Taylor KOs Hopkins

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS - Jermain Taylor did it once again, and once again he didn't do it by much.

Taylor beat Bernard Hopkins by decision Saturday night, retaining his middleweight titles in a fight that was strikingly similar to the first fight between the two in July.

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Taylor won that fight by split decision, while he took the rematch by unanimous decision. But the fight was so close that all three ringside judges favored Taylor only by a 115-113 margin. The Associated Press had Taylor winning 115-114.

‘‘I've still got a lot to learn but I did win it,'' Taylor said. ‘‘The man is a clever fighter. It's hard to hit him. You've got to pull all the tricks out just to hit him.''

Like the first fight, Hopkins started slowly and tried to make up points as the rounds went on. He began pressuring Taylor in the later rounds and, when the fight ended, raised his hands in victory in belief that he had done enough to win.

The judges thought otherwise, giving Taylor (25-0) the decision and keeping him unbeaten in 25 fights in a pro career that began after he won the bronze medal in the 2000 Olympics.

Hopkins said he thought he won the rematch just like he thought he won the first fight.

‘‘I got stronger as the fight went on. I think I did enough to win it,'' Hopkins said.

Taylor had vowed not to chase Hopkins (46-4-1) around the ring in the early rounds like he did in the first fight, when he ran out of gas late and barely held on for the win. He kept to his word, much to the displeasure of the crowd at the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino that booed the lack of action in the first few rounds.

The fight didn't begin to heat up until the fourth round, and even then there was more clinching and posing than actual fighting.

One judge gave Taylor the first six rounds and the other two gave him five of the first six, putting Hopkins in a hole he could never recover from.

‘‘I didn't run, I countered, pummeled him and worked very hard,'' Hopkins said. ‘‘Every time he got tired in an exchange he was holding and biding time. I feel fresh as a daisy.''

Hopkins had an excuse for starting slow - he's a month away from turning 41 - but as the rounds went on his corner began urging him to get closer to Taylor and turn the fight into a brawl.

‘‘Step up in the pocket and fire like a quarterback, baby, and fire,'' trainer Nazim Richardson said after the seventh round.

Ringside punching stats showed the fight to be as close as the judges saw it. Taylor was credited with landing 124 of 391 punches, while Hopkins landed 130 of 371.

When Hopkins did get inside he fought better, but neither fighter managed to land any combinations of consequence. Neither ever seemed hurt at any time in the fight, and neither was ever in any danger of going down.

Like the first fight, Hopkins was better toward the end. But, unlike the first fight, Taylor seemed as fresh in the final round as he was in the early rounds.

‘‘I thought the kid fought the early rounds smarter because he didn't waste as much energy,'' Taylor's promoter, Lou DiBella said.

Taylor upset Hopkins on July 16, winning a split decision so close that if would have been a draw if judge Duane Ford had agreed with the other two judges and almost everyone at ringside that Hopkins won the final round.

The fight got personal in the days before the two actually climbed into the ring. Hopkins mocked Taylor's speech impediment and called him a phony champion, while Taylor brought a doll with Hopkins' name on it to the final prefight press conference to say he was a crybaby.

Hopkins even resurrected his ‘‘Executioner'' personna for the fight, coming into the ring wearing a leather hood that he didn't take off until after the prefight introductions in the center of the ring.

Taylor's win in the first fight ended a remarkable streak of 20 straight title defenses for Hopkins, who hadn't lost since 1993. But it also set up a rematch that paid both fighters several million dollars and gave Hopkins one more big fight just a month before he turns 41.

In another fight, Israel Vasquez added the WBC super batamweight title to the IBF crown he already held by stopping Oscar Larios on cuts in the third round of their scheduled 12-round fight.

Vazquez knocked Larios down in the first round and was controlling the fight when he hit Larios with a right hand in the third round that opened a deep cut over his left eye. Larios was bleeding heavily when referee Tony Weeks, acting on the advice of the ringside physician, stopped the fight at 2:52 of the third round.

It was the third fight between the two champions, who split a pair of earlier bouts. Vazquez knocked out Larios in the first round in 1997, then was stopped by Larios in the 12th round three years ago.

Vazquez improved to 39-3, while Larios fell to 56-4-1.