History Repeats

By Tom Donelson
Updated: July 19, 2005

Jermain Taylor won a split decision over Bernard Hopkins Saturday.

Jermain Taylor won a split decision over Bernard Hopkins Saturday.

NEW YORK — 18 years ago, Sugar Ray Leonard came up with the right strategy to beat one of the Middleweights most feared fighter- Mavelous Marvin Hagler. Leonard boxed and easily won the opening rounds and Hagler failed to pressure Leonard early.

Hagler just assumed that eventually he would corner Sugar Ray and destroy him just as he destroyed Tommy Hearns. As it turned out, Leonard built up a big lead on the scorecard and when Hagler made his move to take control of the fight- it was too late.

Leonard early lead allowed him to take a decision. This was a fight in which Hagler lost as much as Leonard won. Leonard out smarted Hagler and Hagler underestimated Leonard.

Fast forward 18 years later. Bernard Hopkins made a calculation. He boxed and slowed the pace of the fight down early. He gambled that the pressure of the moment and Jermain Taylor’s flaws would do the younger fighter in.

By slowing the fight down, Hopkins allowed Taylor to take close rounds by simply throwing a few more punches. Taylor’s activities captured the early rounds and the slow pace actually allowed Taylor to keep his poise.

Taylor did not feel the Hopkins pressure until late in the fight. Hopkins made a serious miscalculation and it was this miscalculation that cost him the fight.

While many reporters are writing that Hopkins won the fight, they are wrong. The best scoring on this fight came from Harold Lederman, who correctly noted that if you don’t throw punches, you can’t win rounds. Hopkins landed nearly two thirds of his punches in the final four rounds. He gave away nearly all of the first eight rounds through his own inactivity.

Hopkins strategy was to take advantage of those Taylor flaws. One was that when Taylor jabbed, he cocked his right hand back and this open him up to the left hook. Hopkins right hand, in particular in the last four rounds, found Taylor jaws repeatedly. Taylor showed that he has whiskers but he tired down the stretch and those last three rounds is what most of reporters remembered. It was as if the first nine rounds did not happen.

Hopkins showed that even in defeat, he is one of history’s best. At the age of 40, Hopkins took on one of his biggest challenge and nearly pulled out a victory by dominating the championship rounds. He should have won the fight and could have if he had started a round or two earlier.

Hopkins is usually the master of the situation and one of the boxing smartest within the confines of the ring. Hopkins truly felt that the fight was going his way and did not alter his fight plan during the bout. He was wrong.

In a championship fight, the challenger is supposed to take the title from the champion. For the first nine rounds, Taylor was the aggressor and connected on most of the punches. Then from the tenth on- it was Hopkins who was the aggressor. Hopkins turned it up one notch and Taylor barely was hanging on as Hopkins nailed him with some powerful shots. Hopkins left hook and overhand right frequently nailed the younger fighter.

As the fight progressed, Taylor accuracy decline. While Taylor won the fight, he showed some serious flaw. He threw wild punches and there were times that he was out of position after throwing a punch. He cocked his right hand back and this left him open to left hooks.

After the fight, I have no doubt that Taylor won the fight but there was nothing that would convince me that Taylor is Hopkins’ heir. But then, Taylor was fighting one of the great Middleweights. If Taylor looked less than impressive, maybe it was because Hopkins skills made him look that way.

There will be a rematch. Hopkins wants a second shot and felt that he was robbed this time around. Taylor did not overwhelm Hopkins and it could easily be said that this was more of Hopkins losing the fight as Taylor winning. Taylor has to prove that it was not luck or bad strategy that allowed him to escape the execution.

These observations could play a key role in a rematch. While it was assumed that Taylor was the stronger fighter, Hopkins is similar in size to Taylor. Plus, Hopkins was the better fighter on the inside so if the rematch is fought in closer quarters- Hopkins has the advantage.

Taylor’s advantage is his hand speed and jab but his looping right hand made him a target for Hopkins counter punching. Bottom line, Hopkins is the more skilled fighter and the rougher fighter. Which means that the Taylor era may be short lived