- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- It was a masterpiece, simple as that.
Bernard Hopkins is going out on top after thoroughly dominating Antonio Tarver to win the light heavyweight world championship on a lopsided unanimous decision Saturday night in a performance of historical proportions.
Hopkins, who made a division-record 20 middleweight title defenses before suffering back-to-back disputed decision losses to Jermain Taylor last year, moved up two weight classes for a shot at Tarver in what he promised would be the final fight of an 18-year, obvious Hall of Fame career.
Before an electric crowd of 10,200 at Boardwalk Hall, Hopkins (47-4-1) pulled off what his boxing idol, Sugar Ray Robinson, failed to do. In 1952, Robinson, who was the reigning middleweight champ, challenged light heavyweight champ Joey Maxim at Yankee Stadium. Although he was leading after 13 rounds, the 100-plus-degree heat had taken its toll, and Robinson quit on his stool because of heat exhaustion.
Not only did Hopkins win the 175-pound title, he did it with ease, including a fifth-round knockdown. From the first round through the 12th, Hopkins was in control in a fight almost as easy as his upset win agaist Felix Trinidad to become undisputed middleweight champ in 2001.
At times, Hopkins seemed like he was almost playing with Tarver.
When it was over the score announcement was academic. All three judges had it 118-109. ESPN.com at ringside also had it 118-109.
"I told people they would be surprised that it would be an easy fight," Hopkins, 41, said. "I could have fought in this weight class a long time ago. I do great with southpaws [such as Tarver]. I knew all I had to do was neutralize his jab and work with everything else."
Few gave Hopkins a chance against Tarver (24-4), a bigger and supposedly stronger man who gained acclaim as the world's best light heavyweight with his crushing knockout of Roy Jones Jr.
After that victory, followed by a loss and a revenge victory against Glen Johnson and a lopsided win against Jones in their rubber match, Tarver took to calling himself "The Legend Killer."
Hopkins, however, called him a one-hit wonder in the build-up to the fight, and maybe he was right.
Against Hopkins, Tarver had nothing.
"It wasn't my night," Tarver said. "You have days like this. No excuses. I give all praise to Bernard Hopkins."
Perhaps sapped from losing the 43 pounds he put on to play the fictional heavyweight champion in the forthcoming film "Rocky Balboa," Tarver, 37, didn't have anything to offer.
He was lethargic, threw one punch at a time and never landed a clean shot.
"I was flat," Tarver said. "I thought I felt good through camp. Physically, I never had a problem. I saw the openings, but I stepped it up too late."
Said Hopkins: "Tarver has a good punch but people underestimate that I can take a punch. I got a strong chin. Tarver definitely is a good puncher. I can see why he knocked out Roy, but I never really gave him a clean target to land his punch.
"I used the same style as Jersey Joe Walcott and 'The Mongoose' [Archie Moore] -- always moving, never really giving him a stationary target."
Hopkins landed a strong lead right hand -- a very effective punch against a southpaw -- in the opening seconds of the fight, and never stopped throwing it. He seemed determined to start faster than he did against Taylor, which probably cost him both of their fights.
When Hopkins was still standing after the fifth round, he won the contractual bet he made with Tarver -- that Tarver would donate $250,000 of his $3.5 million minimum purse to Hopkins' Make A Way Foundation.
Not only couldn't Tarver stop Hopkins by the end of the fifth, he found himself the victim of a knockdown.
Hopkins landed a counter right hand that sent Tarver reeling and forced him to put his glove to the canvas, which led to a count by referee Benji Esteves.
After the knockdown, Hopkins continued his assault and Tarver could only hold on.
By the seventh, the pro-Hopkins crowd broke in the chant of "B-Hop! B-Hop! B-Hop!" And in the 10th, Hopkins kept flurrying against an obviously dejected Tarver, whose eyes were swelling. Hopkins was landing lefts to the side of Tarver's head without any punches coming back at him.
Hopkins looked as if he was having fun in the round. When Tarver charged toward him and missed with a wild punch, Hopkins spun away, shrugged his shoulders and smiled as the crowd roared.
HBO will replay the fight Saturday night at 9:30 ET, along with live coverage of Taylor's middleweight title defense against Winky Wright.
Although Tarver and Hopkins both officially weighed 174 pounds, the way they went about making weight couldn't have been more different.
Hopkins, a middleweight for every fight of his career except for the light heavyweight pro debut he lost in Atlantic City, hired renowned fitness guru Mackie Shilstone to help him pack 14 pounds of muscle on to his frame.
Shilstone had done a masterful job of bulking up light heavyweights Michael Spinks and Jones to pull upsets in heavyweight title fights.
"He did everything we needed to do," Shilstone said. "I just wish he would have gotten a cleaner shot on Tarver."
Tarver, meanwhile, got up to at least 218 pounds for the "Rocky" movie.
When they stepped on the unofficial HBO scales upon their arrival at the arena, Tarver was 187 pounds and Hopkins 182.
But the size difference didn't matter once the bell rang.
"I stayed at middleweight because I was disciplined and because I wanted to make history by making all those defenses," Hopkins said. "I could have gone up a long time ago, but being at middleweight was comfortable for me. I wanted to make history [at middleweight], move up and fight the winner of Roy Jones and Antonio Tarver, and although I had to fight Taylor one extra time, that's what happened."
Before Hopkins made his final ringwalk, there was a tribute to him in the arena. It included a video highlight package of his career as his wife Jeanette, three of his four sisters, two school teachers and longtime publicist Kelly Swanson were in the ring to be introduced to the crowd.
After the fight, he was asked if this was truly his final fight, for which he made a minimum of $5 million. He left a slight opening. What if someone offered him $20 million to fight again, he was asked.
"Well, I might come out of my grave for that kind of money," Hopkins said.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com
Bernard Hopkins is going out on top after thoroughly dominating Antonio Tarver to win the light heavyweight world championship Saturday night.