Every time I’ve missed a major boxing fight, over the subsequent few days, I always found myself wishing that somebody had written a column that included everything I wanted to know about the fight — who won, why they won, what happened, what were the PPV highlights and lowlights, what were the classic quotes, how were the announcers, who were the celebrity sightings, what were the funniest moments and so on.
So why not me? Why not now?
Hence, the debut of “The 13th Round,” which chronicles the middleweight championship fight between Bernard Hopkins and Felix Trinidad from Saturday night (Hopkins won with a KO in the 12th):
Trinidad in a nutshell:
Born in Puerto Rico … nicknamed “Tito” … 27 years-old … 40-0, 33 KO’s … looks a little like Jimmy Chitwood … known for an overpowering left hook … more of a puncher than a boxer, but moves extremely well on his feet … also known for getting “treated” well by the judges (Exhibit A: the De La Hoya decision two years ago) … seemingly gets stronger as he moves up in weight (12 knockdowns in his last four fights) … a favorite of the boxing smarts…
Hasn’t really caught on with the American audience since he doesn’t speak English … trained by his father (which always rears its ugly head in boxing at some point) … predicted a first-round knockout before the fight … can’t look into a camera without either raising his fist, raising an index finger or making one of those Ali-esque “biting the lower lip and looking tough” faces.
Hopkins in a nutshell:
Goes by the nickname “The Executioner” … 39-2-1, 28 KO’s … usually wears a leather executioner mask to the ring, which makes him seem quite creepy if you’ve been drinking … a prohibitive 3-to-1 underdog despite the fact that he hasn’t lost in eight years (’93 decision to Roy Jones Jr.) … successfully defended the middleweight title 13 consecutive times … usually described as a “young 36,” boxing code for “this guy’s spent time in jail” … in Hopkins’ case, he spent seven years in the joint for drug trafficking (back in his 20s) …
Famously suspicious, Hopkins has avoided making deals with any Don King-types over the years … also known for foul-filled fights, a la Spider Rico … isn’t really a boxer or a puncher — more of a “dictator” like Marvin Hagler (in other words, he has a knack for controlling the pace of a fight and getting his licks in first during any exchange) … throws punches from all angles … classic “do what it takes to win” Philly fighter … one of the unintentionally funniest interviews in boxing (he loves the sound of his own voice).
Madison Square Garden — the first major event in Manhattan since Sept. 11.
The broadcast team:
Studio hosts Fran Charles and (former boxing trainer) Emmanuel Stewart, joined by the HBO broadcast team of Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and George Foreman, as well as Bryan Burwell in the “Jim Gray” reporter’s role.
Three things you need to know before the fight:
1. This fight will yield the first undisputed middleweight champion since Marvin Hagler in the mid-’80s.
2. Tito hasn’t been beaten yet; Hopkins hasn’t lost in eight years.
3. Hopkins caused a ruckus during the pre-fight hype tour by twice throwing Puerto Rican flags on the ground (he was upset because a heavily Puerto Rican crowd at the Trinidad-Joppy fight had booed during the national anthem). Given the events of the past few weeks, Hopkins is an odds-on favorite to pull a Hacksaw Jim Duggan and get the “USA! USA!” movement going at some point.
1. Can Tito clinch his place as one of the greatest boxers of his generation? Can he handle the move up in weight (to 160) against a top-notch middleweight?
2. Will Hopkins finally get his respect?3. Will the bad blood from the flag controversy carry over into the ring? And given that Hopkins and his entourage had to be reprimanded this week for wearing skull caps, bandannas and T-shirts that had the American flag on them with the word “WAR,” what tasteless stunts might they pull off during the fight?
4. Will America’s patriotic fervor from the past few weeks collectively subside the moment we see Don King draping himself in the American flag?
Punch-Drunk Rating (pre-fight):
A representative from Hopkins’ camp argued Trinidad’s hands were wrapped too heavily in tape, causing a 30-minute delay in which Trinidad threatened to call off the fight before finally being coerced into a re-taping (probably with Don King holding him at gunpoint). In the studio booth, Fran Charles asked Emanuel Stewart, “What does this delay mean for both fighters?” at least 35 different times during the half-hour delay.
“I will be more stronger and more quicker … I’m smarter, I’m more craftier, I’m a veteran, I got 13 defenses. What’s different between when I fought Roy (when he lost to Jones in ’93) and now is that when I fought Roy, I wasn’t a champion. I didn’t have 13 defenses. You don’t have to have a Harvard graduate to know that.”
Best pre-fight exchange:
Burwell: “You’ve said earlier that you felt tonight was your defining moment. What are you gonna define tonight?”
Hopkins: “Win. W-I-N.”
Burwell: “And when you win, what does that mean?”
Hopkins: “That means legacy. That means Sugar Ray Robinson trophy. That means Carlos Monzon’s record. That means money. Millions.”
Burwell: “What’s more important to you, the millions or the title?”
Hopkins (thinking): “The millions.”
Trinidad had about 15 family/posse members hanging out in his locker room before the fight, all of whom were wearing Puerto Rican flag-style jackets and shirts and had a collective, “Can we order pizza and charge it to your tab, Tito?” look going. High comedy.
Great moments in shameless advertising: In the funniest “Human Billboard” moment since Rocky Balboa uttered the words “Paulie gets $1,500, I Get the Robe” before the Creed-Balboa fight, a gambling website paid Hopkins $100,000 to write the words “www.goldenpalace.com” in black letters on his bare back.
(An even stranger twist: Hopkins immediately wagered that money on himself on that same gambling site, getting 3.5-to-1 odds and ensuring himself an additional $450,000 payday to his $2.75 million purse with a win over Trinidad.)
Celebrities in the audience:
I’m bitterly disappointed about this one — HBO never gave us the “pan around and show the various celebs” montage. Just an outrage. It never really feels like a major fight until you see one of the Baldwin brothers sitting three seats away from Kenny Loggins.
Moment when Don King shamelessly ingratiated himself into the patriotism craze:
During the pre-fight ceremonies — when they were introducing boxing legends like Jake LaMotta, Emile Griffith, Vito Antuofermo and Roberto Duran to the crowd — King stood in the ring waving an American flag, a frozen smile spread across his face. Just revolting. Has there ever been an enjoyable moment in the Don King Era? I mean, ever?
Best moment of the night:
After a memorial “Ten Count” for the Sept. 11 victims, MSG played about two minutes of Sarah MacLachlan’s song “I Will Remember You” over the loudpeakers as everyone stood and honored the victims, including 14 New York City firefighters who were sitting near the front row (crying and hugging). One of those intended “lump in the throat” moments that actually worked.
Worst moment of the night:
Right on the heels of the Sarah MacLahlan moment, R & B recording artist Ginuwine absolutely mangled “America the Beautiful,” including a botched stanza that went “From the mountains/to the prairies/white with foam.” I wish I were making this up.
(Note: I’m not positive, but I think “Ginuwine” is a stage name. Don’t quote me on this though.)
Performed nicely by NYPD officer Danny Rodriguez. Crowd ate it up.
Strangest ring entrance:
Hopkins came out to “America the Beautiful” by Ray Charles, with two handlers following him and carrying NYFD helmets … which would have been a nice touch if Hopkins wasn’t wearing a leather executioner’s mask, a red robe with a giant “X” on the back and an American flag draped around his neck. Classy.
Jimmy Lennon Jr., undoubtedly a top-five “Why does this guy feel the need to be a Junior?” celebrities (along with Mel Kiper Jr. and Roy Jones Jr.).
Don Ackerman (New York), Stanley Christodoulou (South Africa) and Anek Hongtongkam (Thailand).
(Wouldn’t you have loved to have been there when they introduced Stanley Christodoulou and Anek Hongtongkam?)
Crowd response during the introductions:
Much louder for Trinidad (huge Puerto Rican contingent in attendance). Hopkins’ intro was practically drowned out in boos — you couldn’t tell if this bothered him, given that he was a wearing a leather executioner’s mask and all.
Absolutely. Some legitimate eyeballing and sneering from both sides.
As Mills Lane would say… let’s get it on!
The fight in a nutshell:
It just seemed like Hopkins wanted it more. He kept beating Trinidad to the punch and neutralizing Trinidad’s left by firing his right hand every time Tito looked ready to unload. He never stopped using his jab and moving out of danger every time Trinidad pinned him against the ropes. Masterful performance — Hagler-esque. By the ninth round, Trinidad was totally discouraged (his expression and body language was giving it away).
Hopkins obviously did his homework, slapping together a near-flawless fight. As Hopkins said after the fight, “He never hurt me, Larry, I mean it. He never hurt me.”
As for Trinidad … you wonder what his corner was thinking. He wasn’t active enough, he kept loading up those lefts with no “Plan B,” and he never seemed to have a master plan. He totally underestimated Hopkins; that’s the only possible explanation.
Moment when you knew Hopkins was going to win:
When they had an angry exchange after the bell in Round Five, with Hopkins landing more punches (as well as the final punch) before the referee separated them. That seemed like the moment when Hopkins said, “Screw this, I’m better than this guy.”
Funniest running subplot:
The underlying disputes between Foreman and Merchant were high comedy.
In the fifth round, Foreman said, “I think this pace is a little too much for Bernard Hopkins. He’s used too much of his legs early on” (after Hopkins had arguably won every round).
In the seventh round, Foreman added: “You’re not gonna find this determination in a fighter often as you see in Felix Trinidad.”
Merchant (unable to take it anymore): “Why don’t you want to give Hopkins more credit, George? He’s fighting a terrific fight so far.”
|Sports Guy’s Scorecard|
|Round 1: Trinidad, 10-9
Round 2: Hopkins, 10-9
Round 3: Hopkins, 10-9
Round 4: Hopkins, 10-9
Round 5: Hopkins, 10-9
Round 6: Hopkins, 10-9
Round 7: Hopkins, 10-9
Round 8: Hopkins, 10-9
Round 9: Hopkins, 10-9
Round 10: Hopkins, 10-9
Round 11:Hopkins, 10-9
Round 12:Hopkins, KO
Foreman: “He’s doing a great job, but the determination of this guy (Trinidad) takes everything out of your legs, takes everything out of your heart.”
Merchant (legitimately testy): “Well, they’re BOTH champions.”
Later in the same round, it happened again:
Foreman (on Hopkins): “That’s not like a Philadelphia fighter at all – (he’s) thinking!”
Merchant: “George, there’s been a lot of great boxers out of Philadelphia. You couldn’t survive the famous gym wars in Philadelphia if you couldn’t box!”
Funniest end to the funniest subplot:
After the knockout — and to his credit — Foreman immediately said, “I’d like to find my words so I could eat them.” As James Lipton would say, “Well done, my friend. Well done.”
Worst performance by a cornerman:
Felix’s Dad repeatedly telling his son that he was winning the fight, even after Hopkins nearly knocked his son out in the 10th round. When will somebody write the book about “Great moments when a father accidentally screwed up an athlete’s career”? This needs to happen.
The Tao of Larry Merchant:
1. “Sometimes, it takes a long time to be young.”
2. “Sometimes, when a fighter is labeled a genius, he’s bound to disappoint you.”
Jim Lampley, unedited:
“You can go back eight years in this sport, and you won’t find a fight in which either man was declared a loser, and it’s abundantly clear that neither man came here tonight expecting to lose.”
George Foreman, unedited:
“You can’t trade power shots with Trinidad. Because every time he hits you, you a still limber-lingering on … the damage lingers on and you accumulate.”
Scorecards going into the 12th:
All three judges had Hopkins winning — 109-100, 107-102 and 107-102. Your buddy Sports Guy had Hopkins winning 109-100.
Hopkins landed 260 of 653 punches, including 165 power punches … Trinidad landed 129 of 329 punches, including 97 punches … two USA chants from the crowd … I yawned three times and let out one “WHOA!” (after Hopkins almost knocked Tito out in the 10th) … the Sports Gal fell asleep during the third round.
Most awkward moment, part 1:
Hopkins standing on the top rope after the knockout and trying to start an angry “USA! USA! USA!” chant while the MSG crowd streamed toward the exits. It was probably hard for them to feel patriotic about an ex-con who was wearing an executioner’s mask during the national anthem only an hour before. I’m just guessing here.
Punch-Drunk Rating (post-fight):
Trinidad, 5 out of 10. (Surprisingly coherent, although he was speaking in Spanish so I couldn’t understand him).
Hopkins, 3 out of 10. (Also very coherent.)
Foreman, 4 out of 10. (Tired, embarrassed, ready for a late dinner.)
Hopkins on throttling Trinidad’s left hook:
“If a guy has a gun, you try to get the gun, you don’t run from it. Because you have a better chance of smothering the gun or getting to the gun.”
Moment when Don King ingratiated himself with the winner:
Never happened! Amazing! In fact, we never saw Don King after the fight — maybe the strangest subplot to the whole night. I’m guessing he fled the premises as fast as possible because he only had options on Trinidad’s next fight.
Most awkward moment, part 2:
Hopkins first apologizing to Trinidad and his team for the flag incident — which dragged on for a painful minute — and then refusing to leave the ring and lingering in the background during Merchant’s interview with Trinidad. Poor Tito. Even after the fight, he couldn’t keep Hopkins off him.
Trinidad finishing his interview with Merchant with a rambling monologue — which had to be translated, no less — about how he appreciated HBO’s support and how he hoped to keep fighting on HBO in the future. The best part was watching Merchant maintaining eye contact and waiting for Tito to finish with one of those “Hurry up, I’m meeting Ferdie Pacheco at the Felt Forum bar in 15 minutes” looks on his face.
“I want to be judged by my peers, not by me reading my own articles. I think when it’s all done, I’ll be known as one of the greatest middleweights that came at all times … in my heart, I knew that I would get another chance in life to redeem myself from what I used to be, and where I am now, not for boxing, but for people in general. Larry, I am the American Dream. I am the American Story.”
Bill Simmons writes three columns a week for Page 2.