It’s no secret that press conferences and weigh-ins in the sport of boxing are premeditated, and in some cases effective enough to fuel the hype of a scheduled fight. The brilliance of Muhammad Ali gave the impression that it was easy to do, however most boxers fall well short of creating their envisioned spectacles of promotion. 13 years ago, one Bernard Hopkins lit the fuse under one who many considered the best active pound-for-pound boxer in the world, Felix "Tito" Trinidad.
In a press conference to promote the upcoming bout to decide who would be the undisputed middleweight champion, Hopkins decided to make things personal and attack Trinidad’s native homeland of Puerto Rico. Perceiving a trend of Trinidad’s previous fights, Hopkins noticed the level of disrespect towards America by Puerto Rican fans, most notably the booing of the national anthem during Tito’s bout against William Joppy. He promised his own revenge and on July 9, 2001, Hopkins started the feud by grabbing a miniature Puerto Rican flag out of the hands of Trinidad and throwing it to the ground. Only two days later B-Hop would take things further by tossing another flag to the ground at their second press conference, only this time they were actually in Puerto Rico in front of 10,000 rabid Tito fans. Although Hopkins would later apologize for his actions, saying that he wasn't trying to be disrepsectful as he simply reacted to an object being put in his face, the fire was lit and a quick escape from the press conference, and island, were made
The hype was at an all-time high leading up to its scheduled September 15th bout at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The tension was thick. Garden officials were preparing for anything as the plan was to beef up security to an unprecedented level in preparation for any possible riots. But four days before the the fight was set to commence…everything changed.
September 11, 2001 is a day that will forever standout in the minds of everyone. The tragic events that took place on that day shook the planet to its core and the world of sports became irrelevant. The fight was not even on anyone’s radar as there was no room for it. However in a hotel room not far from where the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers once stood, Bernard Hopkins was still in training mode and preparing for his showdown to claim the undisputed middleweight title. Feeling certain that he had unnerved Trinidad, he was also confident that he had the edge in both technical skills and stamina to go the distance and become victorious.
With all that was taking place in New York City, the fight was postponed for two weeks. A delay or layoff could either be a tremendous setback for a fighter or a major bonus. During the added time, Hopkins remained deligent in his preparation and continued to focus on the task at hand. As fight night arrived, the Garden hummed with a mixture of both anticipation and lingering sadness. The fight would be the first major sporting event to take place in Manhattan after the collapse of the Twin Towers. A 10-bell salute was conducted to honor the fallen prior to the fight as 20,000 fans filled the arena. Emotions were high, and anticipation to hear the opening bell was paramount.
Hopkins made his way to the ring wearing a red executioner’s mask which sent a distinct message; he was here to handle business. There was something eerie about the mode in the building as K9’s surrounded the perimeter and droves of CIA officers circulated around the complex. But when it was time to finally get down to what everyone was there to see, B-Hop unleashed the fury of everything that he planned for. From the “ding” of round one, class was in session. Hopkins schooled Tito, who on all of the judge’s scorecards was overwhelmingly dominating the fight. This would continue into the 12th and final round until a sweeping right hand knocked Trinidad to the canvas. As the referee counted for him to get up, he stayed down, finally standing up with a second to spare. But in a bizarre moment, the father of Felix Trinidad had seen enough and rushed into the ring to spare his son anymore punishment. The crowd of 20,000, mostly adoring Boricuas, applauded the technical superiority that was put on display by Hopkins.
There were mixed emotions about a great sporting event in addition to the real life events of what continued outside of the Garden that night.
"I became a star that night, that year," said Hopkins, who tied Carlos Monzon's mark of 14 straight middleweight title defenses on Sept. 29. "It was the worst day for America. It was many Americans' worst year. In my own selfish way, it was my biggest year. My fight will be attached with that history."
It was a breakthrough win in a Hall of Fame career, but it will also be linked with the most significant moment of our lifetime, an unimaginable tragedy which will reverberate in this generation’s heart and minds forever.