photos by Mike “Teek” McGuigan
June 10, 2006 – Hopefully by now people in boxing have learned the lesson to never count Bernard Hopkins out. With heavy odds against him – “The Executioner” put a 12-round clinic on former Olympian Antonio Tarver to win the IBO portion of the Light Heavyweight title at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. It was a fight that none of the “experts” were giving him a shot in hell to win. But when the bell sounded, we saw that Hopkins is the master of chess while Tarver simply plays checkers.
In the lead up to this event, Las Vegas labeled this bout a 3-to-1 betting mismatch. All of the talk was centered around an “old” Hopkins ready to be put to pasture by the reigning champ.
A crowd of 10,200 paid fans turned out to the AC Boardwalk. Throughout the crowd, big names such as Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, Edgerrine James and Floyd Mayweather were seen in the front row. Many others ranging from the pugilistic enthusiasts to the casual fan made the ride from Philly, New York and Maryland to witness this HBO pay-per-view event.
The media cast Antonio Tarver of Orlando, Florida in the role of villain. Tarver has become a hot name in the sport since sending the previously untouchable Roy Jones Jr. sliding under a turnbuckle in the spring of 2004.
With the new-found fame, he has also shown that he is not one to shy away from the cameras. Tarver consistently claimed that he is “out for respect” and guaranteed that he would defeat his 41-year-old foe.
Since his breakout win against Jones, “The Magic Man” Tarver went on to split a pair of entertaining fights with Glen Johnson and followed up by beating RJJ again over the duration of 12 rounds in his most recent contest. There was no question that Tarver has become “the man” in the 175 pound division.
Philly Germantown native Bernard Hopkins came into the match with of the biggest names in the sport. His status as an all-time-great is already solidified. B-Hop holds wins over legends such as Tito Trinidad and Oscar De la Hoya and holds the record with 20 consecutive middleweight title defenses, though admittedly not all of the challengers were top flight contenders.
The resume speaks volumes, but today, there are lingering questions. Many wonder how much he can offer at such an advanced age as most boxers are long retired by the time they reach 40 years old.
Bernard promised to do something no fighter has ever done, become the first Middleweight to move up in weight class and win the Light Heavyweight title. Once this is accomplished, Philly’s B-Hop said he is walking away for good. It was a promise he made to his mother.
To make this goal a reality, Hopkins hired fitness guru Mackie Shilstone to make the weight transition. The end result was adding 14 pounds of muscle on to his frame for his first fight as a Light Heavyweight.
Around 10:00 pm eastern time – the bell sounded to start the main event. The time for talk was over, two of the worlds best touched gloves. I was firmly seated at ringside, next to my fellow boxing writer buddy Dave Roberts of Boxing Beat Magazine. We expected a good fight, little did we know we would watch a master of the game thoroughly dominate.
Tarver may have won the battle of talk outside of the ring, but in the ring he had nothing for Bernard Hopkins. The old, cagey veteran set trap after trap, using movement, a crisp jab and opportunistic power punching to befuddle Tarver.
“I used the same style as Jersey Joe Walcott and ‘The Mongoose’ Archie Moore – by always moving, never really giving him a stationary target.” Hopkins said at the post fight press conference.
To interpret – Hopkins and trainer Naazim Richardson cooked up a plan to hit his southpaw foe with the straight right hand early and often throughout the bout. Tarver couldn’t do anything about it.
A counter straight right scored a knockdown for Hopkins in round 5 when he dinged Tarver’s chin hard enough to make the Magic Man’s glove touch the canvas.
By round 9, Bernard was dancing around the ring, pulling juke moves and landing pot shots at his befuddled foe. Tarver’s eyes were swollen, and his trainer Buddy McGirt could be heard screaming “What’s the matter,” “you’re waiting too long!”
The fight continued with Hopkins dominating. Carver never gave as much as a moment to make the crowd feel like he was in the fight. It was a far cry from the wolf tickets he was selling before the start of the show.
The fight ended with Hopkins playing to the crowd as he applied his beating and the fans were never louder at Boardwalk Hall as the sell out crowd chanted “B-Hop, B-Hop”. He had pulled off something no one thought he could. It was another great night in the storied history of Atlantic City boxing.
Things went to the scorecards which read 118 – 109 across the board in favor of the Philadelphian.
If this is truly Bernard’s last fight, it is safe to say that his final performance was nothing short of a masterpiece. Reserve a spot in Canastota, NY because this man just cashed a one way ticket to the Boxing Hall of Fame.
Part of Tarver’s problem could have been due to dropping an excessive amount of weight before this fight. He starred next to Sylvester Stallone in the latest Rocky movie months before this fight and was rumored to be as high as 240 pounds.
“I was flat,” Tarver said. “I thought I felt good through camp. Physically, I never had a problem. I saw the openings, but I stepped it up too late.”
For this fight – Hopkins earned $5 million while Tarver earned $3.5 million. The PPV number is estimated at 330,000 buys and $16.5 million dollars in revenue.
On the undercard…
Andrey Tsurkan and Hector Camacho Jr. went to war in their NABF Welterweight title bout.
From the opening bell, Tsurkan played the role of stalker and Camacho as counter puncher. This was a see-saw affair with both fighters landing lots of heavy leather. Lots of close rounds, not much break in the action throughout with the 4th round being a candidate for round of the year.
The referee responsibly called to a halt at the 1:42 minute mark of round 8 as Tsurkan landed a bounty of punches with no answer from Camacho.
Camacho was on his feet at the time of stoppage and immediately protested the call. I’d love to see a rematch.
In Jr. Welterweight action, Jorge Paez Jr. won a questionable 4 round decision over Travis Hartman. While there were a few exciting spots, the majority of the contest was spent on the outside where neither fighter could get much going.
Israel Vasquez successfully defended his WBC Super Bantamweight title against Ivan “Choko” Hernandez winning this snoozer with a 4th round stoppage at the doctors request due to a badly cut eye. While it wasn’t the action packed slugfest that we are accustomed to seeing from Vasquez, he was in control the entire fight.
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