By Steve Gregg
As small spontaneous parties began to erupt in the early morning hours on the mean streets of North Philly, the collective hearts of an island nation sank in despair, when IBF/WBC middleweight champion Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins (40-2-1-1NC, 29 KO's) pulled off a major upset and stopped the pride of Puerto Rico, previously undefeated WBA middleweight champ Felix "Tito" Trinidad (40-1, 33 KO's) to unify the crown for the first time in 14 years.
The 3 to 1 underdog Hopkins (157) fought a brilliant tactical fight, moving to the left away from powerful Trinidad's (158 1/2) potent left hook, stinging him with a succession of jabs and clean rights and chipping away at the Puerto Rican legend's resolve, before cracking his foundation and jawline with a thunderous right cross for a dramatic 12th round stoppage.
"I'm the best middleweight in the world. I just needed an opportunity to prove it," said the elated Hopkins afterwards.
"He's a great fighter," said the soft-spoken Trinidad. "I thought the fight was even until the end."
--Recipe For Ruin--
For all the trash talking and media hype before the fight, the unification title bout started slowly, as Hopkins, 36, and Trinidad, 28, studied each other in the first round with tentative left jabs, probing each other's defense as they circled about the ring. The sparse action continue in the 2nd, when suddenly the evasive Hopkins, 6'1", came off the ropes and lashed out with a solid right-hand to the chin that made the stunned Trinidad, 5'11", hold as the round concluded. It was the first sign of things to come.
Neutralizing Trinidad's power in the 3rd by swiftly moving to his left, Hopkins got in a good left hook to the head. Trading left hooks with the pressuring noted puncher, the shrewd Hopkins connected with a sharp right and then broke off the engagement before Trinidad could counter as the quick stepping Philadelphian moved and grooved.
--Rumbling Right Back--
Turning up the heat in the 4th, Trinidad came out hooking and landed his lethal left on the steel chin of the willing Hopkins with no effect. Trading hard, Trinidad zeroed in with a sizzling one two, but was countered by the resilient Hopkins' right-hand. Burying a clubbing right into Trinidad's midsection, Hopkins pressed his advantage, clipping the oncoming Trinidad with a clean right to the head. Another nice right-hand by Hopkins broke through the defense of Trinidad as the round ended.
The 5th round began with Hopkins making the aggressive Trinidad momentarily back away with a sharp one two. Short with his jab, Trinidad absorbed a series of stinging jabs from the mobile Hopkins, who again got home with a right. Continuing to duel with jabs, it was Hopkins who possessed the more accurate left as he targeted the on coming Trinidad's head. Unloading a wicked left hook, Trinidad was counted by another riveting right as the busier Hopkins continued to get the better of the prolonged exchange with the cleaner blows. Coming on fast and hooking hard, Trinidad was clipped and countered by Hopkins' sneaky right.
With his offense in full bloom in the 6th, the rampaging Trinidad won the battle but lost the war as the tenacious Hopkins stayed right with him. In the most intense action of the bout, the proud fighters blasted each other in a furious barrage of leather that had the fight fans in the Garden screaming their support for the gloved mayhem that they were privileged to witnessed. Growing frustrated as the countering Hopkins fired back shots off the ropes, the hard throwing Trinidad was warned for using his right elbow as the exciting round concluded. It was his high water mark as the superbly conditioned Hopkins took control after that, dominating the second half of the fight and turning it into a romp.
--One Legend Ends And Another Begins--
The old warrior Hopkins moved firmly into the driver's seat in the 8th, rocking the Puerto Rican sensation with several righthands leads. A solid clean right caught Trinidad coming in and snapped his head back. After getting tagged with a one two, Trinidad elected to showboat and as he shuffled with his feet, Hopkins clubbed him with a right while continuing to do a workman like job on his heavily favored foe.
Making Trinidad miss with the left hook in the 9th, Hopkins nailed him with a right that stopped Tito in his tracks. Wading in behind his bread and butter left hook, Trinidad paid as Hopkins finished strong, banging him with three unanswered righthands to his elongated chin. At the bell, a flustered Trinidad went back to his corner, wearing the expression of a fighter who knew tonight wasn't his night.
Fighting off the ropes in the 10th, Hopkins further discouraged Trinidad with a hard right to the head. Rumbling inside, Hopkins sunk in a solid left hook and initiated another brutal exchange, punishing the teetering Trinidad by ripping in a numbing right uppercut to the chin. In-between rounds, the ringside physician visited Trinidad's corner, to see if the dazed Tito wanted to continue.
At the start of the 11th, Hopkins smashed in short hard left hook. Connecting with a right uppercut, Hopkins shoved the weakening Trinidad to the canvas. As the action resumed, Hopkins again tested Trinidad's chin with a right uppercut. Another right sent the sweat flying from Trinidad's head as the one-sided bout became target practice for the red hot Hopkins.
Hooking off the jab in the abbreviated 12th, Hopkins drilled Trinidad with a four punch combination. The right-hand of Hopkins again got in with noticeable effect and as Trinidad tried to pull Hopkins into a clench, he was floored by the fight ending right cross that sent him crashing to the deck. Barely beating referee Steve Smoger's count, Tito was saved from further damage when his father, Felix senior jumped into the ring and halted the proceedings. Time of the spectacular stoppage, 1:18 as the cagey Hopkins pulls off one of the year's biggest upsets.
"I said that this would be the easiest fight of my whole career. Some people thought I was off my rocker. They thought old age was giving me some type of mental problems," said the jubilant Hopkins. "My actions speak louder than my words."
On this unforgettable night at the Garden, they sure did.