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Excitement missing as Taylor wins dull rematch

Excitement missing as Taylor wins dull rematch

Here's the only good news: They don't have to do it again. Jermain Taylor outlasted longtime champion Bernard Hopkins to win a split decision last July, a surprise, but not a memorable evening. Saturday night, the two fighters went another 12 rounds, and the only surprise this time was almost the complete absence of excitement.

Taylor defended his middleweight title with a unanimous decision, all three judges scoring the fight 115-113. The New York Daily News called it a draw, and a yawn. A quick poll of the writers at ringside produced mixed results. A draw, you could say.

The two important rounds were the first and the 11th. The first because it was impossible to give either fighter the round. Hopkins threw the first punch, and rushed Taylor across the ring. There weren't five more punches landed in the round and certainly nothing else to write home about. Somehow, the judges saw the round for Taylor.

The 11th round, a round Hopkins needed to continue his rally, Taylor's corner understood the other man's urgency. That was the round Taylor landed a big left hand, and the 40-year-old Hopkins quivered. He had a nice right of his own near the end of the round but it was too late. So that round went to Taylor as well, and even though Hopkins won the last round he had run out of time.

"The difference in this fight was that I thought he respected me more," Taylor said. No, the difference, if there was one, was that Hopkins, an 11-year champion, a sure Hall of Famer, couldn't overcome Taylor's speed, hands and feet, and couldn't land the big punches he needed.

Hopkins, who began his career in 1988, won his first title in 1995, has nothing left to do but retire. He said he would discuss his plans with his family, "but I'm not looking to be around too much longer."

Taylor, 27, is undefeated in 25 fights. He will be more fun to watch when he doesn't have to worry about Hopkins. The old guy is a technical marvel, but a terrifically slow starter. That cost him again on Saturday night.

After six rounds, much like in their first night, Taylor was pitching a shutout on one card, and leading 5-1 on the other two. That was too much of a margin for Hopkins to overcome. Of course, he didn't see it that way.

"I felt I was working more in the early rounds. I worked very hard," he said. "I think I was aggressive. I backed him up the whole fight as much as possible. I think I did enough to win. I definitely did enough to win."

Maybe in a galaxy far, far away but not at the Mandalay Bay hotel on Saturday night. "I didn't run, I countered, I worked very hard," Hopkins said. "Every time (Taylor) got tired in an exchange he was holding and biding his time. I absolutely thought I won it."

He didn't get the decision but he did have the best line. "I feel fresh as a daisy," he said.

He might be right because it was Taylor who did most of the work. And when Hopkins (46-4-1) finally came on, winning three of the last four rounds, all it did was leave him a round short.

Their last fight, Taylor said, he made too many mistakes. Gave himself a B-minus. Last night he moved himself up to B, "but I'm not giving myself an A because I didn't knock him out. I give him all the credit," Taylor said. "He's a very clever fighter and you have to pull every trick in the book to hit him."

Hopkins said he didn't need a different plan for this rematch - just a tweak, he said - and that was his biggest mistake.

Emanuel Steward had it right when he was asked to pick a winner. Close, he said, but he thought Taylor would get there. "Hopkins has become a defensive fighter," Steward said. "He's become paranoid about being hit."

Well, sure, being hit is no fun at all. And if this were table tennis, there's no telling how long Hopkins could have kept his title.

The computer numbers said Hopkins landed a few more punches, 130-124, but that sounded like a generous count. The last fight, the computers credited Taylor with landing 86 punches to Hopkins' 96.

The folks at ringside shelled out US$800 for this one. Not to worry, they won't have to do it again. These fighters have seen enough of each other.