LAS VEGAS – Bernard Hopkins used his head to get past Winky Wright on Saturday night in their light heavyweight title fight before a crowd of 8,826 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Wright would argue that it was Hopkins' noggin, which the 42-year-old wasn't shy about using as a weapon, that was the difference.
But it was Hopkins' guile that determined the outcome. Hopkins devised a brilliant game plan and executed it perfectly against one of the game's best tacticians.
Wright moaned about a second-round head butt, which opened a nasty gash alongside his left eye. Wright was following through on a punch when he and Hopkins banged heads.
But though the cut didn't help Wright, it didn't play nearly as big a role as Hopkins' conditioning and the wisdom gained from a lifetime of fighting and nearly 20 years in the ring.
The bout was fought at the distance, the pace and the intensity which Hopkins wanted. Wright was unable to get his jab, the punch that one day will land him in the Hall of Fame, unloosed.
And that was because Hopkins was able to defuse it with a combination of upper-body movement and great footwork. He circled, but he didn't run, using his legs to negate Wright's jab and give himself punching angles.
"I had to use my legs to win this fight," Hopkins said. "It's a bait and fish. You put the bait close to the fish and you pull it away until you want to catch it."
Promoter Oscar De La Hoya was astounded by Wright's lack of success with the jab. He threw 290, but connected on only 87. Numbers meant nothing, though, as Wright's money punch was rendered ineffective almost from the beginning.
"The jab of Winky Wright wasn't there tonight," De La Hoya said. "That's probably the most effective punch in his arsenal. Hopkins knows how to neutralize whatever game plan you have."
Hopkins didn't make it an aesthetically pleasing fight, though it was far more entertaining than it had the potential to be.
Hopkins mauled Wright on the inside, drawing repeated warnings from referee Robert Byrd. Hopkins' punches, particularly those to the body, sapped Wright's strength as the fight progressed.
By the second half of the bout, Wright's mouth was open and he appeared uncharacteristically winded. Hopkins isn't the powerful one-punch puncher that someone like Mike Tyson was, but he has the type of power which slowly but surely drains the strength from his opponents.
That was the case on Saturday, as Hopkins' consistent attacks to the body methodically wore Wright down.
"You've all seen me take a guy's best weapon and use it against him," Hopkins said. "I've been a master at that. A lot of you have written that 'Bernard Hopkins figures out styles very quickly.' See, I respect the art of war.
"When a person has something he's used and that has worked for him, and you all promoted it the way you had to, but I heard you say 'Winky Wright has the best defense in boxing. Winky Wright has the best right hand jab in boxing.' But it was easy for me to know what to take away from him."
Hopkins said he spent his time in his Los Angeles training camp studying Wright's tapes. He knew that in order to win, he had to render that shot ineffective and find a way to break through Wright's hands-high defense.
Before the bout, Hopkins dubbed Wright "The Tortoise." He said that was because, like a turtle, Wright would go into a shell and wouldn't punch if he were under attack.
"I must take those things away from him right away in the art of war, and when I did, he was helpless," Hopkins said. "He had no other tools to work with. For me to take the jab away, that was the fight. That was the fight because it's all he had."
Wright had enough on Saturday to have beaten nearly every other fighter in his division. But Hopkins proved that not only was his win over Antonio Tarver last year, when he moved up from middleweight and won the light heavyweight belt in a rout, no fluke but he's actually getting better in his golden years in the sport.
"I don't know how long I have left, but I know that I have to take this job seriously as long as I try to get in there," Hopkins said. "And that means me knowing more about (my opponent) than he knows about himself."
Hopkins, who had said before his June 10, 2006, triumph over Tarver that it would be his finale, was so enthused by his effort Saturday that he said he felt he could continue for four more years.
He'll be 46 in four years. And while that may seem preposterous on the surface, George Foreman was 45 when he won the heavyweight title in 1995 and Hopkins takes care of his body much more than Foreman ever did.
"Hopkins is an amazing guy," De La Hoya said. "You have to hand it to him. He always has another trick he comes up with. He never fails to amaze. The guy is the youngest 42 I've seen."
Hopkins said he wants to fight super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe at Yankee Stadium in March. Only two problems with making that fight – Calzaghe has a unification bout with Mikkel Kessler in Wales in November and New York temperatures at night in March are more conducive to hockey than boxing.
"Hey, we can wear coats," Hopkins said, winking at HBO executive Kery Davis.
He was beaming, satisfied that he remains one of the game's elite more than 12 years after he won his first world title.
And he was clearly thinking ahead less than an hour after one of his finest performances, trying to wangle a way to get the Calzaghe fight on his home turf.
"I think I've enhanced my legacy and gained my respect and so (Calzaghe) should definitely come here," Hopkins said. "My legacy is super longer than Joe Calzaghe's, so he ought to come to my house."
He scores with his fists, but the reason Hopkins is one of the game's all-time greats is that he always uses his head.
- Bernard Hopkins
- Winky Wright