Friday, December 02, 2005

The Hopkins-Taylor Calculus 

To understand boxing, it helps to be numerate. (That means good with numbers for those of you not that good with words -- sorry, I'm a bit cranky since a recent webby site which used to remunerate me went far dumber than that.) To understand what to expect during Saturday's rematch in Las Vegas between Jermain Taylor (24-0, 17 KOs) and Bernard Hopkins (46-3-1, 32 KOs), a look at the numbers is necessary and maybe even sufficient.

On July 16, also in Las Vegas, Taylor, then 26, won a 12-round split decision over Hopkins, then and still 40. The scores were 115-113 from judges Duane Ford and Paul Smith for Taylor, with Hopkins getting a 116-112 nod from Jerry Roth. By doing so, Taylor captured the four middleweight belts from Hopkins -- WBA, WBC, IBF, and WBO for those who like letters more than numbers -- which were enough to make him the undisputed champion of the world. Taylor, however, has since vacated the IBF belt because the numbers on his contract for the Hopkins rematch were far larger than what they would have been for one with a lesser-known IBF number one contender. But Taylor still is referred to by most as the undisputed champ, since three belts or four is only a relevant number if you have that many pants to hold up.

But it is very disputed on more solid grounds whether or not Taylor deserved to be awarded this undisputed designation in the first place. The bulk of the ringside boxing journalists at the fight actually sided with Hopkins, and by a wide margin. According to veteran boxing writer Ron Borges, an ad hoc poll of 20 of them had 13 saying they thought that Hopkins had really won, four saying it was a draw, and only three siding with Taylor.

In addition, all of these journalists polled had Hopkins winning the 12th and final round, while judge Duane Ford, alone among almost everyone on earth, scored it for Taylor. Had Ford scored that last round for Hopkins, his card would have yielded a draw. With one judge each for Hopkins and Taylor, the outcome of the bout would then have been a draw, meaning that Hopkins would have retained all of those four belts and thus survived a 21st defense of his title.

The numbers tabulated by CompuBox in this fight could be interpreted in many ways. Taylor threw more punches than Hopkins, 453 to 326. But Hopkins outlanded Taylor, 96 to 86 punches. Hopkins's connect percentage was also much higher than Taylor's, 29 to just 19 percent.

Going against the consensus expectations, the younger Taylor was the aggressor in the early part of the fight, while the older Hopkins came on as the fight progressed and Taylor slowed down, no doubt mainly because of Hopkins's late but accelerating attack.

Still, even those who believe that Hopkins should have been given the decision say that to win this time, Hopkins must launch his charge earlier. Such aggression may also leave him more open to Taylor's offense, so here all the equations rumble with each other.

Hopkins is five months older, and that much closer to becoming a victim of the real undisputed champ, Father Time. Those same five months may have made Taylor more mature and more secure that he has already taken Hopkins's best shots and can do better now.

Or they may have allowed the tactical master Hopkins time to fine-tune his plans just enough so that he can now gain a decisive victory, even from a panel of judges not expected to give him any breaks. And it may not have been enough time for Taylor to have learned how to adapt to how Hopkins will try to adapt to him. Taylor may have already tipped his hand in full in the ring.

There have been a lot of words thrown about leading up to this rematch. Taylor has complained about a lack of respect from Hopkins. At 27, in his first full year on boxing's and the sports world's main stage, for his sake it is hoped that he is not taking these pre-fight theatrics too seriously. If he is spending much time in that dream world, Hopkins will not allow him to awake and grope for any snooze bar.

Yet 40 is a number which screws up any boxing equation. It is an integer whose value, if considered alone or overestimated, may conceal other variable factors. Has Hopkins slowed down, or healed properly, or lost anything from July 16 to December 3? He wouldn't be alone at his age if the answer is yes. Or is he still basically the same, but wiser after what he believes was an undeserved loss? 40 refers not only to the age of his body but also to his mind. And if one goes in one direction while the other goes in the opposite direction, any effect one way or the other may just be negated, meaning he still may have it in him to win if he fights just a bit smarter and more aggressively.

Most expect a higher punch output per round in this fight, however long it may go. The pace of the early rounds also will enter into the equation of how this rematch will unfold. And the absence of Hopkins's long-time trainer, the 77-year-old Bouie Fisher, may play a role as well.

So juggle all these equations, weigh all the variables, and make a deduction as to who the winner will be. Also take into account the bias factor of the judges, which seemed to go against Hopkins in the first fight and may be greater now that he is nearing retirement next year and Taylor has the belts. Hopkins, of course, knows all this better than most, so his game plan is being adjusted accordingly.

My pick? Uh-uh. I tend not to participate in these pre-fight exercises of making predictions, at least publicly. I'd rather just lay out and discuss the major variables. Otherwise, it makes it too easy to have to defend the pre-fight pick in post-fight analysis if the outcome is controversial, as happened in their first fight and is more than possible once again.

And I don't want to do anything to give more ammunition to the gambling sharks, where it is fixed, often legally, for the house to win. In case you haven't yet noticed, I was too good at math in school to throw out money betting.

So do the math yourself. Do it a few times. Consider everything. Then watch the fight and see which scenario actually happens. That will help you do the calculus in the next major fight whose outcome is uncertain, and perhaps make the $49.95 these major pay-per-views cost seem more worth it.

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Monday, November 28, 2005

Combat Sports News Page Up on King of the Cage Site

The Combat Sports News page is now up and running on the web site of King of the Cage, one of the oldest and most respected mixed martial arts companies. You can see it at: http://kingofthecage.com/combat_sports.html .

I am sending in the content, which is mostly comprised of news releases and results. There are five general categories covering the combat sports: MMA and NHB; Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Grappling; Boxing; Wrestling; and Kickboxing, Karate, Sumo, etc. The aim is to provide information in all of these disciplines since they all are essentially intertwined.

If you want to send me any such releases or information, please e-mail me at:
eddiegoldman@kingofthecage.com .

We hope to be hearing from more people soon, and expect more media announcements shortly.

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