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Boxing
Richard Hoffer
December 12, 2005
Young Blood
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December 12, 2005

Boxing

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Young Blood

A focused Jermain Taylor defended his title against ex-champ Bernard Hopkins, now long on age and a bit short on rage

Bernard Hopkins couldn't bring himself to congratulate Jermain Taylor, but neither could he complain that the younger man had robbed him. This counts as personal growth, a willingness to accept the opinions of others--ringside judges, for example. If Hopkins now holds resignation and acceptance alongside his trademark defiance, then there is a possibility for contentment in his old age, which even Hopkins was forced to admit is fast coming upon him.

"I don't have anything to be ashamed of," Hopkins said late last Saturday night at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, following a second close loss to Taylor. The man who held the middleweight title for more than 10 years, who defended it 20 times before Taylor came along and took a controversial split decision on July 16, didn't seem to have anything to bellyache about, either. This was highly uncharacteristic; Hopkins is a born bellyacher. The rematch, though basically a replay of their first fight, was conclusive enough--all three judges scored it 115--113 for Taylor--that even Hopkins recognized the end at hand. "For a man about to turn 41," he began, invoking the well-worn clause of the middle-aged, "I think I put on an exhibition."

Perhaps. He was absolutely fit and disciplined, determined as ever, clever as always. He was nearly impossible to hit, and he remained dangerous inside. But whatever fire it is that has made possible his career of dogged independence over nearly two decades has inevitably cooled in his advancing years. The ex-con from Pennsylvania's Graterford Prison, the guy who has rebuked every authority possible during his long and idiosyncratic boxing life, may simply have lost the ability to maintain his paranoia. It may be, at his age, that try as he might, he just can't get angry enough to defeat the Jermain Taylors of this world.

Of course Taylor, nearly 14 years younger, might be hard to defeat in any case. In their first meeting the 2000 Olympian, though undefeated in his 23 pro fights, wasn't really ready for a hardened veteran like Hopkins, who just meant to amuse himself with the up-and-comer during his final victory lap. "The most nervous in my life," is how Taylor describes his state of mind before that fight. "No way I was ready." That Taylor took Hopkins's title anyway may speak more to the vagaries of fight scoring than to his performance; Hopkins has never been completely paranoid when he insisted people were out to get him. But in Saturday night's rematch there was far less room for conspiracy theory. In a bout that featured intermittent action at best--no knockdowns, not even a big punch--it was clear that Taylor, who outjabbed Hopkins throughout and this time finished strong, was the better man. Not by much, but just enough.

Taylor, who felt unacknowledged after he won the title in July, was not one to gloat in victory. Even after suffering six months of Hopkins's beefing and trash talk, he was fairly civil. "At his age," Taylor started to say, in half-admiration of Hopkins's effort. "At his age...."

That was the theme of the evening, a reckoning with, perhaps even an acceptance of, age. Hopkins, who has fired trainers (same one, twice) and managers, and gotten entangled in ugly litigation with his Harvard-groomed adviser ( Hopkins sent a $610,000 check to pay the jury award to the adviser last week), was not especially bitter this time. He had not lost his capacity for self-admiration, either, and spoke about his fight films going straight to history's "archives" and the sheer impossibility of anyone as mortal as Taylor assaulting his legacy. But he seemed ready to let the world decide for itself. He was 40, very close to 41; he had a record of 46-4-1 and had just cashed a $10 million check. He no longer seemed interested in fighting the world to the death, nor did he seem interested in fighting Taylor, ever again.

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