history backing him up. He’s undefeated in rematches and claims he “destroys guys the second time around.”
Of course, there hasn’t been that many “second time arounds.”
But maybe he’s right. Maybe this is his turn. The bookies have him slightly favored, which comes with a mild surprise. Bookies seem to lean toward young talent instead of old experience.
If cockiness wins this fight, it’s already over.
“The only thing that needs to be tweaked is that when I get him hurt – and he is going to get hurt – he’s going out this time,” Hopkins said.
As for Taylor, well, this is his chance to prove he’s as good as his corner thinks he is, that the first fight back in July wasn’t an anomaly, but a quick peek at the future of the division.
A nice, quiet, polite kid from Arkansas, Taylor is quickly picking up a few bad habits from the unofficial Hopkins bag of dirty tricks. Trash talk didn’t seem to come natural to Taylor until he started answering the rants and raves of Hopkins, who thinks he got robbed that first time.
He probably isn‘t above a few low blows, either.
Whatever works for the kid.
“This is going to be a fight that people will remember for a long, long time,” said Hopkins, an irritating tickle in his throat.