by Fox Doucette
When last we had Bob Foster on the program, it was in witness of a unanimous decision over Roy Jones Jr. that depended on Foster controlling the range and the pace of the fight and putting on a masterful show of ring generalship that got him the nod when the scores were read.
Tonight, we bring in another modern legend at 175 pounds, none other than Bernard Hopkins, here brought in after his win over Antonio Tarver that first established that his career was far from dead after the apparent end to his relevance against Jermain Taylor at middleweight. Hopkins was two years removed from his last professional knockout, and at 41 years old, the transition had begun in earnest from power-punching slick boxer to crafty veteran. Would such guile be enough to stop Foster, who had put on a boxing clinic against a prime Roy Jones the last time the audience in San Dimas got a look at him? This is, after all, through the wonders of time travel, the very same Foster who beat Dick Tiger in 1968 to earn his way into the future, temporal paradoxes be damned, and that Foster just beat the hell out of Roy Jones over the course of twelve rounds.
In the co-feature, no such subtlety is on display. As counterpoint to the chess match, we’ve got a game of Warhammer between Erik Morales, fresh off his demolition in four rounds of Junior Jones, and Israel Vazquez, who came from being down on the press row scorecards to knock out Rafael Marquez in the sixth round of their second fight. Morales is the naturally bigger guy, who turned pro at junior featherweight and managed in his later years to get a piece of the 140-pound title (even though Danny Garcia soon enough beat him up and took his lunch money). Morales even owns a win at 130 pounds against none other than Manny Pacquiao.
Vazquez, on the other hand, turned pro at bantamweight and never fought above featherweight, spending the vast majority of his time in the ring at 122 pounds. Vazquez is 5’4 with a 66-inch reach; Morales is 5’8 with a 72-inch reach. Will the size advantage prove decisive? Or will the speed and power of Vazquez carry the day and do enough damage to stop “El Terrible” in his tracks?
From the Historical Fight Night Arena Presented By You, If You Donate On Patreon, in San Dimas, California, these fights are scheduled for 12 rounds using the Unified Rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions. Scoring is on the 10-point must system, there is no three knockdown rule, no standing eight count, only the referee can stop the fight, and a fighter cannot be saved by the bell in any round including the twelfth and final round.
Now, for the thousands in attendance and the millions watching from around the world…
Let’s Make History.
Erik Morales (9/12/1998, 31-0, 25 KOs) vs. Israel Vazquez (8/4/2007, 42-4, 31 KOs)
You’d think this would be your standard range war type of fight. Trouble is, nobody gave up his height quite like Erik Morales, which he could get away with when he was a Brobdingnagian junior feather fighting Lilliputian puffed-up bantamweights, but which is also a good chunk of the reason he got smacked around on the regular when he stepped up in weight and when his quickness started to go on him.
Still, six inches in reach is a big disadvantage to overcome, especially for someone who’s been stuck in a time machine on the night he was losing a fight until he landed a big shot and turned the tide.
The first round of this played out about how you’d expect when a smaller man on the defensive tries to get the timing down on a bigger opponent with a tendency to lunge. Morales frequently jabbed himself out of position, and his early offense was ineffective, with Vazquez at first blocking and dodging the shots, but later trying to counter with a lead left that was somewhere between an up jab and an uppercut proper. Vazquez was able to land it a couple of times, but he didn’t land it clean on the chin; it landed on the chest of Morales in a way traditionally associated with a stay-at-home boxer deliberately working that spot on the upper part of the sternum to try to take the steam out of the guy in front of him. Still, things were off to a promising start for Vazquez.
Vazquez had a big, sweeping right hand that was a danger to anyone foolish enough to stand in front of it, and with Morales still falling into his pattern of lunging with his jab early in a fight, there was an opportunity for Vazquez to land that big punch. He likely wouldn’t be able to put anything behind it, but with the power in that shot, he might not have to.
As such, the second round turned into Vazquez doing his best Juan Manuel Marquez impression and trying to work off the counter, using his opponent’s weakness against him for as long as Morales wanted to keep leaping in like a boxing kangaroo trying to land that off-balance jab.
The strategy was decisive, as midway through the round, Morales ate one of those big, sweeping right hands, which knocked him right into a lead uppercut that put Morales on the floor. Referee Mills Lane picked up the count, and El Terrible rose, stunned and still hurt, at the count of seven.
Trouble was, if you were going to catch Morales with a counter shot like that, you’d damn well better knock him out, because nothing got the Tijuana native out of the rabbit act faster than smacking him a time or two.
Morales, in survival mode, set his feet and used his height to keep Vazquez off him for the rest of the round, surviving those last 80 seconds and taking his medicine on the scorecards while living to fight another day.
Not that this mattered to Vazquez, who remained the aggressor, but his moment had clearly passed, and the size advantage he gave up began to assert itself in earnest as Morales set his feet and made Vazquez pay for every inch of real estate as he closed distance. Morales, in the Jones fight, began around the third round to start to effectively put together combinations off the jab once he settled don and set his feet. Jones was able on occasion to swarm him, but that was not an advantage Vazquez would enjoy giving up so much size.
As Morales kept sitting down on his shots and using his opponent’s aggression against him, the fight started to look like a junior welterweight fighting a bantamweight, with the physicality of the bigger fighter finally starting to carry the day. A straight right hand coming in behind the jab caught Vazquez flush, and the momentum of the fight turned on a dime.
Morales, still respectful of the power of the guy who’d nearly knocked him out in the previous round, did not pursue, but all hope of Vazquez taking the fight to the enemy evaporated.
Taking a page from his enemy’s book, Morales started to use the lead left hook as a counter shot against his opponent’s aggression. Rather than simply repel Vazquez with the jab and the straight right, Morales started to sit on his punches and try to hit the incoming fighter like a batting practice fastball and swing for the fences. If the jab was the defensive make-contact swing, the hook became the home run hack, still followed by the same right hand that came behind the flicking left of the previous round, and with a lead uppercut thrown in for good measure.
What followed was a vicious three minutes of boxing, as all semblance of boxing civility went out the window. Vazquez charged in behind his jab, hoping to blind Morales and interrupt the motion of the counter punch. Morales kept his right hand up to try and parry the jab without losing leverage on his hook, with varying degrees of success, but on a couple of occasions, he was able to crunch that shot onto the liver of Vazquez, and late in the round, with about twenty seconds remaining, Morales got both punches in the basic combination right onto the sweet spot. Vazquez retreated with his hands up, and Morales started chopping with the overhand right, trying to end the contest. As the bell rang to end round 4, Vazquez still owned the one-point lead on the consensus scorecard, 38-37, but he looked ready to go.
Morales came off the stool like a bat out of hell, forcing Vazquez back into his defensive posture and resuming an attack that may not have landed every shot, but the relentless assault prompted Mills Lane to warn Vazquez to show him something or the fight would be stopped.
Still, it’s awfully difficult to get your hands up to punch when your opponent is going full Bugs Bunny with “a left hook, a right hook, a north hook, a south hook”, and Morales poured on a tight lead left and a chopping trailing right like he was working a heavy bag.
After a minute of this, Vazquez’s corner had seen enough. As far as they were concerned, anything that would let them cash in the round-trip portion of their temporal 2007 ticket was preferable to the slaughter underway in San Dimas. In came the towel, and up went the waving hands of the referee calling a halt to the contest at 1:04 of the fifth round. Your winner, by TKO…
RESULT: MORALES TKO5 VAZQUEZ.
Bob Foster (5/24/1968, 30-4, 24 KOs) vs. Bernard Hopkins (6/10/2006, 47-4, 32 KOs)
Nobody gets a bum rap for reputation quite like Bob Foster. Unstoppable over a six-year period as the undisputed light heavyweight champion of the world, Foster is perhaps better known to a lot of boxing fans for his ill-fated attempts to move up to heavyweight and challenge for a title in a division that was in the midst of the greatest golden age in its history. Foster got the snot beat out of him by both Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, and earlier in his career, Foster found himself on the wrong end of Ernie Terrell’s best shots. Whenever he ventured above 175, it was a disaster, but at light heavyweight, he was one of the greatest of all time.
Meanwhile, Bernard Hopkins landed at light heavyweight only after Jermain Taylor proved not once but twice that there was no longer a place for the Executioner at 160 pounds. His power sapped both by aging and by moving up in weight, Hopkins never recorded a knockout at light heavy, and questions began to swirl on press row whether the time machine had gone back to 2006 only to fetch a depleted fighter who had no business against the grand masters of the game. Hopkins had, after all, in the historical arena lost to Marvin Hagler, and that was a Hopkins who had knocked out Oscar De La Hoya.
But the biggest question came when the bell rang to start the fight…
Against the southpaw Antonio Tarver, Hopkins neutralized his opponent’s jab with the southpaw-killing straight right hand; Hopkins, according to the CompuBox stats, landed only seven jabs in the entire fight.
Foster was an orthodox fighter.
What’s more, Foster had a legendary jab, one of the best the sport has ever seen, a jab that was called a “piston” by commentator Don Dunphy in the Dick Tiger fight. Foster used his jab not like Floyd Mayweather uses it—-as a rangefinder and a blinder—but as a weapon in its own right damn near powerful enough to knock a man back by itself.
Styles make fights, or so the saying goes, and the relentless jackhammer of Bob Foster pounded a pointillist painting, its percussion positing a pathetic palooka peppered by practiced punches.
Which is by way of saying that the CompuBox spinner showed “TILT” where the scoreboard out to be, a different Bugs Bunny gag in the offing from the usual, but Hopkins looked overwhelmed by the most basic punch in boxing executed so brilliantly.
The only thing worse for Hopkins than getting repeatedly smacked in the face with a picture-perfect right hand was the fact that thanks to the range war nature of the fight and Foster’s commitment in training to avoid falling in and giving up his height the way he had in spots against Dick Tiger, there wasn’t much he could do to control the range in the contest. Foster owned a four-inch reach advantage, and he was going to use every millimeter of it to keep Hopkins at arm’s length. When Hopkins tried to block the shot, Foster used it as a blinder and put a body shot behind it. When Hopkins slipped it, Foster would feint with the jab to move B-Hop out of position and then come back with it as the man from Philadelphia returned to his original position, leading the head the way you lead a duck with a shotgun when hunting or a receiver when throwing a football.
Two rounds in, it looked like the rout was on.
His opponent utterly flummoxed and nowhere near as fast on the draw as Roy Jones had been, Foster began to open up and use the jab as more than a standard range-finder and defensive weapon. It was not the jab, after all, that had knocked out Dick Tiger; it was the right hand, and Foster began to find a home for it as he displayed the same mastery of distance that Floyd Mayweather had in both the Diego Corrales fight and in his trip to the timey-wimey ball world of boxing against Azumah Nelson last week.
Hopkins had a reputation, wholly deserved, as a smart fighter, but when a fighter just had him outgunned, as in the Taylor fights, it didn’t matter how smart he was—this was looking more like the Kovalev fight in 2014 than Hopkins’ title run at 175.
For four rounds this continued, opening up a gap so large that Hopkins, seven rounds into the fight, already needed at least a knockdown if not a knockout in order to have any hope of winning it.
It’s as though Bernard Hopkins forgot how to jab. Between being beaten to the punch and blinded by the constant two-stroke engine of punches coming at him, the jab wasn’t going to be a way to get anything serious started. Nor would the straight right; it simply wasn’t fast enough against an orthodox fighter to get over the top of the incoming jab. Hooks were right out; straight punches beat round ones, after all.
With every passing round, Foster continued to use that jab, but he started to use it more and more as the “one” in a funk beat, doing Bootsy Collins-level improvisation with his combinations before always returning on the downstroke to pounding out that jab.
The parliament on press row responded to the funkadelic performance with fawning admiration; had Hopkins fared so badly against Tarver as he did on this night, he might very well have actually retired and stayed retired in 2006, and we’d think of him solely as a middleweight for purposes of history.
Another count-by-tens, count-by-nines moment came up on the scorecards, numbers as indelible as the same numbers on the cards held up by the delicious-looking ring card girls in beer-company-supplied skimpy swimwear over the next two rounds. The boobs may have been symmetrical and close and beautiful; the fight sure wasn’t.
A clearly defeated Hopkins hardly threw back; a confident Foster, assured of victory, simply would not engage in a way that offered any risk, continuing to pound the jab, which, thanks to the minimal resistance he’d encountered, was as fresh as when the fight started. Hopkins couldn’t even win the conditioning and endurance battle.
Hopkins may have a fine argument as one of the greatest middleweights ever to fight, but his legacy at light heavyweight has always been a matter of some question, and against a true all-time great right in the middle of his prime, ages at time of time machine being 41 for Hopkins and 30 for Foster, this was never going to bear any resemblance to a close fight. Foster was just too good, truly historically great at the weight level, that Hopkins had about as much luck at light heavy as Foster himself had against the all-time greats at heavyweight.
When the scorecards were read, all three judges scored it the same, 120-108, for your winner, by unanimous decision…
RESULT: FOSTER UD12 HOPKINS.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. fights Andre Berto in the prime timeline; in San Dimas, we’ve got him up against Sugar Ray Leonard in a welterweight contest. And just because we love when people click on these things, what better co-feature than Manny Pacquiao, at featherweight, taking on Salvador Sanchez? This might be the biggest, most star-studded Historical Fight Night yet. That’s coming next Friday, September 11, at 6 PM Eastern/3 PM Pacific, right here on The Boxing Tribune.
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Until next week, this is Historical Fight Night, signing off. Thanks for reading!