LAS VEGAS Jermain Taylor stepped into the ring with the master and taught Bernard Hopkins a lesson.
Hopkins' experience, ring savvy and tricks were supposed to make the difference in Saturday night's undisputed middleweight title bout. Instead, Taylor showed Hopkins that getting started too late can be decisive.
''I learned so much this fight. It takes patience to win,'' Taylor said after earning a split decision. ''I knew he was going to come out to a slow start. Bernard Hopkins took his time. I feel I did enough in the early rounds to win the fight.''
Hopkins had won a record 20 consecutive defenses, but he started slowly and only got to Taylor late in the fight. By then, the undefeated challenger had built up a big enough lead on two judges' scorecards to take the crown.
Taylor, 26, has won all 24 of his pro fights. There was concern, though, that he couldn't handle the seasoned Hopkins, considered as good as any boxer in the sport today.
Early on, though, Taylor dominated. By the time Hopkins took charge, it was too late.
''He never hurt me,'' Taylor said. ''He got some good punches in, but he never hurt me.''
It was the first loss for the 40-year-old Hopkins since Roy Jones defeated him 12 years ago.
''This is a situation where I won and they gave it to the other guy,'' Hopkins said.
Judge Jerry Roth scored the fight 116-112 for Hopkins, but judges Duane Ford and Paul Smith both had it 115-113 for Taylor. Ford gave the final round to Taylor, and if that round had gone to Hopkins, it would have been a draw.
''It felt great, I felt like crying,'' Taylor said of the decision.
The AP scored it 114-113 for Hopkins.
''I can hold my head up high,'' Hopkins said. ''I know I lost to Roy Jones in that fight, and I prepared myself to never feel that way again. I believe I put on a great performance.''
When told about Ford's awarding the 12th round to Taylor, Hopkins said: ''He did what? That's a shock to me.''
Hopkins, now 46-3-1, will get a rematch, which was in the contract for this bout.
Hopkins did almost nothing in the first two rounds, and the pro-Taylor crowd ate it up. With many in the crowd of 11,992 at the MGM Grand making the trip from Arkansas Taylor wore Razorbacks red trunks with Arkansas written across the back the fans had lots to cheer about.
But the chants of ''JT, JT'' stopped in the fourth when the action slowed, and in the fifth Taylor was cut on the top left side of his head by an accidental butt. It bled for much of the remaining rounds and seemed to slow Taylor for a while.
''I was wasting a lot of energy chasing him around when I should have cut off the ring,'' Taylor admitted.
Hopkins, who like Taylor weighed the division limit of 160 pounds, never really opened up until the 10th, when he followed a series of exchanges with a pair of huge rights. Taylor stumbled into the ropes and held on, and Hopkins looked ready to end it.
He couldn't, even though he was on the attack in the last two rounds. Hopkins even clowned at times, then went back to punishing the challenger.
''From the fifth or sixth round, I just dominated the fight,'' Hopkins said. ''Maybe the only thing I didn't do was knock him out.''
At the end, Hopkins saluted the crowd by standing on top of the ropes as Detroit Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace joined him in his corner. But, like Wallace's Pistons last month, Hopkins lost his title moments later.
That shocked Hopkins, who claimed the body language in Taylor's corner made it appear the challenger and his backers thought they'd lost. It was a sweet victory for Taylor.
''He's an awesome fighter and I will always respect him,'' Taylor said. ''I learned so much in the fight that I can't wait for a rematch.''
It also was sweet for his promoter, Lou DiBella, who guided Hopkins to the top of the game, then was fired in 2001. DiBella later won a libel suit against Hopkins, who claimed he had to pay DiBella to secure fights for him when DiBella was with HBO.
''I didn't need vindication,'' DiBella said. ''I beat him in court and Jermain beat him in the ring. It closes an ugly chapter in my life.''
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