It was time for the opening bell. When Hopkins’ warm-up jacket came off, we saw a giant GoldenPalace.com ad painted across his upper back—this kicked off what would become a huge trend in boxing for the next several years, of fighters turning their bodies into billboards. The online betting site Golden Palace paid Hopkins $100,000 for the advertisement, and if you have any doubts about Bernard Hopkins’ craft or his confidence, know this: He bet that entire $100,000 on himself to win at 3½-to-1 odds. Those odds sound steep knowing what we know now about Hopkins, but at the time, Trinidad was so red hot that there was talking of him facing light heavyweight champ Roy Jones after he destroyed Hopkins. Here’s Jim Lampley on his prefight premonitions, which mirrored those of most of the public at large.
Lampley: I didn’t give Bernard much chance, in my mind. I was naïve enough, at that moment, to favor Trinidad very heavily and feel as though he was potentially too dynamic and too good an offensive fighter for Bernard to beat him. I underestimated at that moment Bernard’s level of craft and his capability for mentally mastering that kind of big-fight confrontation. I thought that Trinidad had by far the greater experience in that kind of event and therefore it was very logical to favor him to win the fight.
Bernard Hopkins began to buck those expectations the moment the opening bell rang. He boxed cautiously and effectively in round one, and by the end of round two, he was really starting to dial in his offense.
Before long, Hopkins was putting on a clinic. His focus couldn’t be disturbed, and he was outmaneuvering Trinidad at every turn. Tito kept moving forward and firing his power shots, but Hopkins was getting the better of nearly every exchange in rounds three through five. Here’s Larry Merchant on how Hopkins was defying expectations:
Merchant: I don’t think that many people recall that in his original incarnation, he was a kind of rough guy. He was not considered a master boxer, by far. He was using his strength, a really big guy as a middleweight, and his toughness, and a certain improvisational, intuitive style, but I always thought of him as a kind of feral warrior, in trying to establish his dominance of the middleweight division, which was splintered all over the place. So, it did take me a little while to sense what he was up to, once the fight began. And then my head clicked into, well, Bernard Hopkins is a Philadelphia fighter, he survived the gym wars of Philadelphia for years—he had to know something about boxing as well as banging. And we’re seeing it now.
Trinidad’s father/trainer remained in denial, telling him after the third round, “It’s only a matter of time until you get him out of there,” and after the sixth that he was winning the fight—even though at most Tito had won a round or two. Referee Steve Smoger recalls the moment in the sixth round when he realized it was Hopkins’ fight to lose.
Smoger: Bernard just had answers for everything that Tito had, and I recall specifically in the middle rounds, Tito landed a crisp, clean, signature right-hand flush. Bernard grunted and continued pressing the action and I could see the demeanor of Tito, “I hit this guy with everything, and he’s still here.”
So how was Hopkins pulling this off? We may as well let the man himself explain.
Hopkins: The left hook was the key, because his left hook, not like a Joe Frazier, in his own way, he had a left hook. And I wish I would have took a picture of my swollen right hand. If you look at the fight, I had my right hand plastered to my ear. If you look at the fight, it stayed there. The right hand barely left my right cheek. Every time Trinidad need to get off that power left hand, he gets into a left-right-left-go. So it’s 1-2-3. It’s a rhythm. You have to get in between, half of three is one and a half, and you have to get in at the right time, at the right time, at the right time, from one and a half at the end to one and a half at the beginning makes three, and if you can time that, when he rocks, and you get him coming in a half of that last rock, which is the third one, you can catch him and make him start all over. He had to start all over. I watched that in the Oscar fight, I watched that in the Vargas fight, I watched that in a lot of fights that he had, that is Tito, he has to rock before he gets his power, which makes the rhythm, then power. And once I noticed that and I would look for that left hook every time, and every time he rocked, I touched him softly, I touched him hard sometimes—just on the shoulders—threw it out there, rock him, offset his 1-2-boom! I catch him right in the middle of the last one. And guess what? He had to start all over. He had to pick it up and start. He didn’t start from where left off. He started back. And any time I didn’t want him to reset, I threw combinations, I beat him to the punch, I start confusing him. And now remember, he threw my flag down. I’m Trinidad, he threw my flag down. I gotta get him. He’s antsy. He’s itchin’. He rushin’. And he’s punching with madness and anger and hatred. So now, this guy’s not really thinking. Here’s the mental now. Here’s the mental now. So now he’s thinking, “I can’t let this guy not get knocked out by me. I can’t let this guy win this fight, because my country, they will never forget this.” So he riding on pride, he riding on how much it would make him even bigger than he is. He riding on I did something that he didn’t like either. I don’t care how good you are—that’s a lot, man.
Alan Hopper, Don King’s head of public relations, told me that Team Trinidad completely guessed wrong on Hopkins’ strategy; that in training, Tito was wearing extra padding on his body, asking his sparring partners to try to rough him up, thinking Hopkins would fight him the way he fought Keith Holmes and so many other opponents. But as Lampley recalls, Hopkins instead followed the blueprint Oscar De La Hoya used to take Trinidad to a highly controversial decision loss two years earlier.
Lampley: The biggest thing in the fight is footwork. Just as it was against Tarver and against Pavlik. The biggest thing Bernard had was a cosmic understanding of how to move his feet to take away the other guy’s confidence that he could do what he thought he could do. When you can’t find the opponent, and he can find you pretty routinely, that’s very discouraging. And Bernard had fabulous footwork, knew how to apply it, he made Trinidad look silly, and Trinidad’s confidence evaporated pretty fast.
Trinidad made a last stand in round 10, which The Ring magazine named the Round of the Year. Both landed heavy shots. But Hopkins ultimately asserted his superiority as the round wound down.
Hopkins rocked Trinidad badly just before the bell sounded to end round 11. And 57 seconds into the 12th, he blocked a left hook with that right glove he had pinned to his cheek, and countered with a perfect right hand.
The final moments were a bit confusing, as Smoger was about to wave it off when Trinidad beat the count at 9, but before Smoger could make a decision, Papa Trinidad came into the ring and surrendered on his son’s behalf. Here’s Smoger, with an interesting clarification on the end of the fight.
Smoger: He did beat the count. And because it was the 12th round, I would have permitted it to continue had his dad not stopped it. In other words, I think he was well enough to continue. I was prepared to stay right on him, and any further shot I would have gone in. But he was so valiant, and he did beat the count. And the fact that, I don’t know how much time was remaining, but I wanted to give him every opportunity to finish on his feet. I would have allowed him to go, but watch, had he not been able to defend himself or finish with protecting himself, I would have stopped it. But the corner knows the fighter better than I do, and his dad saw fit to come in, so that took the decision out of my hands.
By CompuBox count, Hopkins outlanded Trinidad in every single round of the fight. The final tallies saw Hopkins almost exactly double the previously undefeated Puerto Rican icon: He threw 653 punches to 329 from Trinidad, and he landed 260 to just 129 for Tito. Hopkins would produce similarly spectacular performances throughout his 40s—upsetting Antonio Tarver for the light heavyweight title, dominating 17-years-his-junior middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik, and reclaiming a lineal title one last time when he beat Jean Pascal at a record 46 years of age. So where does the Trinidad fight fit in? Here’s Larry Merchant.
Merchant: I would say it’s the greatest performance in his prime years. It was a masterpiece of its kind, and nobody had ever seen him fight quite like that, as a counterpuncher, and as a guy who stood his ground and counterpunched and took a couple of punches and never got flustered. Never backed down from—respected, but didn’t back down from Trinidad’s power.