Taylor says his history is match for Hopkins'

He's seen mean streets, too, insists challenger for middleweight titles


July 15, 2005|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS - As he has throughout most of his career, undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins has drawn on street and prison experiences for motivation heading into his 21st title defense tomorrow against Jermain Taylor at the MGM Grand Hotel.

"I've been through situations that can make or break you," said Hopkins, who was twice nearly killed in the streets of Philadelphia in his youth. "That's something Jermain Taylor can't relate to."

Taylor begged to differ. During a news conference Wednesday, he talked of his own harsh days growing up in Little Rock, Ark., where he and three young sisters were abandoned by their father, Lee, when Taylor was 5.

While their mother, Carlois, worked full time as a nurse's assistant, Taylor was changing diapers, doing laundry, washing dishes, setting the table for dinner.

"One day, I came home from school to find that one of my sisters had broken her hip riding a bike. She had to be in a body cast, and I remember having to lift her into her wheelchair," said Taylor, who said he doesn't hold any ill will toward his father.

"Having to be a man at an early age like that, I look back and I don't know how I did it. At the time, you just had to step up and do it, just like I have to step up right now."

So the 26-year-old Taylor (23-0, 17 knockouts), who is entering the fight of his life against the 40-year-old Hopkins (46-2-1, 32 KOs), said he is well-prepared for this moment.

"Of course it's a leap," said Taylor, whose opponent is considered by many to be, pound for pound, the sport's best.

"It's the world championship, but I'm used to stepping up in situations before it's supposed to be my time. I've never been the underdog before. It'll be a different feeling, when I'm coming into the ring first and he'll be coming second. But it's not going to intimidate me at all."

Taylor is married to the former Erica Smith, a basketball guard at Louisiana Tech who was recently drafted by the WNBA's Washington Mystics. Their 7-month old daughter, Nia Jay, serves as further motivation.

"This is what I got into boxing for," Taylor said. "My time is right now, and Bernard's ready for the taking. I believe that all of my experiences have prepared me for this fight. I've been waiting for this, I've been wanting this my whole life, and my whole life and everything I've been through has prepared me for this fight."

In Hopkins, Taylor meets a man who first won the crown by knockout over Segundo Mercado in April 1995 at Landover's USAir Arena. Since losing to Roy Jones Jr. in May 1993, Hopkins is 24-0-1 with 16KOs.

Excluding Jones, he is 18-0-1 with 13 KOs against eight fighters who either held a title when they fought or previously held a title.

In September, Hopkins added the World Boxing Organization crown to his International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council titles by knocking out Oscar De La Hoya. Hopkins is the first middleweight to hold all four belts simultaneously.

While serving five years in Pennsylvania's Graterford Prison for multiple offenses that included armed robbery, Hopkins saw a man stabbed to death. His brother, one of seven siblings, was shot to death on the street. At age 14, a knife punctured one of Hopkins' lungs, missing his heart by inches. At 15, he was stabbed again, this time in the back.

But he has taken some underhanded shots of his own if you ask Taylor's promoter, Lou DiBella, who once promoted Hopkins. Their nasty separation ended with DiBella winning a $610,000 libel suit. Hopkins vows to take out his frustrations on Taylor.

"If he wants to keep trying to make it about Lou, then he can make it about Lou," Taylor said. "But I know that it's me he's got to go into the ring and fight. I think it's a lot of talk. But he knows what time it is. I think he's run his mouth a little too much, and now he's stuck with it."

As an amateur, Taylor was a bronze medalist in the 2000 Olympics. As a professional, he has beaten previously unbeaten Daniel Edouard and world titlists Raul Marquez and William Joppy.

Taylor is perceived as bigger, stronger and faster than Hopkins, but the champion believes his experience will be the difference.

"You're not in Little Rock, Ark., fighting a 5-8, 5-9 guy that you can bully," Hopkins warned Taylor, who will make $1.8 million to at least $3 million for Hopkins. "You're in with the New England Patriots at the Super Bowl. It's a different ballgame."

"As a child, I had a real bad stuttering problem," Taylor said. "Still have it. And if you talked a lot of trash, I wasn't the type who would talk a lot and say I'm going to get you back. That's not my style. I'd just walk over and pop you in the mouth. That's just how I did it."

Hopkins has been accused of being a dirty fighter, but if he is, Taylor said he is prepared.

"If he wants to make it a dirty fight, then it's going to be a dirty fight," the challenger said. "If that's the way he wants to bring it, then I'm going to take it to that level, too, because I'm not going to back down from nobody.

"He's a slow starter, and I plan on capitalizing on that, but he's still a dangerous fighter. But there's nothing he can do to beat me. Nothing. And if I catch Bernard and hurt him, he's going to sleep."

Fight data

Who: Bernard Hopkins (46-2-1, 32 KOs) vs. Jermain Taylor (23-0, 17 KOs) for Hopkins' undisputed middleweight titles

Where: MGM Grand Hotel, Las Vegas

When: Tomorrow, approximately 11 p.m.

TV: HBO pay-per-view

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