Hopkins loses titles to Taylor by decision

Judges split

streak ends at 20 straight defenses

July 17, 2005|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS - The challenger promised he would be "bigger, stronger, faster and better" than undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins, a man 14 years older.

"There's a new era in boxing," said the 26-year-old from Little Rock, Ark., flexing his muscles at a news conference last week. "And it starts with Jermain Taylor."

Last night, at the MGM Grand, Taylor kept his promise.

Taylor (24-0, 17 KOs) beat Hopkins (46-3-1, 32 KOs) by split decision to begin his reign, ending the champion's middleweight record of successful defenses at 20. In the process, Taylor captured the World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association, World Boxing Organization and International Boxing Federation titles owned by Hopkins, who had been 24-0-1 since a May 1993 loss to Roy Jones.

"It felt great," Taylor said. "I felt like crying. In the early rounds, I did a lot to win the fight. In the later rounds, he started coming back. He's an awesome fighter; I'll always respect him. A great champion. I can't wait for the rematch. I learned so much in this fight."

Judges Duane Ford and Paul Smith both scored it 115-113 for Taylor, and Jerry Roth scored it 116-112 for Hopkins.

Ford awarded the last round to Taylor, precluding the fight from being called a draw and preventing Hopkins from retaining his titles.

"I believe I should have gotten a unanimous decision," Hopkins said. "It's who hits the most and who did the most damage."

Taylor won the first three rounds behind his jab. Hopkins gradually gave ground in the first round as the fighters circled. Taylor landed the first punch, a counter-right hand, later moving in behind his jab but missing with two rights.

A jab by Taylor, followed by a right hand behind the head, early in the second round knocked Hopkins into the ropes off balance. The two fighters traded punches during two clinches, but Taylor got the better.

Hopkins circled in the third, but Taylor's jab still was trouble. Taylor continued to aim but miss with his right, but Hopkins offered little in return.

Hopkins' roughhouse tactics began to change the momentum of the fight in the fourth and fifth rounds. Although Taylor started the fourth round with a crisp, short counter left hook that shook Hopkins, the veteran started to win exchanges.

Shortly after landing a hard body shot on Hopkins in the fifth, Taylor was cut over the left side of his forehead from an accidental head butt. Hopkins seized the moment, firing several quick punches to win exchanges in close and taunting Taylor on occasion.

Hopkins circled again in the sixth, allowing Taylor to resume his rhythm of jabbing. A mid-round combination along the ropes was the most telling sequence and won Taylor the round.

"Jermain didn't show the emotions of someone who won the fight," Hopkins said. "I feel like I can go home because in this case, I feel like I won the fight. I'll take the rematch. It's already in the contract."

Hopkins out-landed Taylor, 96-86, but lost the jabs battle, 36-18.

In Hopkins, Taylor faced a man who was 18-0-1 against past and present world champions, excluding Roy Jones.

Hopkins, who earned at least $3 million to Taylor's $1.8 million, had promised to make his younger rival "a whipping boy" for his controlled frustrations over an acrimonious split with Lou DiBella, Taylor's promoter.

"It's all Jermain's night," DiBella said. "You haven't seen Jermain even scratch the surface. With respect to me and Bernard, I feel like a chapter of my life is over."

Taylor refused to be distracted, channeling his energies, instead, upon his wily rival. Taylor's resolve was similar to the poise with which he handled his early life as a child, when, at age 5, he was abandoned by his father and later forced to care for his three younger sisters like a father while his mother, Carlois, worked full time as a nurse.

Hopkins had planned to retire before his 41st birthday on Jan. 15, but not before defeating Taylor and undisputed light-heavyweight champ Antonio Tarver at 175 pounds. He considered Taylor only a minor threat to those plans.

But Hopkins was wrong.

Although Hopkins landed a big, sneaky right hand to start the seventh, Taylor regained the momentum behind a jab that continually troubled Hopkins and won him the round. But Hopkins rebounded to win the eighth, landing the more telling punches.

Hopkins began to press the action in the ninth, which he won. At one point, Hopkins sneaked a short right over an equally sneaky jab. He had Taylor retreating by the end of the ninth.

Trainer Bouie Fisher told Hopkins that he had to close the last round big, and that's exactly what he did. An overhand right sprayed water from the head of Taylor, who took more punishment in a neutral corner. Three more right hands chased Taylor to another side of the ring. Taylor had no answer.

But Hopkins' closing effort wasn't enough.

NOTE: After a ring absence that had lasted nearly two years to the day, 34-year-old ex-champion Vernon Forrest debuted at junior middleweight (154 pounds) by overcoming a troublesome left arm with a triumphant return on the undercard last night. Forrest (36-2, 27 KOs) knocked out the hard-punching Sergio Rios (17-2, 15 knockouts), of Oxnard, Calif., in Round 2.

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