Bernard Hopkins tries to get back what he lost Saturday in Las Vegas.
What he lost — the undisputed middleweight championship to fresh faced Jermain Taylor in July — was his treasure, his pride and his identity for a decade and 20 title defenses.
The odds are stacked against the decorated “Executioner” this time, however. Taylor is young, fresh, hungry and determined — determined to repeat a victory and finish off the old king once and for all.
History isn't kind to deposed champions. The old boxing axiom is: “If a fighter is dethroned in the original, he is more easily defeated in the rematch.”
As he can learn from these defeated champions who struggled in rematches with their conquerors, “Ex” can probably expect an uphill battle.
• Larry Holmes: Holmes was bummed when he was upset by light heavyweight champ Michael Spinks on Sept. 21, 1985 in Las Vegas. So bummed, in fact, that he insulted the judges, Spinks, and legendary heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano all in one ill-advised post-fight interview. The sour grapes were out-of-line, but you could understand Holmes’ disappointment. He had come within one win of tying Marciano’s all-time heavyweight record of 49-0, and his seven-year reign as heavyweight champ came to asudden, unceremonious end. To add insult to injury, he became the first heavyweight champ to lose his crown to a light heavyweight. So, in the rematch on April 19, 1986, he decided to take Spinks seriously. And he performed much better. So much better that most ringsiders figured Holmes deserved the victory. But, he didn’t get it (remember the judge insult?). Spinks’ youth, speed and bizarre game plan exposed Holmes’aging reflexes twice. And, though Holmes would challenge for his old title three more times (coming close to re-winning it 10 years later from Oliver McCall), he was finished as a legendary champion.
What Hopkins can learn: Don’t depend on the judges tobe kind.
• Mike McCallum: McCallum had already been a champion in two divisions when he met the streaking Toney on Dec. 13, 1991. In that time, he became known as one of boxing’s more skilled practitioners. His body attack was so brutal that he was nicknamed “The Body Snatcher.” His showdown with Toney, who had knocked out Michael Nunn earlier in the year to win the IBF middleweight title, was something of a unification fight since McCallum had been the WBA 160-pound champ. It was one of the most anticipated fights of the year, and it delivered. But McCallum seemed to get the worst of the brutal action, especially in the final round. He lucked out with a draw. When he fought Toney again eight months later, McCallum was boiling with anger. The smart-mouthed Toney had crawled beneath McCallum’s skin, and the Body Snatcher wanted to exact revenge.However, McCallum’s better days were behind him, and Toney cruised to a decision. It wasn’t the end of McCallum’s championship days — he won a portion of the light heavyweight title from Jeff Harding in 1994 — but the native of Jamaica was never as good as he was in the first fight with Toney again. He fought “Lights Out” twice more, and lost both times.
What Hopkins can learn: Don’t let the trash talk deter you from your game plan.
• Ray Mancini: “Boom Boom” certainly was not the dominant champion that Hopkins was. He was, however, a rock in a what was then a fairly-talented division. So when it came time to defend his WBA lightweight against unheralded Livingstone Bramble on June 1, 1984, in Buffalo, Mancini was a heavy favorite. Bramble had done little to convince experts that he would record one of ‘84’s biggest upsets. On that night, however, Bramble fought the fight of his life, ripping Mancini with a smooth counterpunching style that negated the champion. The slaughter was finally called inthe 14th round, with Mancini virtually helpless. The rematch was eight months later, on Feb. 16, 1985, in Reno. This time, Bramble was the heavy favorite. Most didn’t think “Boom Boom” would last beyond 10 rounds. But he courageously fought through a mask of blood, and, at the end of 15 furious rounds, seemed to have made a pretty good case for himself. But Bramble’s harder, sharper punches carried the day.
What Hopkins can learn: Fight like the challenger — with hunger and desire.
• Julio Cesar Chavez: The great Chavez was 94-0-1 when he stepped into the brand new MGM Grand arena on Jan. 29, 1994, to defend against tough-but-unspectacularchallenger Frankie “The Surgeon” Randall. Until then, there had been little indication that the Chavez train had slowed down — other than a gift draw against Pernell Whitaker in 1993. But that was considered an aberration. No way would he lose to Randall. However, after 10 rounds, the underconditioned Chavez was dead-tired. And when Randall fired a perfect right hand in the 11th, it connected, and Chavez fell for the first time in his career. He got up, but the fight was over. Afterward, Randall deservedly got the decision. Five months later, Chavez fought Randall again. It was obvious that “J.C. Superstar” had trained this time, and he went after Randall immediately. Randall was ready too, though. He fought Chavez on even terms, and rocked him again with the same right hand. Chavez seemed stunned, and never quite got into a rhythm. The fast start paid off for Chavez, though, as the fight was called in the 7th, when JC Superstar sustained a nasty cut on the hairline. The technical decision victory for the great Mexican champion was a bit dubious — Chavez probably could have continued — but boxing royalty is sometimes provided a gift. Or two.
What Hopkins can learn: Go for the kill early. It’s your best chance against a younger opponent.
The final tally for dethroned champs in rematches: 3-1 for the young guys.
Yes, the hill is steep, and Hopkins likely will go home a loser again. But B-Hop has always been different. He’s certainly not your typical 40-year-old.
If anyone can buck the odds, it’s him.