Hopkins To Finish Hall of Fame Middleweight Career Against Light-Heavyweight Tarver

By Francis Walker
Updated: May 26, 2006

NEW YORK — When Bernard Hopkins (46-4-1, 32 KOs) challenges Antonio Tarver (24-3, 18 KOs) on June 10 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, it will be Hopkins’ last fight. “Fight To The Finish,” will be broadcast live on HBO Pay Per View.

Hopkins could have fought in his hometown of Philadelphia, PA in an easy fight an overmatched middleweight contender with a winning record to end his career on a winning note.

The boxing world would have accepted Hopkins wanting to take the easy road out after defending the world middleweight championship 21 times in ten years against Felix Trinidad, Jermain Taylor, William Joppy, Keith Holmes, Antwun Echols (twice), Robert Allen (three times) and Syd Vanderpool to name a few.

Instead, Hopkins will endure perhaps the biggest challenge of his professional career as he will move up two weight classes from 160 to 175 to face Tarver. Hopkins will be fighting the man that KO’d Roy Jones, Jr. inside two rounds and beat him around the ring on two separate occasions.

Hopkins, with a 41 year old body, will move up in weight to challenge a guy that walks around at 190-195 pounds as a cruiserweight. Hopkins, throughout his career, confidently boasts about how he walked around at 167, just seven pounds away from his fighting weight.

Hopkins has a tough task ahead of him.

The most recent example of a fighter moving up two weight classes 1) Shane Mosley moved up from the lightweight division (135) to become a welterweight (147) to defeat Oscar De La Hoya in June 2000 in one of the most epic welterweight championship fights of all-time. Mosley won the WBC welterweight championship in a surprise fast-paced, slugfest.

2) Jones, Jr. moved up from the light-heavyweight division (175) to become the first former middleweight champion since Bob Fitzsimmons in over 100 years to win a heavyweight championship.

Jones, without having fought in the cruiserweight division, defeated John Ruiz for the WBA heavyweight crown in March 2003 during one of the most historic events in boxing history which would ultimately lead to Jones’ downfall.

Hopkins’ move to the light heavyweight division after a successful run as a middleweight champ is a throw back to the old days of boxing. Sugar Ray Robinson, perhaps the greatest boxer to have ever lived, established his legacy as a middleweight champion during the 1940s and 1950s.

Robinson won his first world middleweight championship in 1946 and was arguably the greatest boxer ever as he maintained a 128-1 record during his prime.

However, it was not until 1952 when Robinson moved up in weight to challenge Joey Maxim for the world light-heavyweight championship. Robinson, ahead on all three judges scorecards, was stopped in the fourteen round.

Also, Henry Armstrong is the first and perhaps the only fighter to hold three world championships in three separate weight classes simultaneously. Armstrong won each of the world featherweight, lightweight, and welterweight championships during 1937-38.

Hopkins’ move to the light-heavyweight division is a complement to the sacrifices that Robinson and Armstrong made during their careers to establish legacies and become legends.

But the question is of course is whether Hopkins’ 41-year-old body can absorb the punches of physically stronger and naturally bigger fighter?

In each of his two losses to Taylor last year, Hopkins was criticized for waiting too long to get his punches off and lost two close, but unanimous 12-round decisions to the younger, faster, boxer.

Hopkins’ last KO victory was a ninth-round stoppage of Oscar De La Hoya in September 2004. De La Hoya was a much smaller fighter, a blown up middleweight, and did not look impressive in his middleweight debut against Felix Strum several months prior to losing to Hopkins.

Hopkins has not KO’d a legitimate middleweight contender since he unified the world middleweight championship against Trinidad (KO 12) on September 29, 2001 – two weeks after 9-11.

Therefore, Tarver is expected to have an advantage in power and perhaps speed. He appeared to be very fast and strong during his last five fights – three against Jones and two bouts with Glen Johnson. Tarver is 3-2 in his last five bouts and has not fought since last October.

Tarver has the youth, although he is 37. Tarver’s body has not endured the amount of punishment that Hopkins has dealt with throughout his often hard-pressed, sometimes controversial, but remarkable Hall of Fame career.

Hopkins’ career has had many highs that includes haven broken Carlos Monzon’s consecutive world middleweight title record and became the first boxer since Marvelous Marvin Hagler to unify the world 160 pound championships.

The question now is does Tarver, the big light-heavyweight, have the skill to turn away the challenge of a middleweight great?