- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2001

NEW YORK — Here's a toast to Bernard Hopkins who on Saturday night turned in the best middleweight performance since the days of the great Marvin Hagler, surprised nearly everyone at Madison Square Garden and defeated Felix Trinidad.

It was surprising on a number of levels. Trinidad was a heavy favorite to win. Hopkins was a heavy favorite to cause a riot.

Neither one happened. In fact, what we saw was just the opposite. Not only did Hopkins, who became the undisputed middleweight title holder, beat Trinidad, he beat him rather easily. When the fight was stopped in the final round, Hopkins had a big lead on all three judges' scorecards. One judge had Hopkins winning 10 out of 11 rounds, while the other two had him winning eight rounds.

"What did I tell you before this fight?" Hopkins said after his win. "I told you that this would be an easy fight, one of my easiest."

It was easy, but it wasn't boring. That was the other surprise. Most of Hopkins' fights recently have been ugly, foul-filled affairs, sometimes more wrestling match than boxing. He has a well-deserved reputation as a very physical and sometimes dirty fighter.

Saturday night, though, Hopkins who held the International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Council middleweight crowns going into this fight turned in a masterpiece. There were some moments where it appeared the fight would deteriorate the fighters traded blows after the bell rang to end the fifth round but, for the most part, it was a thing of beauty to watch, if you can call beating a man a thing of beauty.

The brilliance came in Hopkins' counterpunching. He let Trinidad come forward and throw first and allowed himself to get backed up against the ropes or in a corner. When Trinidad threw a punch, Hopkins punched back with two or three shots, usually harder than what Trinidad who was supposed to be the big puncher threw.

Fighting a counterpunch style, Hopkins overwhelmed Trinidad with blows. Compubox numbers showed that Hopkins threw more punches 654 to 329 and landed more as well, 260 to 129. Of those punches Hopkins landed, 165 were considered power shots, compared to 97 for Trinidad.

The most powerful punches were right uppercuts that weakened Trinidad inside. By the 10th round, Trinidad, the former undefeated World Boxing Association middleweight champion, was finished. He nearly went down in the 10th and was clearly just hanging on until the fight was stopped at 1:22 of the 12th round. Trinidad went down on the canvas from a hard right hand and barely got up before referee Steve Smoger counted to 10. He was on wobbly legs, and everyone thought that Smoger was about to stop the fight. Hopkins' cornermen started to enter the ring, but Smoger waved them off and indicated he wasn't stopping the fight. But right behind them came Felix Trinidad Sr., the father, trainer and manager of the fallen fighter, and he took it out of Smoger's hands and said his son had suffered enough.

The 28-year-old Trinidad (40-1, 33 knockouts) wasn't the only one who suffered a beating Saturday night. There was no one involved in this promotion the Garden, Home Box Office or Don King who wanted Hopkins to win. Trinidad was the meal ticket, the young, good looking undefeated Puerto Rican champion who managed to turn himself into a marketable commodity through a series of impressive wins over well-known fighters, including Oscar De La Hoya, David Reid and Fernando Vargas during the last two years. He was polite and never said anything to offend anyone which was easy, considering that Trinidad never spoke English in public.

Hopkins (40-2-1, 29 knockouts), on the other hand, made everyone involved in this fight cringe every time he opened his mouth. The former ex-con from Philadelphia offended everyone with his churlish and tasteless behavior. During the press tour before this fight, Hopkins, 36, ripped the Puerto Rican flag from Trinidad's hands and tossed it to the ground before thousands of Puerto Rican fans in New York and San Juan. He nearly caused a riot in San Juan, which heightened fears that the largely Puerto Rican crowd could become unruly for Saturday night's fight.

He wore a bandana with the word "War" on it at Wednesday's press conference a tactless move, considering the state of the union. However, Hopkins made no apologies for it and said he started his own personal war with boxing long before the Sept. 11 tragedy. Also, he came into the ring Saturday night wearing a red and silver "Executioner's" mask (Hopkins' nickname is the Executioner).

And when he took off his robe in the ring, Hopkins had the word "Golden Palace.com" stenciled on his back, the name of a Costa Rican casino that had paid him $100,000 for the advertisement. Hopkins, who earned about $4 million last night compared to $8 million for Trinidad, told the casino to take the $100,000 and bet it on him. He turned that wager into a $400,000 payday.

The fighter who couldn't speak English was considered more attractive and marketable than the fighter who they couldn't shut up. Bernard Hopkins is a world-class talker, rivaling King himself for bizarre and lengthy diatribes.

This whole middleweight unification tournament staged by King, which began with Hopkins defeating Washington middleweight champion Keith Holmes in April, was to promote Trinidad, King's top non-heavyweight meal ticket. After Trinidad demolished another Washington middleweight WBC champion William Joppy in five rounds in May it seemed a mere formality for Trinidad to finish the plan. A win Saturday by Trinidad would have delighted many people who had visions of yet one more major pay-per-view event Felix Trinidad vs. undisputed light heavyweight champion Roy Jones.

But the fact that everyone wanted Trinidad to win only fed into Hopkins' will to win. Hopkins is one of the few athletes who has been able to make this "everyone is against me" attitude work for him. He is a fighter who has always perceived that the entire boxing industry has been against him and he may be right. Lou DiBella, the former HBO vice president in charge of boxing who now advises fighters, including Hopkins, said, "Are a lot of people in this building miserable tonight? Yes."

After the fight, Hopkins thanked all of those who were rooting for Trinidad. "I want to thank the people who are against me," he said. "I couldn't have done this without you."

Trinidad should thank Hopkins, too. He saved him from an embarrassing beating at the hands of Roy Jones.

Hopkins would like to fight Jones, but that is not nearly the big fight that Trinidad-Jones would have been. Hopkins and Trinidad likely will race toward their best chance to make money a fight with junior middleweight champion Oscar De La Hoya. Trinidad likely will get that rematch with De La Hoya, who would take his life into his hands if he fought Hopkins, a middleweight with the strength of a heavyweight.

Whatever happens, Hopkins has earned the respect he has longed for. This was his 14th successful middleweight title defense (he first won the IBF middleweight crown in December 1994), tying the record for middleweight title defenses set by the great Argentinean champion Carlos Monzon. He referred to himself as "the American dream. When they said I couldn't do it, I did it. When they said it would be impossible, I made it possible."

In the offices of HBO, the Garden and Don King, though, Bernard Hopkins is the American nightmare.

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