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The Cyber Boxing Zone Newswire -- JULY 27:2001
Romero loses again, Mercante Sr. retires
By Chris Bushnell

It was not the fight that anyone expected. Even those who picked Bernard Hopkins to defeat Felix Trinidad (and they were few and far between) didn't expect their man to thoroughly dominate the Puerto Rican superstar from start to finish. But that's exactly what happened. The Executioner executed a perfect gameplan, frustrating Trinidad in the early rounds with movement and defense, then battering the three-division titlist down the stretch with flush power shots. When it was over, both men were on the canvas: Trinidad down from a fight-ending right cross, and Hopkins collapsed in ecstasy. For the first time in 14 years, we have an undisputed middleweight champion, and his name is Bernard Hopkins.

Ever the showman, Hopkins entered the Madison Square Garden ring first. He wore a red leather hood over his face, and when his robe was removed a temporary tattoo covered his back. It was an advertisement for Hopkins bet the $100,000 rental fee on himself. It was a good deal: the markings wore off after a few rounds, and Hopkins was a +350 underdog.

In stark contrast to Hopkins' fierce demeanor was the giddy all-smiles ring entrance of Tito Trinidad. Soaking up the cheers from an adoring crowd, Felix grinned and danced down the aisle while wearing an NYFD hat. A few national anthems later, the fight was under way.

It only took 40 seconds before the near-capacity crowd at MSG began their first TI-TO-TI-TO chant. In the ring, Trinidad cautiously followed a circling Hopkins around the ring. Trinidad threw the first jab of the fight, sparking a feel-out round characterized by the occasional range-finding jab of both men. It became clear early that Trinidad was looking to hurt Hopkins immediately. But Trinidad's big punches were easy to see coming, and Hopkins glided out of harms way with ease. As the first frame expired, neither man had made a case to win the round. But just before the 10-second clap, Hopkin s twice tagged Trinidad with short counter rights. Trinidad attempted to answer back, but his wild swings missed, and Hopkins eked out the first round.

An uneventful opening round was a mild surprise, given the growing tension between these two fighters, but an uneventful second round came as a bit of a shock. Both fighters were showing respect for the other's power as Hopkins circled and Tito cut off the ring with the occasional jab thrown in for effect. When Trinidad finally reached across the distance with an overhand right halfway through the round, the pro-Tito crowd erupted in a cheer... but the punch glanced off Hopkins' ducking head. Another minute of feinting and jabbing followed, little of it effective, and then without warning Hopkins popped Trinidad in the face with a sudden right hand. Trinidad immediately initiated a clinch, and Hopkins peppered him with mini-left hooks with his free hand. The second round ended shortly after the break, and once again Hopkins had landed the only clean punches of the round.

Trinidad began the third round as he did many rounds: with an excess of vaseline spread across his face. The grease would be Trinidad's main defense against Hopkins' right hand, which landed at will throughout the night. Hopkins didn't land many blows in the third round, but neither did Trinidad. Trinidad still looked tight. Although feinting and moving his head at the same frantic pace as his opponent, Trinidad was unable to throw any combinations. His arms remained cocked and ready to unleash a furious knockout punch. Occasionally, he would throw, but mostly he would miss. Hopkins' offense had yet to fully emerge, but at least he was landing. Taking a page from the De la Hoya playbook, Hopkins circled left, then right, then stopped and popped. Most of his blows in the third were to the body, but a few more rights found their way through Tito's guard as well.

Trinidad was clearly getting frustrated with Hopkins' awkward style. Again and again, Trinidad would follow Hopkins around the ring, eventually cut him off in a corner or near the ropes, throw a wild hook and then taste a counter punch from Hopkins. Trinidad's only punches of note were a solid right-left to the body as Hopkins rested on the ropes, but they paled in comparison to the bullseye right hand that Hopkins landed with five seconds remaining the fourth. In yet another uneventful, if not occasionally boring, round, Hopkins' clean punch had been the only memorable blow.

The pace continued into the fifth round, and Trinidad's lack of variety was hampering his efforts. Trinidad at times looked unsure of what to do with Hopkins, who threw punches from his usual odd angles when he did stop moving, and always ended the mutual exchanges with the final punch. Trinidad spent the first half of round five throwing nothing beyond a jab. If he was hoping to kickstart his combinations, it wasn't working. By the midway point, Trinidad finally threw a right hand. It missed. Trinidad threw two more punches. They missed. Hopkins threw two blows in between Trinidad's and they missed, as well. But a Hopkins hook ended the exchange. Such was the tempo for the rest of the round. Trinidad repeatedly threw one-twos or cross-hook combinations only to miss his target and eat one (often two) Hopkins counters. Trinidad was growing angry, and when the final bell rang, Trinidad threw a punch late. As referee Steve Smoger pushed between the two men, Hopkins answered Tito's extracurricular assault with a flush punch. Hopkins was winning the fight, no matter when it was fought.

Having banked the first five rounds, Hopkins now sought to turn things up a notch. In the sixth round, Hopkins actually began the round by outjabbing Trinidad after the two traded a series of simultaneous sticks. Trinidad was working to break Hopkins down, but he was largely unable to land clean. Bernard frequently stopped his circling in the sixth round after Trinidad cut him off on the ropes. In these moments, Trinidad would unleash four and five punches at a time. But Hopkins would deflect blows with his gloves and elbows, slip under power shots with quick bobs and weaves, and roll with body shots to negate their effect. And while Trinidad expended tremendous energy with these ferocious swings, Hopkins would always answer with clean punches to the face. Even when Trinidad would land, as he did with a loud hook to the body near the round's end, Hopkins would come back. Hopkins answered that hook to the body with two short, flush, heavy hooks as the round wore down. Trinidad brushed them off, but at no point had he landed the type of head-swiveling blows that Hopkins was now landing with regularity.

Tito's frustration began to boil over in the sixth. Before that round was complete, Trinidad had shoved his glove into Hopkins' throat while Smoger had called for a break. In the seventh, Trinidad's frustration emerged in the form of big one-at-a-time power shots. Rather than adjust to Hopkins' awkward style, Trinidad continued to look for one big punch to turn things around. As such, he looked completely ordinary. Again and again, Trinidad would load up and miss. Hopkins calmly tagged Trinidad after each whiff. It was a boxing exhibition.

Hopkins was winning every round, but it wasn't until the eighth that he began to dominate Trinidad. Having segued into a beautiful pattern of moving, stopping, making Tito miss, and then landing, Hopkins was now in his zone. And as such, he began to counter with more authority. Early in the eighth, Trinidad missed a hook at center ring and Hopkins fired back a crushing right to the face. The punch landed flush and drew a huge "oooooh" from the now-silenced crowd.

Trinidad kept throwing, and kept missing. He would fire a jab-right and Hopkins would tee off a right and left hook to the face. Trinidad would follow with a missed hook and right, and Hopkins would lean out of harm's way and answer with a one-two. After this happened a good half-dozen times in a row, even George Foreman exclaimed "I can't believe what I'm seeing!" Indeed, Hopkins was not only outboxing Trinidad, but was now outfighting him as well. Hopkins was unloading some big punches, and Tito could do little more than take them.

Midway through the one-sided eighth, Trinidad stopped the action and did an extended Ali shuffle in place. Perhaps he was trying to motivate the crowd, whose TI-TO chants had stopped, or perhaps he was trying to motivate himself. Either way, Hopkins simply laughed at Trinidad's efforts and returned to the business of beating his man until the bell.

Trinidad's face had grown puffy by the ninth, including a swelling over the bridge of his nose from Hopkins' accurate jabbing. Perhaps sensing the desperation of his situation, Trinidad tried to turn things up in the ninth, but it didn't work. Early in the round, Trinidad trapped Hopkins in a corner. But every time Trinidad would come in to land punches, Hopkins would back him off with a clean right and hook to the face. Trinidad answered these punches by keeping up a busy pace in this round, but as before he simply couldn't find Hopkins. Bernard had no such problems, routinely pasting Tito in the face before sliding to a new section of ropes or another empty corner. Hopkins ended the round by nailing Trinidad with big right hands four times in succession, all while Trinidad was throwing and missing around him.

Hopkins' had settled into a deadly pattern, and it continued unabated in the tenth. Although the round began at center ring, Hopkins spent the final two minutes of the round on the ropes, where he again landed right hands and occasional hooks to Trinidad's face. Trinidad showed an excellent chin this night, but even the mightiest of trees will begin to fall if chopped long enough. In the tenth, the accumulation of flush Hopkins punches was taking it's toll of Trinidad.

The tenth was shaping up to be just another one-sided Bernard Hopkins round as the action return to center ring in the final seconds. Trinidad again loaded up with a right hand and missed by a mile. Hopkins countered with a right uppercut that stood Trinidad up from his hunched position, and made him take a half step back. Trinidad then wobbled in place, and Hopkins rushed at him to finish for a knockout. Hopkins landed a right hand to Trinidad's temple, then another as Trinidad retreated, and finally a third moments after the bell rang. Tito had been backed up to the ropes, and when Smoger jumped in to halt the round, he put his arms around Tito and grabbed the top rope, perhaps keeping Tito from dropping to one knee. Hopkins stopped punching, and wobbly looking Tito dragged himself back to his corner. Another 10 seconds and the fight may have ended.

Trinidad's legs didn't look strong to begin the eleventh. The fighter who was so strong down the stretch against Reid and Vargas was now looking spent. Hopkins went to test him early and quickly landed a right hook, right uppercut, right hook combination. Tito's knees buckled in place, and when Hopkins followed with an immediate left hook, it got stuck behind Tito's ducked head. As Hopkins' body turned with the momentum of the punch, the hand behind Felix's head pushed him to the canvas. It was ruled a slip, but the downing was evidence that Trinidad's legs were not fully under him. Trinidad got up, and Hopkins began to apply a systematic beating.

Trinidad had shown little ability to block Hopkins' right hand, and now in a weakened state he was even more susceptible. Hopkins calmly tagged Trinidad each time he moved his hands. At the midpoint, Hopkins launched a huge hook and Trinidad caught it flush on the chin. Tito's eyes now looked glassy, his legs wobbled in place, and he looked ready to be knocked out. Trinidad finished the eleventh holding on for dear life, but Hopkins continued to throw and land. Hopkins was doing to Trinidad exactly as Trinidad had done to Vargas and Reid: bomb them with short accurate punches when they were too tired and too stunned to defend themselves. There was ample speculation as to whether Trinidad would leave his stool to fight the final round.

Ever the warrior, Trinidad did emerge for the final round, but it was only a matter of time. Hopkins was able to have his way with Trinidad, and as Trinidad tried in vain to knock out Hopkins with a big final blow, he repeatedly ate double-counters. Bang-bang. Bang-bang. Hopkins was popping Trinidad at will. After each exchange, the two would momentarily lean on each other in a clinch. Each time, Trinidad looked blankly over Hopkins' shoulder, as if praying for the end of the fight to arrive. It did. Trinidad threw a left hook at center ring. Hopkins blocked the punch with a raised glove and then turned the glove over into a perfect right cross. The punch sailed across Tito's shoulders and clipped the point of his chin. Trinidad fell backwards and took a few half-steps on his heels before collapsing to the canvas.

Trinidad sat there for a few seconds looking completely blank. He tried to push himself up to standing, but fell back onto the seat of his pants at the count of four. By six he had turned over to hands and knees, and at eight he tipped into the ropes. Using the ropes to pull himself up at nine-and-a-half, Trinidad beat the count by the slimmest of margins. Steve Smoger had already raised his hands to wave off the fight. But as his lips formed the word "Ten," he realized that Trinidad was standing in front of him, ready to fight. Given a few more seconds to evaluate Trinidad's desperate condition, Smoger would have likely completed his wave-off... but Felix Trinidad, Sr. rushed into the ring to halt the fight himself. Felix Trinidad, previously undefeated, had been knocked out in the final round.

Hopkins leapt in the air, and landed on his back in the ring. Looking up at the lights, he stomped his feet into the canvas. Then he stopped moving, removed the smile from his face, and calmly stared at the MSG ceiling above. As a flood of well-wishers stormed the ring, Hopkins lay there in complete serenity. He was soon up and leading chants of "U-S-A" with the cheering crowd.

To rank this as Upset of the Year is to allege that Hopkins never had a chance to win this fight. But despite a resume that included 13 successful middleweight title defenses, and no losses in the eight years since he was outpointed by a young Roy Jones, few people picked Hopkins to defeat the amazing Trinidad. But Hopkins did more than that... he dominated Trinidad, handing out the type of one-sided beating that Trinidad has become known for. Just as Reid and Vargas were not the same after their losses, Trinidad, too, may not fully recover. It was that bad a beating.

At the time of the stoppage, Boxing Chronicle had scored 11 consecutive rounds for Hopkins (110-99). The official judges had found only a few rounds to give to Tito, scoring the bout 109-100, and 107-102 (twice) through eleven completed rounds.

And so Bernard Hopkins (40-2-1/29) unified the WBA, IBF, and WBC middleweight titles and took home a bronze statue of Sugar Ray Robinson to commemorate the event. At 36 years old, he's never looked better... and his prospects have never been bigger. Of course, there will be a lucrative rematch against Trinidad. But a rematch with Roy Jones may loom as an even bigger showdown. Now that Trinidad's history-seeking rise to 175 is over, Hopkins is the only opponent for Jones that means anything.

But no matter who Hopkins fights next, one thing is certain: his place in middleweight history. With this drubbing of Trinidad, Hopkins not only became the first undisputed middleweight champ since Marvin Hagler, but broke Carlos Monzon's standing record of consecutive title defenses. Even if Hopkins were to lose a Trinidad rematch, his ranking amongst the greatest middleweights of all time is secure.

As for Trinidad, if he can't rematch with Hopkins immediately, there are plenty of other opponents out there for him. Topping the list is Oscar De la Hoya, who is still in search of a vulnerable opponent. The Golden Boy may have decided that this version of Tito would be easy to beat. No matter the foe, Trinidad will probably take a long rest. While Bernard Hopkins emerged from this showdown virtually unmarked, Trinidad sustained the type of beating that fighters don't like to take more than once in a career. We wish him a speedy recovery.

On the undercard, former world champion Danny Romero hit another roadblock in a career full of them. This time, the obstruction was Ratanachai Vorapin, who exposed Romero as a one-trick has-been at the tender age of 27.

Romero looked great for a round and a half, using blind aggression to pressure the southpaw Thai fighter. Romero was very busy for about four minutes, but his power punches lack the steam they carried at flyweight and his deadly right hand was rarely thrown short and straight. Instead, Romero comes in head-first while looping his power punches. When he's busy, as he was to start this contest, he's effective. But after tiring early in the second, Romero was once again the no-defense brawler we've seen post-Tapia.

Vorapin suffered a deep cut over his left eye in the third round when the two fighters clashed heads, but it was Romero who once again emerged looking worse for wear and tear. Straight left hands swelled Romero's right eye as early as the fourth, and a cut was added to the bridge of his nose shortly thereafter. By the fifth, Romero's no-defense style had created another cut, this one from a punch, which ran along a fold over his left eye. Blood from the cuts, and a damaged nose, covered Romero's face for most of the later rounds.

With Romero sucking wind, Vorapin's job became extremely easy. Time and again, Romero would launch several wide punches over Vorapin's head only to run into a stiff counter left. Romero had no answer for the left he kept walking into and showed no ability to adjust in the ring. By the final rounds, Vorapin was playing with Romero, laughing at his telegraphed attempts, making Romero give chase across the ring, and then landing clean lefts whenever he felt like it. Boxing Chronicle scored the bout 98-93 for Vorapin. The officials were only slightly kinder to Romero, giving Vorapin a majority decision 97-94, 96-94, 95-95.

Romero (now 41-4-1/35) was once on the path to greatness, but now his career looks mostly finished. Since losing to Tapia, he's dropped a decision to Vuyani Bungu and settled for an embarrassing draw with Enrique Jupiter. Promotional problems have pulled Romero out of several title fights, often at the last minute. And now he's been dealt another loss in an attempt to step-up the competition. Seeing as Romero has emerged from tune-up fights with the same kind of facial swelling he sustained this night, he might best consider a segue into training.

Also on the abbreviated undercard, Ricardo Lopez moved to 50-0/47 with a boxing exhibition against overmatched Zolani Petelo. Petelo began the bout timidly. Allowing Lopez to take his time was a big mistake. In the second round, Petelo was knocked down by a single left hook from Lopez. He beat the count and answered Lopez' attacks with a series of headbutts and low blows. Warnings from Arthur Mercante Sr. did little to stop Petelo's fouling, and so Lopez took care of it himself. After one flagrant butt in the sixth, Lopez actually butted Petelo back, and then hammered him with a 20-punch flurry in a neutral corner.

Petelo survived that onslaught, but could not land against the undefeated Mexican legend. After the seventh round, in which Petelo received a sustained attack, his corner informed him that Lopez was completely exhausted. "He's done!" they shouted. They were wrong. Lopez knocked Petelo out in the next round with a series of uppercuts, hooks and right hands. Petelo went down in what looked to be an intentional attempt to take a knee, but when Mercante reached the count of ten, Petelo hadn't even attempted to get up. Lopez KO8.

The fight, for the IBF 108 lb. title, was Arthur Mercante Sr.'s last as an active referee. Having reffed world title fights the world over since the late 1940s, Mercante leaves the ring as one of the sports most respected officials. Mercante, 81, claimed that he would take a short time off before returning to boxing as a scoring official. We wish him all the best in his new career.

.....Chris Bushnell

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