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Where are the fireworks? (cont.)

Posted: Friday December 2, 2005 2:55PM; Updated: Friday December 2, 2005 3:49PM
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That reads like a pretty promising script. But while tickets are selling well and HBO anticipates a decent buy, the crackle somehow isn't there. This is despite the oratory of Hopkins who, as great a fighter as he has been, may be an even greater talker, a pound-for-pound, word-for-word giant of the sport. It's also despite the increasingly testy responses from the normally sunny and easy-going Taylor. (Hopkins, he says, has been "disrespecting me to the utmost of disrespect. I don't respect him not a bit and I am looking forward to a knockout.")

Part of the problem may be that the real whiff of danger isn't there. Their first meeting wasn't exactly Hagler-Hearns or Corrales-Castillo I, or even Gatti-Ward. There were moments during the first half of the fight when it seemed as though Taylor, if he really turned it up a notch and pressed his advantage, might have beaten Hopkins convincingly. Then, in the second half, B-Hop put enough hurt on the flagging Taylor that, had it been a 15-rounder, he would have stopped him cold. But there were none of the pyrotechnics that leave fans tingling in anticipation.

That said, I think the reprise has a chance of being a very good fight. Both guys showed they could do some things to cause some serious problems for the other -- if they do them at the same time, things could get exciting. There are a few key questions.

First, has Taylor added to his repertoire? He was busier than Hopkins in the first bout, but didn't land as many punches. His jab was effective, but he followed it too often with a looping right that did nothing. Also, he was clearly worried about using too much energy too soon and held back at a time when he might have been able to do some serious damage. Then, he ended up fading down the stretch anyway. Taylor has had four-and-a-half months to learn a few new moves, increase his fitness and, most important, convince himself that he's the champion and this time he's going to leave no doubt about it.

Hopkins, on the other hand, is four-and-a-half months older. There's a familiar adage in boxing that fighters get old overnight. I don't expect any instant superannuation with Hopkins. He was old even when he was young, and the way he fought Taylor the first time, coming on strong in the later rounds, shows that he's still got the conditioning. At the same time, however, the way he fought Taylor last time wasn't quite enough. This time, Hopkins has to know that he needs to go to work a little earlier. Which means he'll have to work closer to Taylor when Taylor is still fresh. And that could be dangerous.

Don't buy the hype that Hopkins is fighting this fight out of fury. Sure, he's not happy that he was -- in his view -- jobbed out of his title. And, sure, he'd like to stick it to promoter Lou DiBella, who used to work with Hopkins, but after a bitter falling out (featuring suits and countersuits), now works with Taylor. But Hopkins is all business and he won't for one second let emotion cloud his judgment in the ring. Whether the same can be said for Taylor, who has started to sound genuinely miffed with Hopkins, is another matter. And it may be the crucial one.

"I feel like he can't hurt me," Taylor said earlier this week. "He's just looking for a way out and I'm going to give it to him."

That is either the mind set for a defining victory by a young champion -- or a recipe for disaster. Either way, it's the stuff of a good fight, rematch or not.


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