Bernard Hopkins to Fall?

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Bernard Hopkins the Next Chamption to Fall ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>

Is Hopkins the next aging champion to fall?
By Michael DiSanto, InsideFighting.com

Simply put, it cannot last forever, nothing can.

The only true undefeated, undisputed champion in sports is FatherTime. Yet, some all-time greats such as Gordie Howe, Roger Clemens,Jerry Rice, George Foreman, Michael Jordan, Barry Bonds, and ArchieMoore seem to somehow avoid the wrath of the unquestioned rulerof the athletic world much longer than others.

But in the end, Father Time always wins.

We saw a vivid example of a champion fighting both Father Timeand his opponent when Kostya Tszyu, now one month shy of his 36thbirthday, faced the youthful Ricky Hatton in England a few shortweeks ago. Hatton’s youthful energy, constant pressure, and swarmingattack was simply too much for Tszyu, who looked like he agedten years on that grueling night in Manchester, England.

Father Time also beat Roy Jones Jr. He beat Muhammad Ali. Hebeat Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Pernell Whitaker, Sugar RayLeonard, and Tommy Hearns. And some day he will beat Bernard Hopkins.The question, though, is whether that day will come on Saturdaynight.

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When Hopkins steps into the ring this weekend to defend his undisputedWorld Middleweight Championship, he will be less than five monthsshy of his 41st birthday. Let’s face it; forty one is old in anysport. But it is particularly ancient in the grueling, physicallyunforgiving sport of boxing.


Is this Hopkins’ time to step aside?

Standing across from Hopkins will be the universally regardedheir apparent, Jermain Taylor. Fourteen and a half years Hopkins’junior, Taylor enters his first world title fight with solid advantagesin size, power, hand speed, foot speed, reflexes, and obviouslyyouth.

Based off that information alone, one would be inclined to pickTaylor in the upset. After all, it is the natural order of life– young overthrowing the old. It happens throughout the entireanimal kingdom, and humans are certainly no exception, despitemodern-day technology that tries to slow the aging process.

The one curveball, however, is that Taylor is not only a springchicken compared to the grizzled champion in terms of age, butalso in ring experience, particularly championship-level and big-fightexperience. The fact remains that Taylor has never faced a legitimatetop-five middleweight in his prime – never.

Without being disrespectful, one must take a hard look at Taylor’slast five opponents – Alex Bunema, William Joppy, Raul Marquez,Daniel Edouard, and Alex Rios – all of which were either wellpast their prime, fighting above their natural weight, lightlyregarded, or some combination of the three descriptions, whenthey faced “Bad Intentions.”


Taylor needs to be physical with the champ

Of course, Hopkins’ recent resume isn’t exactly littered withall-time greats at middleweight, either. But at least he can saythat in the last several years, he’s defeated two all-time greats(albeit smaller men) in their respective prime – Felix Trinidadand Oscar de la Hoya – and a handful of top-notch middleweightsearlier in his career such as Antwun Echols, John David Jackson,and Glen Johnson.

The question, however, is whether Hopkins can slip Father Time’sleft hook one more time and defeat Taylor. And the answer to thatquestion has more to do with the challenger than the champion.

In other words, this is Taylor’s fight to lose.

As shocking as that statement might sound, it’s true. Sure, Taylorhas many more technical flaws than his opponent and the 1990sHopkins probably exploits those flaws en route to a late-roundstoppage or a 12-round bludgeoning.

But this isn’t the 1990s. We’re a full decade later. And whilehe is certainly getting wiser, there are clear signs that Hopkinsis slipping physically in the ring.

In his 2003 fight against William Joppy, Hopkins set the Compuboxmiddleweight record for power shots landed in a fight, 375, andaveraged just under 70 punches per round. The end result of thatfight was one of the more severe beatings in recent memory thatlasted the full 12 rounds. But it is worth noting that despitelanding a record number of punches, Hopkins still did not havethe juice to get Joppy out of there.


He might be aging, but Hopkins won’t roll over for anyone

That was the first sign that age might be catching up to Hopkins.Although he was never a big puncher, the champ was always extremelyadept at getting guys out of there with an accumulation of shots.Yet, he could not do that to Joppy, who Trinidad completely destroyedin five mere rounds two years earlier.

In Hopkins’ next fight, he had a lackluster showing against formerfoe Robert Allen, throwing only 36 punches per round in a verypassive, uneventful fight. But we’ll give the champ a pass becauseof the pressure associated with a career-high (by a big, big margin)$10 million payday hanging in the balance against de la Hoya ifhe won. Hopkins fought very cautiously, holding Allen to only71 punches landed in the entire fight, or just under six per round.

Hopkins, an expert counterpuncher who has fought with a measuredpace throughout his career, typically threw about 50 punches perround before the Allen fight. Since that time, though, he hasn’tcome close to his career average, and that is the second signthat Hopkins is beginning to slip physically.

The champion averaged only 40 punches per round against the muchsmaller de la Hoya in their 2004 fight. Through the early rounds,at least, it seemed as if Hopkins was somewhat gun shy. Once again,this might be the result of the pressure of fighting the GoldenBoy, but things didn’t change in his next fight, either.

Against Howard Eastman last January, Hopkins threw a paltry 29punches per round en route to a unanimous decision win. Yes, youread that correctly – 29 punches per round. Just as in the Allenand de la Hoya fights, Hopkins was very content to simply sitback, play defense, and fight in short spurts.

Some might argue that Hopkins simply didn’t need to throw morepunches. But the more logical answer is that he wily veteran understandshis body and the physical limitations imposed by age, and he foughtaccordingly. Basically, that is akin to Michael Jordan spendingthe last two years of his career down in the post using old-manmoves to school his youthful opponents rather than slashing tothe basked unchecked like he did for over a decade in the NBA.


Has Hopkins been getting by on reputation in his last few fights?

Ali boxed in the same exact way in the late 70s, winning moreon reputation and brains than brawn and athleticism, as his opponentswere unwilling to push the aging fighter for fear of blisteringretribution in the form of sharp counterpunching, rememberingthe Ali of old instead of fighting the Ali of the day.

So, what does all that mean for Jermain Taylor?

Simple. It means he has to turn the fight into a physical warby fighting a full three minutes of every round if he wants tomaximize his chance at winning.

Taylor isn’t a human punching machine like Erik Morales or RickyHatton. His natural tendency is to go out and throw between 40-50punches per round, not 70-80. Thus, in some sense he needs tofight outside of himself for this one night. He needs to be moreaggressive and more active.

Forget just jabbing in the center of the ring. Taylor must bullyHopkins into the corners and ropes with his superior size andstrength. Then, he should pound the champion on the arms, shoulders,torso, and head to start breaking down his aging champion.

When the referee calls for a break, Taylor should mix up hisattack by throwing lead right hands to the chest from time totime, understanding that Hopkins is an expert at countering thejab. And when he does lead with the jab, keep that right handglued to the cheek to protect against a counter left hook, whichis sure to follow.

But above all else, he must stay busy. If Taylor does nothingelse, he must keep his hands moving and force Hopkins to fightback for all 36 minutes, or until one of them gets knocked out.

By doing so, he will make Hopkins feel every bit of his 40-plusyears on this earth. Nobody, neither Taylor nor Hopkins himself,knows if the champ’s legs can withstand a 12-round, nonstop-actionfight. But science and his recent punch output suggest that theymight not.

If Taylor doesn’t follow the aforementioned approach, it is verylikely that he will be forced to play a game of cat and mousewith the champ. Quite frankly, I don’t like Taylor’s chance inthat type of a fight because Hopkins will be able to steal roundswith judge-friendly flurries off of errant fire. Or, he’ll getthe nod in close rounds based on reputation alone. Either way,Hopkins will likely build a solid lead through the middle partof the fight.

A conservative, tactical fight, therefore, is one that Taylorprobably cannot win without a knockout. Once Hopkins is aheadon the cards, he will keep a very high guard, employ constantmovement, and be extremely difficult to find in the ring – allthat makes a come-from-behind knockout next to impossible fora trailing challenger.

Can Jermain Taylor succeed where others have failed 20 consecutivetimes? Can he dethrone the reigning middleweight champion?

Yes, but only if he fights the proper fight.

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