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Hopkins Sublime: A Ringside Report
By Mike DeLisa
The fight ended the way that many predicted -- Bernard Hopkins flat on his back in the center of the ring and Felix "Tito" Trinidad standing near a neutral corner.
Of course, Hopkins was celebrating a scintillating domination and ultimate kayo of Tito for the Lineal Middleweight title. Trinidad had barely beaten referee Steve Smoger´s ten-count, and Trinidaddy was scrambling across the ring to make sure that his son would not be punched again.
For the rest of the evening I could do little more than a poor imitation of Claude Raines in Casablanca, repeatng over and over again "I'm shocked I tell you! Shocked!" Imagine how Trinidad felt. And I was not so much shocked at the fact that Hopkins won -- indeed, Lou DiBella had convinced me to change my prediction in the hours before the fight -- but by the fact that I had just witnessed firsthand one of the most disciplined, well-executed battle plans of the last 75 years, perhaps of all time.
Put it this way, Billy Conn's effort in his first fight against Joe Louis is considered among the best in boxing history; and he lost the fight! Now, imagine if the hot-headed Conn had controlled his fervor for a kayo and had won the fight. That, essentially is what Hopkins did. Indeed, Hopkins-Trinidad ranks alongside such other masterpieces as Duran-DeJesus III; Pep-Saddler II; the aforementioned Conn-Louis I, and whatever you select as the best fought title fight of your lifetime.
At the weigh-in on Wednesday, Hopkins sure looked in better shape. Bert Sugar was of the strong view that the delay in the bout worked against Trinidad, who was stuck in NYC while Hopkins returned home. I had the suspicion, though, that Hopkins might talk himself into a state of physical collapse before the first bell. I had the chance to chat briefly with Lou DiBella after the fighters cleared out of the Garden's Theater. DiBella was adamant that Bernard would win, and win big. I believed him, maybe because he told me that in one sentence whereas Bernard was hustled off the stage still talking. I told DiBella that I could see Hopkins landing his overhand right to great effect; DiBella smiled inscrutably, leaving me with review my pick.
On fight night the Garden slowly swelled with the typically late arriving New York crowd. I tried to focus on some of the preliminaries, but spent lots of time wandering from my seat to the press room. I did make a special effort to concentrate on watching Ricardo Lopez defend his title, partly because I had never seen Lopez fight live before, and partly as a tribute to Arthur Mercante Sr. who was refereeing the last fight of his career. Lopez won and Mercante walked out of the ring a final time.
At one point I ran into the ubiquitous Lou DiBella in the hallway between the ring and the press area. Once again, DiBella exuded true confidence in his fighter, and I wondered if indeed Don King would be "shitting bricks" come the following morning.
The crowd now bristled with expectation. After a flurry of introductions, tributes, a surreal "God Bless America" (wherein the praries not the oceans were white with foam), and a gutwrenching "Star Spangled Banner," sung by New York cop Danny Rivera, Bernard Hopkins and Tito Trinidad faced each other across about 18 feet of empty canvas upon which both would collaborate to paint a masterpiece.
And yet, the 1st round of the fight had Hopkins on the retreat, unwilling to mix it up. Was Bernard about to repeat his non-effort against Roy Jones? Now, some days after the fight the question is "I wonder what the first brushstrokes of the Mona Lisa looked like?"
By the second round it was clear that Bernard had a plan and was sticking to it. Trinindad advanced like the Titobot some alleged him to be. By the fourth, Hopkins had demonstrated that he could time Trinidad's punches; that he could hit and move; and, most importantly, could hit with enough power to cause Tito to hesitate in his attack.
One move Hopkins used repeatedly -- and is very hard ot deal with in the ring -- was to slide to his right just as Trinidad set to punch. This had the effect of freezing Trinidad while Bernard could either keep moving or counterpunch.
At the start of the fifth round, I looked around the Garden -- the many Puerto Rican flags were nowhere to be seen, instead, they sat crumpled like "ropa vieja" on many the lap of a near desolate Trinidad fan. It was clear by this point that Trinidad would likely lose the fight.
These middle rounds started the slow ascent by Hopkins to the last round knockout. Ever cautious, he still managed to batter Trinidad in a debiltating way. Time and again he was hurting Tito, and by the late rounds, it was a question of whether Trinindad's will would carry him to the final bell.
At the end of the eleventh round a battered Trinidad made his way to is corner, taking the time to salute the crowd. I had not given Trinidad a round and some talk in the crowd was that he should not be allowed out for the last round. One question would be what could Trinidad have doe differently? Not much as it simply was "not his night." Yet, through it all, Trinidad continued to try to turn the fight around with his power punches.
By the last round, even rabid Trinidad fans were awed by the discipline with which Hopkins went about his job. Now,Hopkins would try to affix his signature to a masterpiece.
Some say that art is a moment made eternal.A short minute or so into the round, Hopkins looped a crushing right over Trinidad's guard. The fight was over. Hopkins knew it. Trinidad still on his feet surely knew it. The audible gasp of the crowd showed that they knew it. We all hovered there in that eternal moment.
And then Felix Trinidad collpased to the mat.
Felix, as was fitting a champion, struggled to his feet after a couple of failed tries, his will still intact. But, he was thoroughly beaten.
While travelling on business this week I picked up a newspaper in South America. Tito had made his way home and gave his view of the fight. His comments can be translated as "he hit me with combinations and then ran; when I tried to connect he was too far away. I tried to catch him, but at the same time I had to take care as he punched strongly and I had to be careful of those." Not a bad recap Tito!
Nowehere in his comments did Felix call for a rematch.
Photo: Ruthie DiTucci