Opinion: Hopkins-Trinidad: The best victory of the last 15 years?
By Hector Franco
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September 29, 2016
MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, NEW YORK – 15 years ago at Madison Square Garden in New York City, one of the most important fights of this century took place. Felix Trinidad met Bernard Hopkins in the finals of Don King’s middleweight title tournament. The fight was originally to take place on September 15th, 2001. This was changed when the events of September 11th took place. The bout was rescheduled for two weeks later on September 29th, 2001. It would be the first major boxing event to take place since September 11th. The fight is one of the most significant in boxing history.
The fight was put together when Felix Trinidad made the move up to middleweight in 2001. Trinidad was riding a wave in his career where he was taking on top competition fight after fight. His career had been stalled from 1995-1998 when he tried to get out of his contract with Don King. Trinidad was kept relatively inactive during this time. The only big fight that was proposed to him was one against Terry Norris, which never came to fruition. By the year 1999, Trinidad had concluded his promotional woes with Don King. In that year, he participated in the biggest fights of his career at that point. Trinidad faced a faded Pernell Whitaker in February 1999. He gave Whitaker the clearest loss of his career in an impressive performance. After making a mandatory defense of his title against Hugo Pineda, Trinidad stepped in the ring against Oscar De La Hoya.
De La Hoya-Trinidad was one of the most anticipated fights in the history of boxing. Looking back to 1999, the fight may have ended up being more disappointing than last year’s Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. The fight pitted two of the biggest stars in the sport against one another. It had the longtime rivalry of Puerto Rico vs. Mexico. Most importantly, the fight had two fighters in their prime and at the same age of 26. Trinidad’s record at the time of the fight was 35-0 with 30 knockouts. De La Hoya’s record was 31-0, with 26 knockouts. It was billed the fight of the millennium.
The fight failed to live up to expectations. Trinidad ended up winning a controversial majority decision that is still debated to this day. Trinidad would then move up to the 154-pound division. He left welterweight as the unified WBC & IBF champion. Trinidad to this day is the longest reigning welterweight champion in boxing history. He holds the second most title defenses for the division in 15.
Trinidad didn’t waste any time when he moved to 154. He immediately faced WBA 154-pound champion, David Reid. Reid at the time was relatively inexperienced with only 14 fights under his belt as a professional. The Philadelphia fighter was best known for winning a gold medal at the 1996 Olympic games. After an even first half, Trinidad took over the fight in the seventh round. Trinidad hurt Reid with a left hook on the inside and Reid was never able to recover. Reid made it the final bell where Trinidad was given a unanimous decision victory. Trinidad would face Mamadou Thiam next before facing the undefeated Fernando Vargas in December 2000. Vargas was only 22 years old when he faced Trinidad. He already had the look of a veteran garnering victories over Winky Wright, Ike Quartey, Yory Boy Campas and Raul Marquez.
The fight ended up being everything Trinidad’s fight with Oscar De La Hoya wasn’t. Both men traded knockdowns in the fight. It also featured many shifts in momentum. By the 12th round, Vargas had taken more punishment than Trinidad. The Puerto Rican closed the show in the last round with 3 knockdowns forcing the referee to call a halt to the fight. It was the biggest victory of Trinidad’s career and solidified him as one of the best in the world pound for pound.
Trinidad fever hit its apex the following year. Trinidad moved up to the middleweight division and entered Don King’s middleweight tournament. It featured Bernard Hopkins, Keith Holmes, and William Joppy. Trinidad would face William Joppy first for the WBA middleweight title. The fight took place in May 2001 at Madison Square Garden. The scene at the Garden was that of a college football game or a World Cup soccer match. Fans were there to see Trinidad destroy William Joppy. In what may have been Trinidad’s most destructive performance, Trinidad stopped William Joppy in the 5th round. Calls were made for Trinidad to move up and face Roy Jones afterward. Even HBO’s Larry Merchant compared Trinidad to perhaps boxing’s greatest fighter.
Ringside that night was Trinidad’s next opponent, Bernard Hopkins. Hopkins for many was a mere afterthought after Trinidad’s performance against William Joppy. Hopkins, however, was undeterred by the task at hand. Hopkins had defeated Keith Holmes to make him the WBC & IBF middleweight champion in the first round of the tournament. Hopkins saw Trinidad as his opportunity to show the world how great he was.
Bernard’s career had a different trajectory than that of Felix Trinidad. Hopkins was not coddled as a prizefighter. He lost his pro debut and in his first title shot against Roy Jones Jr., he was beaten soundly. Hopkins would get another title shot against Segundo Mercado in 1994. Hopkins first fought Mercado in Ecuador and had to settle for a draw. In the rematch in 1995, Hopkins redeemed himself by stopping Mercado via TKO. Hopkins was now the IBF middleweight champion.
Hopkins went through the division defeating John David Jackson, Glen Johnson, Simon Brown and Antwun Echols on his way to 13 title defenses. One away from tying the middleweight record of 14 title defenses set by Carlon Monzon in the 1970’s.
The Trinidad-Hopkins press conferences to promote the fight were all filled with tension. The most memorable moment was when Hopkins in an exchange with Trinidad grabbed the Puerto Rican flag and threw it on the ground. Hopkins did this in Puerto Rico and quickly ran out of the arena he was in as he was chased off by Puerto Rican fans. Hopkins would have to stay in a locker room that was guarded by security guards and needed a motorcade to be escorted to the airport. It became a dangerous situation as Hopkins' limo was also set on fire. For Hopkins, it was important for him to have a mental edge going into the fight. This was to not only get into the head of Trinidad but to boost his own confidence.
When the events of September 11th took place that postponed the fight it affected both fighters in different ways. Hopkins was able to go to gyms in Brooklyn to train and eventually head back to Philadelphia to resume training. Trinidad, on the other hand, was stuck in a hotel in Manhattan for the two weeks the fight was postponed. He visited many fire departments to do his part after the 9/11 attacks. Trinidad was at peak form for the 15th of September and without a proper way of training it may have affected his performance.
On the night of September 29th, 2001, there was a feeling that something special was going to take place. The night started with some controversy as members of the Hopkins camp complained about the way Trinidad’s hands were wrapped. The appropriate changes were made and the fight took place as promised.
Hopkins came out with his executioner mask which was the norm at the time. Trinidad came out with an all Puerto Rican wardrobe. He wore an NYPD (New York Police Department) hat to pay tribute to those who lost their lives on September 11th. Trinidad’s entrance was memorable, but what happened inside the ring was all about Bernard Hopkins.
Trinidad’s record before facing Hopkins was 40-0, with 33 knockouts. Hopkins was 39-2-1, with 28 knockouts. The fight started off slow with both men circling one another and trading jabs. In the second round, Hopkins landed the first big punch of the fight with a big overhand right at the end of the round. The action picked up in the fourth round as Trinidad landed his first power punches of the night. Hopkins took the shots well and landed his own power shots on Trinidad.
Hopkins throughout his middleweight title reign was known to brawl with opponents. Most notably in his fights with Antwun Echols. Against Trinidad, Hopkins was following a strict game plan. He was using his movement and operating behind a jab to offset any of Trinidad’s offense.
The Puerto Ricans best round came in the sixth as he was finally able to get Hopkins on the ropes and land some left hooks. It was the first clear round for Trinidad. Hopkins would be unfazed by this development, as the fight seemed to be going according to plan. By the time the ninth round came, there was a feeling that Trinidad was in real danger of losing the fight. Hopkins was now willingly going to the ropes only to catch Trinidad with straight right hands and duck under his left hook. Trinidad kept coming forward but could not find a target to hit Hopkins.
The last stand for Trinidad essentially came in the 10th round as he put it all on the line. Trinidad went after Hopkins firing several flurries. While Trinidad was firing he wasn’t landing cleanly. Hopkins took advantage and landed several huge shots on the Puerto Rican. Right before the bell to end the round Hopkins landed a punch that stunned Trinidad. Afterward, Hopkins kept attacking Trinidad after the bell. The referee had to separate the two fighters. It was clear that Hopkins was the fresher fighter going into the championship rounds. Both the 6th and 10th rounds were nominated for round of the year in 2001. The 10th round won the award for Ring Magazine.
Trinidad went into his corner exhausted and looked tired going into the 11th round. Trinidad was on shaky legs while Hopkins was ready to put the finishing touches to end the fight. The final round had arrived and with Hopkins leading on all three scorecards by a wide margin, Trinidad needed a knockout to win. Unfortunately for Trinidad, Hopkins needed a knockout just as much to cement his legacy.
The end came with a huge counter right hand by Hopkins. Trinidad was visibly shaken and after the punch Hopkins gave Trinidad a push to put him on the canvas. The referee, Steve Smoger, counted Trinidad as he barely made it to his feet. Trinidad’s father/trainer came in the ring to stop the fight from continuing.
Bernard Hopkins had won the middleweight tournament. He was now the first undisputed middleweight champion since Marvin Hagler. The fighter from Philadelphia had also tied Carlos Monzon’s middleweight title defense record of 14 with the victory. Hopkins laid down in the middle of the ring to bask in the glory of the win. Hopkins gave some insight into his victory over Trinidad on a recent episode of HBO's boxing podcast.
There have been many great victories since the turn of the century. It’s hard to imagine a better victory than Bernard Hopkins’ over Felix Trinidad in 2001. A victory against a fighter in his prime who was already a Hall-of-Famer and ranked as one the best pound-for-pound is hard to beat. The performance within the victory was just as important.
Looking back at some of the biggest wins in this century we have other contenders. Floyd Mayweather against Diego Corrales in January 2001. Manny Pacquiao against Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003 and his victory over Miguel Cotto in 2009 were great wins. Juan Manuel Marquez with his sixth round knockout over Manny Pacquiao in 2012 is another example. In many ways, timing is everything. Timing is what’s important in this equation. At the time Hopkins defeated Trinidad he was better than Diego Corrales ever became. Trinidad wasn’t put through an unnecessary catch weight like Miguel Cotto. Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao were both passed their primes when they met in December 2012.
There were more victories throughout 2000-2016 that deserve mention. In the end, they pale in comparison to what Bernard Hopkins accomplished in 2001. His victories over Kelly Pavlik, Antonio Tarver, and Jean Pascal at higher weights were great as well. They don’t match the win over Trinidad. If Hopkins never defeated Pavlik, Tarver or Pascal he would still be a Hall-of-Famer and recognized as one of the best middleweights in history. This isn’t true without the victory over Trinidad. If Trinidad had won that night, Bernard Hopkins would have been known as just another titleholder.
If there are any victories that you feel are better than Bernard Hopkins over Felix Trinidad, please share and comment below. Check out the video below for highlights of Hopkins-Trinidad. Video courtesy of Gorilla Productions
(Featured Photo: James Keivom/Getty Images)