Face off, part 2

Nov 29, 2005 3:17 AM

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Champion Jermain Taylor (24-0) is a slight underdog, —105, against challenger Bernard Hopkins, —125, (46-2-1) in a rematch for the undisputed world middleweight title Saturday night at Mandalay Bay.)

By Michael Katz

I’m not here to bury Bernard Hopkins but to muzzle him.

Word for word, he has become boxing’s biggest noise. James Toney may be funnier in a crude way and Antonio Tarver may have a better vocabulary. Hopkins just doesn’t shut up.

Okay, he’s going out the door. One, maybe two, more fights and the five-year wait to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. But, the main reason I’m in the market for a hearing aid, besides going deaf, is so I can turn it off. We have heard all this before. It is

only slightly more compelling than most of his fights.

Take his effort against Jermain Taylor back in July. It was close, competitive and controversial. And, not very exciting. Taylor got the decision. Like so many others, I thought Hopkins should have. It just gave him more to whine about.

I should be praising Hopkins. His is a story that cries out for Hollywood. Street bum goes to prison, decides he doesn’t want to return and, as he says, "I haven’t spit on the sidewalk since." He becomes a fighter, not only in the ring, but outside, picking on every promoter that ever picked on a fighter.

I was willing to overlook some of his foibles — the cheapness which again has left trainer Bouie Fisher out of his corner. Then comes the paranoia (much of it deserved, of course). Don’t forget the constant whining, and those unbelievable charges he leveled at Lou DiBella that were ruled by a jury of his peers to be nothing but lies.

Hopkins was never a boxer to excite the senses, rather a subtle craftsman who had to be appreciated over time. Now his big mouth is going too far, echoing those know-nothings trying to equate his long reign with being one of the best middleweights in history. Top four or five, he repeated last week.

Please.

He was the greatest middleweight of his time, which was the 10 years or so following Roy Jones Jr. and James Toney abandoning the division. Don’t get me wrong. Hopkins was a great fighter, but the 160-pound division has been populated by guys from Stanley Ketchel to Mickey Walker to Tony Zale to Sugar Ray Robinson. Allow me to also include Jake LaMotta, Gene Fullmer, Carmen Basilio, Emile Griffith, Carlos Monzon and Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

Maybe Hopkins would have beaten Monzon. Against the others, I’m dubious. Ezzard Charles, who couldn’t get a title shot at middleweight or light-heavy and thus moved up to win the heavyweight championship, would have played with Hopkins. Sam Langford and Charlie Burley, come on.

I’m not sure Bernard would have beaten the 160-pound version of James Toney. Michael Nunn would have given him problems. Of course, on the other hand, I will be the first to tell you that he would have been a handful for most of the greats listed above. But I’m not advocating betting on him again against live opposition (especially at —125) when he can fight maybe 30 seconds a round.

I picked Taylor, the young, undefeated 2000 Olympian, back then. I’m picking him again for the Dec. 3 rematch. I was more certain in July than I am in November. It’s not that Hopkins is going to suddenly improve at the age of 40 and 10 months. I’m just not so sure about Taylor’s ability and certainly would not lay -105 on him this time.

The young challenger dominated the early rounds as Hopkins went into his prevent offense. He averaged landing five punches a round for the first eight. Taylor did not do much more, but at least he was throwing. Swinging and missing sometimes takes more out of a fighter than getting hit. Taylor was anxious and became more unsettled after a clash of heads — one of Hopkins’ best weapons — in the fifth round opened a nasty gash on his forehead.

A couple of times down the stretch, Hopkins seemed to wobble Taylor. But the kid fought back with guts. He may not be as good as I thought — he certainly doesn’t hit nearly as hard or as accurately as believed — but he answered positively any questions about his insides.

If Taylor can keep at jab length for much of the fight, it should be his to win. I expect another dull 12-round exhibition. While my head says go with the youth who should improve having both the title and knowledge that he can go 12 with one of the best, my heart will probably again not allow me to bet against a man I truly admire. Even if he were out-boxed by Hagler, out-toughened by LaMotta and outfoxed by Griffith.

The real greatness of Bernard Hopkins remains not with his accomplishments against a rather poor 10-year crop of middleweights, but in not becoming another statistic of recidivism. That’s what he should be talking about.

If you have to bet Saturday, I’m not saying Israel Vasquez is worth it at +300 against Oscar Larios (-450) in their rubber match, but I don’t believe the chalk is worth that kind of price against a guy who once knocked him out.