Bernard Hopkins collapsed to his knees in his dressing room, drained from a brutal fight and exhausted by the end of his 17-year wait for revenge against Roy Jones Jr.
Two of their generation’s greatest boxers just might have ended their careers together in a Las Vegas hospital Saturday night, but only Hopkins earned the right to leave with a victory.
Hopkins won a grueling unanimous decision in his long-delayed rematch with Jones, emphatically avenging his loss in the famed champions’ first bout in 1993.
Although both fighters often appeared to be shadows of their former selves, the 45-year-old Hopkins (51-5-1, 32 KOs) dominated nearly every round of a light heavyweight fight filled with wily veteran tactics and fueled by obvious mutual dislike.
Hopkins punctuated his dominance with a stirring rebound from the 41-year-old Jones’ punch behind his head and the ensuing in-ring fracas late in the sixth round at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Hopkins was hit behind the head twice and below the belt at least once during the bout, leaving him with spots before his eyes in the final rounds.
“It was definitely worth it, and it was sweet revenge,” Hopkins said in the ring before collapsing. “It was really rough in there. He’s a good fighter, and he tried to rough me up. I tried to tough it out, but I was seeing spots from the sixth round on.”
Hopkins also said he would love to fight heavyweight champion David Haye next. After recovering from his collapse, Hopkins shook off doctors who wanted to transport him to the hospital on a stretcher, dressing himself and walking into the ambulance. Jones also was taken for evaluation and possible treatment for a cut near his left eye.
With his fifth win in six fights since 2005, Hopkins settled an old score against Jones (54-7), who beat him by a clear decision on May 22, 1993, when both fighters still were on the cusp of standout careers.
While Hopkins has kept winning despite his advancing age, Jones has lost six of his last 11 bouts, falling precipitously from his pedestal as arguably the most dominant fighter of the 1990s. Jones was fresher than Hopkins after the bout, but his skills appeared to be far more stale.
“He’s a defensive fighter, and he fought a smart fight,” said Jones, who plans to talk to his advisers before deciding whether to keep fighting. “I had to chase him the whole time. The referee didn’t warn him about (head butts), but every time I did something, I got a warning.”
Although Hopkins won, even his closest friends could join Jones’ camp in advising both fighters to retire.
“For Bernard, it could be a good ending,” said Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, Hopkins’ business partner in boxing promotion. “He got his revenge, and he waited 17 years to end it. It could be something which as a friend I would advise him to consider. … I think it’s time for his friends and family to have a serious talk with him.”
Judges Don Trella and Glenn Trowbridge scored it 117-110 for Hopkins, while Dave Moretti favored him 118-109. The Associated Press had it 119-108, scoring 11 of 12 rounds for Hopkins.
The rematch was delayed by money and egos until well after most fight fans had stopped salivating for it. Hopkins finally agreed to the bout last year and stuck with it even after Jones lost his previous fight by first-round knockout in Australia last December.
The longtime middleweight champion then unleashed 17 years of frustration on Jones, who repeatedly declined to fight him a decade earlier.
Hopkins used his strength from the opening round, backing up Jones with bull-rushes or peppering him with shots while in retreat. A right hand from Hopkins in the second round appeared to open a cut near the left eye of Jones, who struggled to land combinations against Hopkins’ defense and aggression.
During a clinch in the sixth, Jones threw a left to the back of Hopkins’ skull with 10 seconds left, and Hopkins immediately crumpled to the canvas on his knees with his hands on his head. Hopkins stayed down for about three minutes, but eventually recovered—and then unleashed a stunning flurry of vicious punches to Jones’ head, propelling the crowd of just 6,792 fans to its feet.
The fighters kept trading shots well after the bell sounded. Referee Tony Weeks dived between them to break it up after a prolonged struggle against the ropes, and a member of Jones’ entourage—apparently the fighter’s son—jumped into the ring before Weeks and security guards restored order and got the fighters back to their corners.
Jones then threw a right hand to the back of Hopkins’ head with 20 seconds left in the eighth round, and Hopkins dropped to one knee.
Hopkins dropped to his knees for a third time after Jones hit him with a low blow 45 seconds into the 10th round, staying down for another long stretch. Jones then got a recovery timeout in the 11th round when Hopkins charged into him with a flurry that included a clash of heads.
Another generation has grown up since Jones won the vacant IBF middleweight title with a unanimous decision over Hopkins on the undercard of a defense by heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
Jones won the fight despite a right hand that was “pretty much fractured,” he said. He went on to become arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter of the 1990s, with a grace and multisport athleticism that landed him everything from a Nike deal to movie roles.
Hopkins took a harder road, just as he’s done throughout an adulthood that began with nearly five years in prison. He won the middleweight title in 1995 and defended it a record 20 times before evolving into one of the world’s most versatile fighters in his 40s, trouncing Antonio Tarver, Winky Wright and Kelly Pavlik in recent years after a brief retirement.