Hopkins’ path toward that respect began with an ugly, clinch-filled, one-sided decision win over Holmes. But the real challenge awaited in Trinidad. “Tito” came into the tournament with a record of 39-0, 32 knockouts. Some considered him the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. He was everybody’s pick for Fighter of the Year in 2000, a year in which he rose from welterweight and beat up two previously unbeaten U.S. Olympians in the junior middleweight division, David Reid and Fernando Vargas. In his middleweight debut, before a deafening crowd full of Puerto Rican and Puerto Rican-American supporters at the Garden, Trinidad bounced Joppy off the canvas three times en route to a jaw-dropping fifth-round knockout. Larry Merchant sat ringside as a color analyst for HBO.
Larry Merchant: I recall Joppy saying afterwards in the dressing room, “I’d never been hit like that. I felt something I never felt before.” And I thought, “Wow.” That Trinidad had carried his punch from the welterweight division into the middleweight division, which is unusual. We’re talking about a 13-pound leap. And for a guy that was a considered a tough, top middleweight to say that, got my attention.
Alan Hopper, too, recalls being in awe of Tito’s power, and his popularity.
Hopper: Not too many people got past Tito’s left hand. And, I mean, you’ve gotta remember, when Tito fought Fernando Vargas, both the fighters were undefeated, but Fernando was 20-0 and had 169, I think it was, amateur fights. He had never been knocked down in his life, amateur or professional, until 27 seconds into round one, when Tito hit him with the left hook. And William Joppy found out the same thing, and so did many others. I was standing next to Kevin Wynn, who was head of boxing at the Garden at that time, and, of all people, Bob Dylan. And we were sitting there while William Joppy was laying on the ground after a knockdown, and just looking up and around at all the seats at the Garden, and the whole place just rockin’, and that’s when Kevin told me, “This is the loudest it’s ever been in this building.”