Hopkins proves he's the man in the middle

Victory over Trinidad unifies 160-pound division for first time since 1987

Boxing

October 01, 2001|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins was booed by the pro-Felix Trinidad crowd of 19,075 at Madison Square Garden as he entered the ring for their middleweight unification bout just before midnight Saturday.

He wore a red mask that matched his trunks and a red shirt with a large, silver "X" on its back. Screams of "Tito, Tito" for Trinidad drowned out Ray Charles' version of "America The Beautiful."

By the fourth round, however, Hopkins' dominance over Trinidad quieted the crowd, believed to be the Garden's largest for a non-heavyweight fight. It was sinking in that Hopkins would add Trinidad's World Boxing Association title to his International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Council crowns, unifying the 160-pound division for the first time since 1987.

Hopkins (40-2-1, 29 knockouts) did so with a masterful boxing performance. It culminated with a smashing right cross-uppercut in the 12th and final round that sent Trinidad (40-1, 33 knockouts) reeling to the ropes and down for the ninth time in his career.

Referee Steve Smoger counted to nine before Trinidad's father, Felix Sr., who is also his trainer, walked into the ring and held his son in his arms, signaling Hopkins' victory at the 1:22 mark. Hopkins tied Carlos Monzon with his record 14th title defense.

"It's been a struggle, but I knew I was headed for destiny. I said this would be the easiest fight of my career, but some people thought I was off my rocker, getting old, with mental problems," said Hopkins, 36, who is hardened by having survived five years of prison before he was 22.

"You cannot break the spirit of a Philadelphia fighter with heart. The boxing establishment couldn't break my spirit. The ghetto couldn't break my spirit. The penitentiary couldn't break my spirit."

Just four months ago, Trinidad, 28, of Puerto Rico, seemed destined for stardom, having debuted as a middleweight with a fifth-round knockout of then-WBA champion William Joppy. His chin and punches seemed stronger than ever in getting his 17th knockout in 20 championship fights, fifth title in 20 months and in his third weight class.

With the exception of the sixth round, when the two fighters exchanged punches toe-to-toe, Trinidad rarely threw punches in combinations.

"He would take Hopkins to the ropes and could never do anything with him. Meanwhile, Hopkins was like, `Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly,' " said boxing historian Bert Randolph Sugar. "It was an old-fashioned butt-whupping."

Hopkins discovered a flaw - what he called "a herky-jerky, pigeon-toed type of approach" - in Trinidad that enabled him to offset the fighter's ability to throw his powerful left hook. Meanwhile, Hopkins systematically wore down the man who runs marathons as a hobby and who usually picks up momentum in bouts. Hopkins did it by landing quick, short, strength-sapping punches.

"He's got a rhythm where, basically, he's jerking from right to left. I've been taught by my trainer, Bouie Fisher, that's where a guy's trying to get set," said Hopkins, who would like to fight next in Philadelphia, perhaps against Oscar De La Hoya.

"Every time Trinidad set, we stuck the jab. He can't punch on the move when you do that. Every time he rocks, you offset that. And you do it with the jab: Pop, he's got to reset. Pop, he's got to reset. It's like clockwork."

Hopkins, who offered Trinidad a rematch, has not lost since a 12-round decision to Roy Jones Jr. in 1993. Negotiations for a rematch with Jones fell through in February. Asked whether he would now consider fighting Jones, Hopkins said: "He's a disgrace to boxing, not even on my radar screen."

Chu Garcia, a highly regarded Puerto Rican boxing historian, said Trinidad, who didn't show for the post-fight news conference, has a questionable future.

"He can't stay at 160 because, mentally, I don't think he can compete with Hopkins, the stronger man than any of the others he's faced," Garcia said.

"Would he fight Fernando Vargas or Oscar De La Hoya at 154? He has trouble making the weight. Trinidad trained for a knockout; Hopkins trained for a win. Trinidad has no excuses. So what does he do now?"

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