Taylor-Hopkins bout could be close again

The last time they met, Jermain Taylor and Bernard Hopkins made it tough on the judges before Taylor took a 12-round split decision to win the undisputed world middleweight championship.

And if Wednesday's poll of three neutral trainers is any indication, there may be another split decision Saturday when Taylor and Hopkins meet in a rematch of their May 16 bout Saturday at Mandalay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The fight will be televised by HBO pay-per-view for $49.95 at 6 p.m.

"I like Taylor. I'm going to with youth," said Freddie Roach of the 27-year-old Taylor, 24-0, with 17 knockouts. "I just feel that if Bernard Hopkins starts quick, he'll fade late. And it will be like the last time if he comes on late."

In their first meeting Hopkins, 46-3-1, with 32 knockouts and one no-contest, who was making his record 21st title defense, laid back for the better part of seven rounds before finally coming on in the latter rounds and rocking the younger Taylor.

Judge Jerry Roth scored it 116-112 in favor of "The Executioner," but was overruled by Paul Smith and Duane Ford, who both had it 115-113 in favor of Taylor, of Little Rock, Ark.

Philadelphia native Hopkins, who turns 41 on Jan. 15, has said this will be his final bout and he wants to go out a winner. Hopkins also filed a protest with the Nevada State Athletic Commission regarding what he felt was an unjust decision, but to no avail.

Ford gave Taylor the 12th round - which looked to be a Hopkins round - and the result was a Taylor victory instead of a draw, which would've allowed Hopkins to retain the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO belts.

That said, none of the three trainers disagreed with the overall decision.

"I felt Hopkins gave away the first seven rounds," said Roach, who trains heavyweight contender James Toney and junior lightweight sensation Manny Pacquiao, among others.

"There were no two-point rounds and even though Hopkins hurt Taylor late in the fight, he couldn't put him away."

Ronnie Shields, who trains WBA lightweight titlist Juan Diaz and Evander Holyfield, among others, said a meeting he had with Hopkins, who is trained by Bouie Fischer, has given him reason to go with the challenger.

"I thought Bernard Hopkins gave away too many rounds and when I saw him in Atlantic City, I told him so," said Shields, who picked Taylor the first fight. "He said he didn't think so and that he fought the perfect fight. But he said, 'Trust me, it'll be something different this time.'

"I think (Hopkins) will win. He's an old veteran. He knows in this day and age he can't do what he did the last time (not be busy and expect to win). He'll come out faster this time and do something different. I don't know if he'll knock out Taylor, but he'll win."

Teddy Atlas, a ringside commentator for ESPN2's Friday Night Fights and who trained Mike Tyson as an amateur, broke the split verdict of Roach and Shields.

"It's a tough one to pick," Atlas said. "You can make an argument for both sides. But you have to go with the younger man (Taylor). Like the old timers would say, you're 30-percent better from the confidence you have from winning the title."

Both fighters are 6-foot-1, but Taylor, a bronze medalist in the 2000 Olympics, enjoys a 3-inch reach advantage and showed in the first fight that he has much better hand speed.

"Taylor will have to be the man who is consistent with his jab and controlling the range, which will make it difficult for Hopkins," Atlas said. "You had me balking on picking Taylor, but his confidence will allow him to win this. That said, he also needs an answer for the right hand of Hopkins.

"I know him and his trainer, Pat Burns, will have to realize that. Hopkins has to find a way to create offense rather than wait for it to come to him on the back end."

Atlas said Hopkins has never been an overly aggressive fighter, which will hurt his chances in this fight.

"(Hopkins) has always been a careful, defensive fighter," Atlas said. "I have a problem with that. He has a good right, but a young guy with good hand speed won't give you (the opening to land the right). (Taylor) doesn't give you the opportunity to lay back and counter.

"Hopkins has to use a jab to find a way to initiate things. That hasn't been one of his strong points in his career. He likes to take advantage of your mistakes. It's Taylor's fight to take or give up."

The Nevada Appeal, which took Taylor via split decision the first time, will stay with "Bad Intentions" this time.

Taylor now knows what to expect - especially where it concerns Hopkins' power. Hopkins was eventually able to hurt the younger man, but couldn't get the job done.

Hopkins knows he can't afford to lay back and give away the early rounds, which is his custom. If he is to win Hopkins has to come forward and throw punches.

The feeling here is that Taylor's pre-fight smack talk has gotten underneath Hopkins' skin. This will lead to The Executioner being more aggressive, but as a consequence he'll get hit more often by the younger, faster Taylor, who should box well enough to win a close but unanimous 12-round decision.


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