- Don Steinberg
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A look at six pivotal fights in Bernard Hopkins' career:
Pro Fight No. 24
Opponent: Roy Jones (21-0)
Date/Site: May 22, 1993; Washington, D.C.
Result: Jones by decision in 12
Why it matters: It was the first world title fight for both Roy Jones and Bernard Hopkins, for the IBF middleweight belt that James Toney had vacated in moving up to super middleweight. It was a big night: They fought on the undercard of a Riddick Bowe-Jesse Ferguson heavyweight championship. Apparently both Hopkins and Jones were overwhelmed by the occasion, despite Jones' famous bravado and Hopkins' new "Executioner" nickname. They seemed reluctant to engage and pulled back on their own punches. In Round 1, they combined to throw 61 jabs, and only two landed. Jones' left glove swayed down at thigh level as he jumped in with occasional hooks. Hopkins bull-rushed and landed a few good rights, but when the action was done, he had swung and missed 523 times. Television commentators likened the Washington, D.C., fight to watching legislators filibuster on C-SPAN.
Pro Fight No. 30
Opponent: Segundo Mercado (18-2-1)
Date/Site: April 29, 1995; Landover, Md.
Result: Hopkins by TKO in 7
Why it matters: It would be a more than a year before Hopkins would get another title shot: a road warrior 1994 bout against Segundo Mercado in Mercado's home country of Ecuador. Mercado put Hopkins on the canvas with a hard right to the chin in the Round 5, and Hopkins went down again in the seventh. But Hopkins came back to outwork Mercado, battering him with left hooks. Several times, only the ropes held up Mercado. The judges scored it a draw. Hopkins got a new chance against Mercado in the U.S. in 1995 -- and he capitalized. He swarmed and outpunched Mercado from the opening round until referee Rudy Battle stopped the fight in the seventh. He finally was a world champ. Hopkins said he'd watched tapes of Mike Tyson to rediscover his aggression. "I'm going back to what I didn't do against Roy Jones," he said, "giving no respect."
Pro Fight No. 44
Opponent: Felix Trinidad (40-0)
Date/Site: Sept. 29, 2001; New York City
Result: Hopkins by TKO in 12
Why it matters: Hopkins wasn't supposed to beat Felix Trinidad in Don King's middleweight title-unification series. But Hopkins had studied for this virtuoso performance for years. Hopkins circled, feinted, set traps and neutralized Trinidad's power. It also seemed as if Hopkins' prefight taunts had provoked Trinidad to come out too aggressively, and he walked into stiff rights. Hopkins landed more shots than Trinidad in every round. Just when it looked like Hopkins could nurse his big lead in Round 12, he threw a huge right to the jaw that floored Trinidad and ended the fight in the only stoppage of Trinidad ever. Hopkins also pioneered the practice of selling advertising on his back, receiving $100,000 to wear a temporary tattoo for an online casino.
Pro Fight No. 49
Opponent: Oscar De La Hoya (37-3)
Date/Site: Sept. 18, 2004; Las Vegas
Result: Hopkins by TKO in 9
Why it matters: Oscar De La Hoya's move up to middleweight was a golden opportunity for Hopkins, and he seized it. De La Hoya came out jabbing and dancing, scoring with left hooks low to Hopkins' body and his usual round-ending flurries. But Hopkins was hitting harder, aiming chopping rights and driving De La Hoya to the ropes. In Round 5, Hopkins landed a right that made De La Hoya stumble. Soon, De la Hoya was clinching in what Hopkins called a "death hug." In Round 8, Hopkins landed a serious right over the top, then another. De La Hoya answered with a left hook. Hopkins led on two judges' scorecards in Round 9 when he threw a left hook just under De La Hoya's rib cage -- the famous "liver shot" -- and the Golden Boy fell. De La Hoya, immobilized, couldn't get up by 10, and he pounded the canvas with his gloves in defeat.
Pro Fight No. 51
Opponent: Jermain Taylor (23-0)
Date/Site: July 16, 2005; Las Vegas
Result: Taylor by split decision in 12
Why it matters: Hopkins lost his undisputed middleweight title, and lost for the first time in 12 years. But at age 40 he nearly staged a remarkable comeback. He battered and bloodied the challenger in the last two rounds, but the rally wasn't enough. According to some observers -- and one judge -- Hopkins gave away the first six rounds, fighting cautiously as he and Taylor clinched and parried. Taylor, with his long left jab, was just a little more effective, and he made his early lead stand up. Hopkins would formally protest judge Duane Ford's scoring of Round 12 in Taylor's favor (a Hopkins round would have made it a draw), but the unified middleweight title had passed to a new generation. Hopkins got a rematch five months later, and the outcome was similar. Taylor avoided fading in late rounds and won unanimously. Hopkins' failure to rally put his future in doubt.
Pro Fight No. 53
Opponent: Antonio Tarver (24-3)
Date/Site: June 10, 2006; Atlantic City, N.J.
Result: Hopkins by decision in 12
Why it matters: Hopkins beefed up to light heavyweight with fitness trainer Mackie Shilstone and trained against a stable of southpaws for what he called his farewell fight. Then he dominated the light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver. At the opening bell, Hopkins rushed in and grabbed Tarver as if to take measure of his strength. Then Hopkins spent the night charging in and out, landing straight rights, left hooks and flurries. An overhand right in Round 5 sent Tarver reeling, his glove touching the canvas for a knockdown. In Round 10, Tarver missed with a wide swing and fell onto the ropes as Hopkins walked away slowly, smiling. But he didn't walk away from boxing. He fought Winky Wright a year later.
Don Steinberg, a winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America's award for best column in 2005, covers boxing for The Philadelphia Inquirer.