Bernard Hopkins: A Piece of Middleweight Championship History

By Francis Walker
Updated: July 29, 2005

Bernard Hopkins

Bernard Hopkins

NEW YORK — Bernard Hopkins’ middleweight title reign ended on July 16, 2005. Hopkins (46-3-1, 32 KOs) lost a razor thin 12-round decision to undefeated, rising star Jermain Taylor. Hopkins’ title reign lasted more than 10 years, setting a new all-time record with 20 successful defenses of the world middleweight championship.

Hopkins once said during his reign that “You should be judged by your performance. You should be judged by the work you do. If you were a lousy reporter, you would be fired! Performance, performance, performance! Judge me by my performance, not by what I say.”

Hopkins’ first bid to win the IBF middleweight title was unsuccessful. Hopkins, on May 22, 1993, Hopkins lost a 12-round decision to Roy Jones, Jr. It was a competitive fight, but both fighters were hesitant to throw many punches. Jones reportedly fought with an injured right hand and Hopkins was inexperienced. This was a landmark battle for both fighters because, Jones would become a superstar while Hopkins would not lose another fight for more than 12 years.

After fighting Segundo Mercado to a 12-round draw for the vacant IBF middleweight title in December 1994, Hopkins knocked out Mercado in the seventh-round of their rematch to win the IBF 160-pound championship to become the first middleweight champion from Philadelphia, PA.

“I had my chance with Roy in ’93 and look what happened,” Hopkins once said. “If a guy can win on their first try, then fine. But If a guy can suck it up and show that true championship desire to come in and do what he has to do, then I have lot of credit for a guy that gets his ass kicked and comes back. True champions take risks, true champions comeback. True champions kick definite ass.”

Here’s a look at Hopkins’ performances during his 20 successful middleweight title defenses.

1. Steve Frank (15-2-1), January 27, 1996

Hopkins, making his defense of the IBF middleweight title, set the record for the shortest middleweight title fight in history. Hopkins’ bout against Frank lasted just 24 seconds.

2. Joe Lipsey (25-0), March 16, 1996

Undefeated after his first 25 professional fights, Lipsey was considered to be a tough challenger for “The Executioner.” However, Lipsey was overwhelmed by Hopkins’ brute strength and power. During the fourth round, a Hopkins right-hand shot to Lipsey’s chin setup one of the most brutal knockouts in boxing history. Hopkins would not only KO Lipsey, but also end his boxing career.

3. William “Bo” James (20-6-1), July 16, 1996

James was considered a “club fighter.” Hopkins simply overpowered James through ten rounds before stopping the challenger at 2:02 of the eleventh round. This would be James’ last fight as a middleweight contender.

4. John David Jacksonn (35-2), April 19, 1997

This was another dominant Hopkins performance. Hopkins fought Jackson, a former 154 pound champion, who was the IBF No. 1-ranked challenger at the time. Although it featured plenty of rough-house tactics that included arm drags, headlocks, clinching, and kidney punching, Hopkins was able to keep Jackson, a southpaw, off-balanced using straight-rights and left hooks. Jackson’s punches were wide and lacked little power. Hopkins had an easy time imposing his will, forcing Jackson to tilt sideways since his feet were so far apart. Jackson would keep his hands too far below his chest and struggle to clinch Hopkins, who landed nearly every punch he threw.

Hopkins dropped Jackson with a huge barrage of punches in round six, before knocking Jackson through the ropes and relentlessly pounding his body for more than 20 seconds before the fight was finally stopped at 2:22 of the seventh round.

“Everybody is wearing belts nowadays,” said Hopkins, who often spoke about unifying the middleweight championship. “Everybody is confused as to who the champion is in all weight classes. John David Jackson taught me how to fight southpaws, I give him much respect. If I’m going to fight a southpaw, I’m going to call John David Jackson.”

5. Glen Johnson (32-0), July 20, 1997

Johnson was another undefeated, No. 1-ranked challenger with a 32-0 record. Hopkins, again proving his superior boxing skills, did not lose a single round on the three judges’ scorecards. Hopkins went on to stop Johnson at 1:23 of the eleventh round. This would be Johnson’s last fight as a middleweight contender.

Note: Glen Johnson did not win his first world championship until Feb. 2004 when he won the IBF light heavyweight championship. In Sept. 2004,Johnson’s only defense of the IBF 175-pound championship was a spectacular ninth-round knockout victory against former undisputed pound-for-pound king, Roy Jones, Jr.

6. Andrew Council (27-5-3), November 18, 1997

“I never thought about moving up or down in weight [classes],” Hopkins once said. “It’s about ruling you division. Andrew Council is a one-dimensional fighter.”

Council turned out to be the first fighter to last twelve rounds with “The Executioner” since Hopkins won the middleweight championship. Also, Hopkins proved that if he can’t stream-roll though his opponents, he has the skills to outbox them. Hopkins moved well around the ring behind his trademark left jabs and straight-right hands. Hopkins often trapped Council against the ropes unloaded with a vicious arsenal of left and right hooks to Council’s head and body. Council had difficulty landing clean shots, as Hopkins would often be the first to initiate and the last to finish most exchanges.

Hopkins grew increasingly relentless throughout the fight, as he beat Council by wide margins on the three judges’ scorecards 118-106 (twice) and 119-105.

7. Simon Brown (47-6), January 31, 1998

This was another dominant Hopkins performance. Brown was a lot smaller at 5’ 9,” and perhaps the most overmatched. Brown is not a natural middleweight, but Hopkins agreed to fight Brown because, it allowed him the opportunity to featured in the main event of an HBO triple-header telecast featuring heavyweight contender, Hasim Rahman and 1996 US gold medal-winner, David Reid.

Hopkins picked Brown apart with left jabs, straight-rights, and consistent body attack. It was only a matter of time, from the opening bell that Brown would cave in at the hands of “The Executioner.” Hopkins dropped Brown with a straight-right to his chin before using a barrage of punches to overwhelm his challenger. The bout was stopped at 1:00 of the sixth round.

“I took my time, set up my jab,” Hopkins said. “I dream of fighting Roy Jones, Jr. [again] and moving up to light heavyweight. That’s what champions do. Champions take risks.”

Following his defense against Brown, Hopkins title challengers grew significantly better, tougher.

8. Robert Allen I (22-2), August 28, 1998

Hopkins’ road toward unifying the middleweight titles took an unusual “twist” when he fought No. 1-contender, Robert Allen. Allen was much younger, perhaps stronger, and had power in both fists. Allen was also a southpaw (left-handed). Hopkins was considered the best counter puncher in boxing at the time and he could adapt to virtually any style.

“Robert Allen is a tough fighter,” Hopkins said. “I can box if he wants to box, brawl if he wants to brawl. Body shots is going to be a factor in this fight.” Hopkins went on to tell Allen at the final press conference two days prior to their meeting: “You have two days to get your last meal before ‘The Executioner’ has it – meat and potatoes on me.”

Allen proved to be one of the strongest fighters Hopkins has fought since he lost a 12-round decision to Jones, Jr. in May 1993. Hopkins was cautious as Allen was willing to exchange punches. Hopkins-Allen I turned out to be a clinch, grab, and hold fest. Allen rubbed his glove against Hopkins’ face. The challenger also put the champion on a headlock, as both fighters clinched and pulled the other around the ring.

In the closing seconds of round four, famed referee Mills Lane tried to separate Hopkins from Allen, who had the champion in a headlock. Suddenly, Hopkins fell through the ropes onto the arena floor during the break.

“You pushed me out the fuckin’ ring,” Hopkins said. “Mills Lane said ‘break’ and he pushed me out the ring. I tried to grab onto the ropes and I tumbled over. I felt a burning sensation in my ankle. I’m not a cry baby, I want a rematch.”

9. Robert Allen (23-3) II, February 6, 1999

“If I’m too slow or too old, just take advantage of me,” Hopkins said. Jump on me! To make a statement is to knock Robert Allen out. Bernard Hopkins is one of the best fighters pound-for-pound.”

The rematch was more competitive than the first encounter. Hopkins was more aggressive by controlling the tempo with straight-rights, left hooks, and a relentless body attack. Hopkins countered effectively and his punches were indeed crisp. Hopkins scored knockdowns of Allen in rounds two and seven en route to a TKO stoppage at 1:16 into the seventh. This fight was a very important one for Hopkins and it was perhaps the most dominant of his career. His rematch with Allen, a younger, stronger fighter, solidified Hopkins’ identity as one of boxing’s premier fighters inside and outside the ring. Hopkins’ performance earned him larger purses in higher profile fights.

“There’s a lot of corruption in boxing and I want to take a stand,” Hopkins said after he KO’d Allen. “Roy Jones, Jr. is a great fighter, but does not have the same champion character once he steps out of the ring, does not stand up for fighters being mistreated and exploited as whores. How can I be in a sport with a bunch of hypocrites, stand in the ring, get the fame, and they take all the fortune. There is no way Bernard Hopkins should be earning $250,000 for a fight of this magnitude. It’s a disgrace and absurd.”

10. Antwun Echols (22-2-1) I, December 12, 1999

This bout marked the tenth defense of the IBF middleweight title for “The Executioner.” Echols was rated No. 1 by the IBF and he was by far, the hardest middleweight puncher Hopkins ever fought. The fight nearly ended in the first round when Echols decked Hopkins at the end of the first round. Hopkins was clearly dazed, as the punch was ruled an illegal blow and the knockdown did not count on the judges scorecards. Also, no points were docked from the challenger. Hopkins dug deep and willingly engaged Echols, a great two-handed Ko power-puncher, in a highly dramatic slugfest.

As great a puncher Echols was, he was a poor defensive fighter. The competitive gap between the champion and challenger was thickening to Hopkins’ advantage. Hopkins stunned Echols with straight-rights and effective counterpunching throughout the fight. Hopkins was ahead by wide margins of 118-109 (twice) and 119-109 on all three judges scorecards to capture a unanimous decision victory. Hopkins proved that he is the best middleweight champion in the world.

Although the bout against Echols was televised on Fox Sports, Hopkins earned only $100,000 for perhaps the toughest fight of his career. Hopkins would later feud with his promoters America Presents over his purses and handling of his career. Hopkins, who has a history of feuding with promoters Butch Lewis and Don King would eventually self-manage his own career.

11. Syd Vanderpool (28-1), May 13, 2000

This fight was not one of Hopkins’ best performances, but that doses not mean that “The Executioner” did not dominate. Hopkins was very difficult to hit, as he used his experience to outbox and out maneuver Vanderpool, another No. 1-ranked contender who was also a southpaw (left-handed) challenger to Hopkins’ throne. Hopkins was ahead on all three judges scorecards 118-110, 118-109, and 116-112, winning a unanimous decision victory.

“This guy is strong, walks around at 170,” Hopkins said. “This was a big fight because it leads to Roy Jones and Felix Trinidad. This was not my best performance, but I’m satisfied. Robert Allen did the rough and tough thing in [my] first fight. I went back to my game plan, jabbing and watching punches.”

Hopkins added: “My biggest goal, ever since I was small, was to be the undisputed middleweight champion. The way Marvin Hagler was years ago. I’m willing to take a dollar or two short to prove that I’m the best fighter in the last 20 years.”

12. Antwun Echols (24-3-1) II, December 1, 2000

There was increasing talk of Hopkins unifying his IBF 160-pound championship against WBA champion, William Joppy and WBC champion, Keith Holmes. However, Hopkins, first, had to go through the No. 1-ranked Echols – again! Echols earned the right to face Hopkins in a rematch one year after their first bout by winning just two fights in 2000.

Similar to their first fight, both Hopkins and Echols were very aggressive. The rematch was more of a rough and tough encounter. In the sixth round, Echols literally picked up Hopkins and slammed him onto the canvas. Hopkins injured his right arm, becoming a one-punch fighter for the next couple rounds. Echols was docked two points from the judges’ scorecards. Hopkins chose to continue fighting rather than win, via disqualification. Hopkins was later docked a point for holding Echols behind his head in round eight. Hopkins managed to stop Echols at 1:42 of the tenth round.

“It was a rough and tough fight,” Hopkins said. “Antwun Echols is a legitimate No. 1 contender.”

13. Keith Holmes (36-2), April 14, 2001

Hopkins agreed to enter a world middleweight championship unification series. The three-fight series was promoted by Don King and hosted by Madison Square Garden. In the inaugural installment of a three-fight series to determine the first undisputed world middleweight champion since Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Hopkins agreed to up his IBF middleweight championship against two-time WBC middleweight champion, Keith Holmes. Surprisingly, Hopkins’ performance against Holmes was one his most dominant. Hopkins pitched a near shutout on all three judges scorecards (119-108, 118-109, and 117-110) to unify the IBF/WBC middleweight championships. Holmes (a southpaw) tried to keep Hopkins outside using right-jabs. However, Holmes was unwilling to exchange punches with Hopkins, who kept pressing the action and countering Holmes effective before getting tied in the clinches.

“I did predict that I would knock him out,” Hopkins said. “If I didn’t knock him out, I didn’t deserve to be in the tournament. Truth is – I lied!”

Hopkins, who was warned for low-blows added: “I did hit him with a couple below the border line, but it wasn’t intentional. I was scared to hit him anywhere, I didn’t want to lose on a DQ. I’d rather be laid out on my back. He was holding me with one arm while I was whacking him. I have to fight the fight that I’ve been taught in Philadelphia. This is fightin’ man. People want to see blood and guts.”

“I will finish the tournament, I will win the tournament,” Hopkins said. “No more guaranteed KOs.”

Later that evening Hopkins said, “I want to do something for boxing. It kept me out of the penitentiary. It allowed me to do something for my mother, my wife, and my little girl. Part of my destiny is being undisputed middleweight champion. Marvin Hagler was one of my favorite fighters. He retired after he lost to Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987 and there went the middleweight division.”

“Roy Jones, Jr. Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad. Beating those guys will not only put steak on the table, but also puts a name up in history. They all are being called ‘pound-for-pound.’ Beating one of those guys in the top means you’ve got to take their slot. I want to be in that type of greatness.”

“How many fighters say they are willing to fight in four weight classes? If the opportunity comes, no! That’s not what I’m going to do. That’s what they want me to do. I don’t deserve that disrespect! What I’m going to do is stay busy, fight the guys who want to fight Bernard Hopkins.

When asked what keeps Bernard Hopkins back, “The Executioner replied, “I don’t know, maybe because, I’m a Muslim. Maybe because, I’m Black. Maybe because I changed my life around and became a role model instead of a thug, who knows? But one thing I can say is that they won’t beat me mentally. They won’t beat me spiritually because, I am a man. A man sacrifices everything he has to.”

14. Felix Trinidad (40-0), September 29, 2001

Another successful Hopkins defense of the newly unified IBF/WBC middleweight championship would tie Carlos Monzon for the late Carlos Monzon’s all-time consecutive middleweight title defense record of 14. Hopkins challenged undefeated, three-division champion Felix Trinidad, who earned a spectacular fifth round KO of William Joppy to seize his WBA middleweight title-belt.

During a New York City press conference to announce the undisputed world middleweight championship finale, Hopkins raised eyebrows when he snatched Trinidad’s Puerto Rican flag from his hand and threw it down on the floor.

“I had the U.S. flag and they booed me, so I took his flag and threw it down,” Hopkins said. “If I do it again, it will be an even bigger flag where everyone can see it. I am not apologetic, I am not apologizing. I don’t have respect from him or his country. I don’t like Trinidad right now, I am not suppose to like him.”

At another press conference in Puerto Rico, a riot between Hopkins’ camp the Puerto Rican natives nearly broke out.

“My strategy is to beat [Trinidad],” Hopkins added. “I want his fame and money. I want to be on every front cover of magazines. I want to have the fame Felix Trinidad received. If I beat Trinidad, then I should be the best fighter in the world pound-for-pound.”

Hopkins-Trinidad was supposed to have occurred on Sept. 14, at Madison Square Garden, but on Sept. 11, a national tragedy had occurred. The World Trade Center was attacked by Terrorists, which caused a humanitarian effort and caused a postponement of the fight until Sept. 29.

In front of a sold out Pro-Trinidad, Anti-Hopkins audience, “The Executioner” but he successfully out-boxed and outmaneuvered the much younger, undefeated fighter. Trinidad could not jab or effectively counterpunch Hopkins, who would eventually knock Trinidad out in the twelfth and final round. Hopkins successfully tied Monzon’s middleweight title record, unified the IBF/WBC, and WBA 160-pound championships, while capturing Sugar Ray Robinson trophy to recognize boxing’s first undisputed world middleweight champion since Marvelous Marvin Hagler in 1987.

15. Carl Daniels (47-3-1), February 2, 2002

Hopkins, in his first fight since unifying the world middleweight championships, finally broke Monzon’s all-time middleweight title record for consecutive defenses. Hopkins’ 15th successful defense of the middleweight title was his first defense in his home sate of Pennsylvania.

“No one can take this away from me,” Hopkins said after he set a new all-time middleweight title record. “My daughter, three years old, can remember this when they talk about her dad.

Daniels, another southpaw and No.1-ranked contender, could not withstand the pressure of Hopkins’ body punches. It was not a pretty fight, but it was another gritty defense of Hopkins’ titles. Daniels quit on his stool at the end of the tenth round.

“I tried to instill my will on Carl Daniels. Southpaws are tricky. I wanted to wear him down, I kept (throwing) left hooks to his body.”

16. Morrade Hakkar (29-3), March 29, 2003

Hakkar, the WBC No.1-ranked challenger, literally kept running away from Hopkins in a very dull fight. Hopkins eventually would catch-up to the inexperienced and overmatched Hakkar, who was stopped in the eighth round.

“If I didn’t fight and defend my mandatory with the WBC they would have stripped me,” Hopkins explained.

17. William Joppy (34-2-1), December 13, 2003

The world middleweight champion, at last, had an opportunity to fight his old rival. For more than seven years, Joppy was mentioned as one of the best middleweight champions and was often compared to Hopkins. Although the two fighters did not meet during the middleweight championship unification tournament in 2001, the two were destined to fight each other after years of talk.

Hopkins often grinned, followed by a cold stare when he was compared to Joppy.

“Joppy is a tough fighter and I cannot take anything away from him, but he has been running his month from day one. On a scale of A-Z, I rate Joppy a C-.”

Joppy put $50,000 against the champion’s $25,000 that “The Executioner” would not knock Joppy out. The challenger may have won the bet, but Joppy took a severe beating.

Hopkins was able to land punches form virtually every angle, catching Joppy with uppercuts, body punches, overhand rights and left hooks. Hopkins didn’t even need his jab to effectively reach Joppy, as the champion pummeled the challenger around the ring against the ropes. Joppy’s face was so badly swollen. Joppy’s swollen face drew immediate reactions from the crowd. Hopkins nearly KO’d Joppy in the final round, but settled for a unanimous decision victory (119-109, 119-108, and 118-109).

18. Robert Allen (36-4) III, June 5, 2004

For the third time in nearly six years, Hopkins defended the world middleweight championship against Allen. The stakes were even higher, as a Hopkins victory would almost guarantee him a $10 million payday against four-division champion, Oscar De La Hoya.

Allen came into his rubber match with Hopkins having won 13 straight fights, 9 by KO. Hopkins proved his dominance against Allen for perhaps a the final time. Hopkins flattened Allen on his left side with a hard right hook to his jaw in the seventh round.

“When I hit him with the shot, I wanted to be careful,” Hopkins said afterward. “He’s not a big puncher, but he can punch.”

Hopkins went on to further dominate the apparent one-sided fight behind jabs, straight-rights, and combinations. The judges scored the fight 119-108, 119-109, and 118-109 for Hopkins.

19. Oscar De La Hoya (37-3), September 18, 2004

This was one of the most highly-anticipated middleweight championship fights since Sugar Ray Leonard’s upset of Marvelous Marvin Hagler in April 1987. Although De La Hoya, a former 135, 140, 147, and 154 pound champion, held the WBO middleweight crown, “The Golden Boy” desperately desired Hopkins’ middleweight title throne. De La Hoya surprised many by standing in front of Hopkins, firing combinations, but also blocking and weaving punches. De La Hoya boxed a great fight, but so did “The Executioner.”

Hopkins had a distinct height (6’1”) and size advantage as a natural middleweight. Hopkins began to land powerful straight-rights which began to take De La Hoya off track in the middle rounds. Hopkins increasingly became stronger, while De La Hoya had to work extra hard to keep Hopkins out rhythm. Hopkins was trialing on one of three judges scorecards until the champion KO’d De La Hoya with a left hook to his body at 1:38 of the ninth round to become the first fighter to ever unify the IBF/WBC/WBA and WBO middleweight titles.

“In wanted to show everyone that I could box,” Hopkins said. “I came in light (156). I felt an urgency; I knew Oscar was boxing a good game. I didn’t see him slowdown or take a break the whole fight. I hit him with a jab, leaned to the left, and hit him in the liver. It was shopped liver with a little bit of sauce.”

20. Howard Eastman (40-1), February 19, 2005

Hopkins’ mandatory defense against Howard Eastman, another No. 1-ranked contender, was his 20th consecutive defense of the world middleweight championship without a loss. Hopkins, who called Eastman a “B-rated fighter,” dominated the challenger with hard left hooks to his chin. Hopkins was the superior boxer of the two fighters. Hopkins easily out-boxed Eastman from a distance for twelve full rounds. Hopkins’ dominance was evident on the judges’ scorecards. Hopkins won a unanimous 12-round decision by scores of 119-110, 117-111, and 116-112.

“The Englishman, I knew he was tough,” Hopkins said afterwards. “He takes a he of a shot. He gives good shots. He’s a pretty decent puncher. We heard more cheers than boos. I think [the crowd] wanted to see a Gatti-Ward type thing and I gave to them in spurts but I don’t fight like that. That isn’t my style but I can turn it up when I have to.”

Hopkins Loses to Taylor in 21st Defense

Hopkins lost the WBC/IBF titles to Taylor (23-0) in his 21st defense. Hopkins to attack Taylor late during the fifth round, applying pressure. Although Hopkins rallied, he came up short on two of the three judges’ scorecards (115-113) while winning the fight 116-112 on the third. There is talk of Hopkins fighting Taylor in a highly-anticipated rematch on December 1.