President George W. Bush addressed the nation, “Today, we’ve had a national tragedy. Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country. Terrorism against our nation will not stand.”
On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, the United States was rocked by a series of hijackings and attacks on the homeland. Two planes crashed into the World Trade Towers in New York City and one into the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Another was downed in Pennsylvania.
The calamity of the attacks and loss of innocent lives was heartbreaking. As the country mourned, it also united in the face of terror and prepared for war.
Scheduled for just four days later, not far from Ground Zero, Madison Square Garden was to host a Middleweight championship showdown between Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins and Felix “Tito” Trinidad.
A decision was quickly made to cancel the fight indefinitely. Other cancelations included all NFL games that were scheduled for the following Sunday.
After promoter Don King sought and received assurances from officials at both Madison Square Garden and from New York City, the bout was rescheduled two weeks after its original date.
The showdown was officially moved to September 29.
The bout was billed as “And Then There Was One.” It showcased a unification for the Middleweight championship. Hopkins, the WBC and IBF champion, would face Trinidad, the WBA champion.
The winner would be the first recognized undisputed Middleweight champion since Marvin Hagler.
From Philadelphia, PA, Hopkins (39-2-1, 28 KOs) was regarded amongst the best fighters in the world. With only two losses on his dossier, one in his professional debut and the other to Roy Jones Jr., Hopkins had not lost a fight in over eight years.
He won the IBF title in April of 1995 with a seventh-round knockout of Segundo Mercado. After 12 successful defenses, Hopkins met Keith Holmes in April of 2001. He defended his IBF crown a 13th time while winning Holmes’ WBC Middleweight title via a unanimous decision.
At 36, and without a loss in his last 19 fights, Hopkins signed to meet the younger Trinidad and was quickly installed as a 3-1 underdog.
The undefeated Trinidad (40-0, 33 KOs), was from Fajardo, Puerto Rico. In just his 20th fight he won his first title, at Welterweight, by knocking out Maurice Blocker inside of two rounds.
Trinidad would successfully defend that title 15 times while earning wins over Hector Camacho, Oba Carr, Pernell Whitaker and Oscar De La Hoya. After moving up in weight, Trinidad would win titles at Super Welterweight, beating both David Reid and Fernando Vargas.
He was now among the elite pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
At 28, Trinidad defeated William Joppy to win the WBA Middleweight crown. He was now poised to defend that title while trying to unify the division against Hopkins.
In July, during a promotional stop in New York City, things between the fighters began to get heated. As Hopkins and Trinidad jawed back and forth, Hopkins threw the Puerto Rican flag to the ground. Just days later in San Juan, Hopkins again grabbed and tossed the Puerto Rican flag to the ground. The action further infuriated Trinidad and nearly caused a riot.
Tensions were high between the fighters as were the anxieties and emotions of an entire country in the wake of September 11. Fans saw the bout as a much needed distraction as many either attended the fight in person or watched on pay-per-view.
Scheduled for 12 rounds, the two would settle their differences with the winner to be recognized as the Middleweight kingpin. The bout would air live on HBO PPV with Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and George Foreman seated ringside to call the action.
With both fighters now in the ring, an electric atmosphere of a packed house witnessed a passionate National Anthem. A number of police and fireman were in attendance as the remarkable scene was filled with unrelenting raw emotion.
After Jimmy Lennon Jr. introduced the fighters, Steve Smoger provided instructions at mid ring. As both fighters waited in their corners and prepared to engage one another, the camera pulled back and captured a large United States flag hanging high above the ring. Many fans inside the arena also waved both small and large American flags.
As the bout got underway, Hopkins immediately began to employ a game plan that he would follow with scrupulous precision throughout the night.
He controlled the action with his left jab, pumping it repeatedly into Trinidad’s face. He continuously circled to his left to take away Trinidad’s best punch, the left hook, and kept the action in the center of the ring.
Trinidad continued to stalk Hopkins in the second round. With time winding down in the round, Hopkins unloaded a right hand that impaled on Trinidad’s face just before the closing bell. As the sound of the impact thudded, Lampley exclaimed, “Hard right hand by Hopkins! Biggest blow of the fight! Trinidad momentarily stunned!”
As the fight approached the middle rounds it became clear, as was articulated in the pre-fight countdown by Emanuel Steward, that Trinidad’s game plan was to simply attack Hopkins and try to knock him out. Trinidad anxiously looked to land his left hook.
The superior tactical movement by Hopkins was severely limiting the use of Trinidad’s best punch.
Hopkins continued to follow the game plan in the fifth. As the bell rang to end the round, the two continued firing bombs at each other. As the timekeeper continued to pound the bell, Smoger tried to separate the fighters. The energized crowd roared as Lampley shouted, “They fight after the bell! And Hopkins dishes out twice as much!”
Undaunted, Trinidad continued to come forward in Round 6, bouncing on his toes and looking to attack. As Trinidad would try to trap Hopkins against the ropes or in a corner, Hopkins would slickly duck away and land straight right hand counter punches.
The sixth round action intensified as the two began trading head on in the center of the ring. As the crowd rose, Lampley described the action, “A furious pace in Round 6! By far the best round of the fight! They begin to trade power shots at close range!”
At the mid-way point of the fight, Hopkins appeared to have built a solid lead. Unofficial scorers at ringside had Hopkins up five rounds to one.
Hopkins continued to keep the action at mid ring, work his jab, and circle to his left. Trinidad relentlessly tried to trap Hopkins against the ropes and unleash his left hook. Hopkins snuffed out his attacks and controlled the ebb and flow of the action.
With the 10th round now underway, Hopkins was in total command. With just nine minutes remaining in the fight, it was clear that Trinidad was aware that time was running out. He hit the accelerator in a frantic attempt to hurt Hopkins and change the flow of the fight.
Trinidad attacked with reckless abandon as Hopkins continued to circle and outmaneuver him. Picking his spots with the accuracy of a marksman, Hopkins continued to counter beautifully and frustrate Trinidad.
Sensing that Trinidad was throwing caution to the wind, Hopkins began stepping in and launching blistering right hands. After landing, he began doubling and tripling his jab and mixed in crisp left hooks.
Each man was now under serious fire as a brawl ensued. Lampley howled, “What an awesome show! What a great, great fight as we come down the stretch in the 10th round!”
Trinidad, now bleeding from his nose, had spent an enormous amount of energy trying to bully Hopkins against the ropes while unloading vicious uppercuts. Again Hopkins countered, this time with his own sensational uppercut, and whipped Trinidad’s head back. As he staggered backward Merchant hollered, “Trinidad almost looks out on his feet!”
As the two touched gloves to begin the 12th and final round, Trinidad appeared to have little if anything left. Hopkins coolly continued to impose both his will and skill.
With exactly one minute gone in Round 12, Hopkins unloaded a textbook overhand right that sent Trinidad sprawling across the ring and down to the canvas.
Lampley came unglued, “Oh! Huge right hand! Huge right hand by Hopkins! Down goes Trinidad! This fight is over! He knocked out Trinidad!”
His heart and desire still intact, Trinidad rose. His trainer and father, however, had seen enough as he climbed into the ring to stop the fight and embrace his son.
Merchant added, “Bernard Hopkins has put himself up there with all of the great Middleweights. What a performance.”
The bout was halted at 1:18 of Round 12.
Hopkins fell to the mat, in prayer, in triumph, in victory. After basking in the moment, he then rose to lead a chant at ringside, “USA…USA…USA…USA…USA!”
At the time of the stoppage, Hopkins was well ahead on all three scorecards. Ring Magazine would name Hopkins the “Fighter of the Year” and select Round 10 as the “Round of the Year.”
After the loss to Hopkins, Trinidad would fight just four more times. He would score wins over Hacine Cherifi and Ricardo Mayorga. He would lose his final two bouts to Winky Wright and Roy Jones Jr.
Hopkins continues to defy both logic and father time. He continues to fight and compete at a high level. Now 50 years of age, he may still yet have one or two fights left in his gas tank.