It was September 29, 2001 when, 14 days later than originally planned, the great Bernard Hopkins turned in perhaps his greatest performance for, as an underdog, outbox and then stop Felix Trinidad, then 40- 0 and considered the best fighter in the world.
Victories over Keith Holmes and William Joppy meant that Hopkins and Trinidad had respectively progressed to the final of a four-fighter middleweight tournament overseen by veteran promoter Don King, who intended to crown Trinidad the best fighter in the world. at 160 pounds.
When New York City was devastated by the September 11 terrorist attacks on Manhattan’s World Trade Center Twin Towers, that finale — scheduled for Madison Square Garden — was instead postponed indefinitely and then rescheduled to the 29th. Trinidad, like those of New York and the rest of the world, has never been the same again.
Hopkins, then 36, was, unlike Trinidad, Holmes and Joppy, unsigned to King. For all his charisma and undoubted abilities, he had yet to convince the influential American broadcaster HBO of his worth, and rightly so, given the individual path he gradually forged, and largely because his best years were unexpectedly ahead of him. in turn, theoretically, increased King’s power in the negotiations.
Hopkins was the IBF champion, however. With Holmes, the WBC champion, Joppy, in possession of the WBA title, and Trinidad – who had unified the IBF and WBA welterweight titles in his previous fight against Fernando Vargas – already committed, at a time when the WBO title was less good. prestigious, Hopkins recognized not only the value of his career, but also how threatened his career was.
As the least favored, by King, of the four fighters, and without sufficient support from those able to compete with the respected promoter, he was under intense pressure not only to succeed in the tournament, but to obtain financial terms that would protect his future if he loses against one of his rivals and finds himself peripheral.
Negotiations between Hopkins and the veteran King – both ex-convicts – became so tense that a deal was only struck when the two arrived for a press conference the latter was hosting to start promoting his tournament. . It has even been suggested since that, for perhaps the first time – and even in the context of opponents like Bob Arum – at Hopkins, King had for the first time met his equal as a negotiator.
Trinidad’s move to heavy-handed 160lbs began promisingly, when at the Garden he dropped Joppy, then in his prime, three times before stopping him in the fifth round, earning him the title WBA. At the same venue, Hopkins edged out Holmes, in turn unifying the WBC and IBF titles and securing his status as Trinidad’s opponent in the September 15 final.
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At the first of four press conferences held to promote their IBF, WBA and WBC title fight, at Bryant Park in New York, Hopkins grabbed a miniature Puerto Rican flag from Trinidad and threw it to the ground, causing a reaction so significant that it made the news. In addition, more innocuous press conferences followed in Philadelphia – Hopkins’ hometown – and in Miami, after a meeting in which it was agreed not to raise the subject of the flag-throwing incident in the purpose of maintaining a sense of order and peace. However, at the fourth, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where Trinidad is worshiped, in front of thousands of his fans, Trinidad brought it up.
Antagonist Hopkins – who later warned Joe Calzaghe he would never lose to a white man “and stuck his tongue out at the fearsome Sergey Kovalev, mid-fight – responded by repeating the same trick. This time the reaction was so fierce that he had to flee. His limo was even set on fire; locals flanked alternative car in which he was taken to airport; suggestions persist that a gun was fired.
Four days before they were due to fight—that morning Hopkins, staying at the St. Regis Hotel in Lower Manhattan, was running through Central Park—19 men hijacked four American commercial planes. Two slammed into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, another crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and the fourth crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. A total of 2,977 people were killed.
So close to what he knew could prove his defining fight, and having adopted the mentality he knew he needed to succeed, Hopkins later revealed that his biggest concern was not the tragedy that had befallen his compatriots, but the danger surrounding the fight. When Trinidad began visiting fire stations to show support, Hopkins moved to Philadelphia to maintain focus and train. Amid speculation it would be cancelled, it was quickly announced that it would take place on the 29th instead.
When the revamped fight night arrived, and with the presence of firefighters, police and survivors – just three miles from Ground Zero, at The Garden – an atmosphere that was both unique and emotional was created. In the pre-fight locker room, Hopkins assistant trainer Naazim Richardson objected to Trinidad’s hand wraps, insisting they were illegal. Trinidad, in turn, opposed it. The New York Commission member present nevertheless agreed that his bandages did not meet the necessary standards, and his hands were bandaged again. Hopkins, for his part, continues to believe that Trinidad was attempting to use illegal bandages capable of inflicting increased punishment.
Unlike Trinidad’s victory over Joppy, The Star Spangled Banner was not booed. The Puerto Rican also entered the ring wearing a New York Police Department hat; Hopkins, after removing his warm-up jacket, discovered a GoldenPalace.com advertisement on his upper back for which he had been paid $100,000. At odds of 3.5/1, he bet the full fee on himself to win.
Hopkins had studied footage of Trinidad’s victory over Oscar De La Hoya in 1999. His trainer, “Bouie” Fisher, had also repeatedly trained him to keep his right hand close to his eardrum to protect him from the powerful left hook. from Trinidad. He then forced himself on his 28-year-old opponent, building an early lead and breaking it to the point of hurting him late in the 11th round and stopping him in the 12th.
His right hand, following Trinidad’s attempts to land on his left, was then swollen beyond recognition, but he managed to unify the IBF, WBA and WBC titles, win the Sugar Ray Robinson trophy and record a defining career. victory that allowed him to become the undisputed middleweight champion and an all-time great.