7. Bernard Hopkins – 2001: 2-0 (1)
Although “The Executioner” fought only twice, 2001’s impact on his career trajectory was profound. Up until now Hopkins was a known but not a universally embraced quantity. Yes, he had held the IBF middleweight title since April 1995 and had tied Marvelous Marvin Hagler for second place in division annals with 12 defenses, but he was not the clear-cut favorite entering the middleweight unification tournament set up by promoter Don King. That honor belonged to a relative newcomer to the 160-pound division – Felix “Tito” Trinidad.
Trinidad, a longtime IBF welterweight titlist, rose to 160 following a short but productive stay at 154 and promptly won his third divisional title with a crushing fifth round TKO over WBA belt-holder William Joppy on May 12 to advance to the tournament final. Meanwhile, Hopkins previously filled the other slot with a lopsided decision victory (119-108, 118-109, 117-110) over perennial WBC titlist Keith Holmes on April 14 to unite their belts.
Entering the tournament final on Sept. 29 (a fight postponed two weeks by the September 11 terrorist attacks), Trinidad was such a heavy favorite that his name had already been etched into the Marvelous Marvin Hagler trophy that was to be presented after the fight. Hopkins, however, had far different plans.
Hopkins’ tactical genius was on full display as he neutralized Trinidad’s vaunted left hook and systematically picked him apart over the first five rounds. Trinidad’s only substantial rally occurred in round six and by the 10th it appeared Trinidad had punched himself out. Still, Hopkins took his time and near the midway mark of the 12th a huge right to the jaw dropped Trinidad. Though Trinidad arose at nine, his father and trainer Felix Sr. felt his son had taken enough and climbed into the ring.
Hopkins had achieved history on several levels. He was the first three-belt middleweight champion since Hagler 14 years earlier and the Trinidad victory lifted Hopkins into a tie with Carlos Monzon for the all-time lead in 160-pound defenses with 14. Finally, Hopkins was accorded the respect he long had sought because he was lifted toward the top of many pound-for-pound lists.
For Hopkins, 2001 was the ultimate demonstration of quality over quantity.