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Another veteran trainer, Teddy Atlas, says you can see that fear sometimes before they even start walking toward the ring.
"I've seen guys lose it when a guy takes off his shirt during a weigh-in," says Atlas, who learned under Tyson's early mentor, the late Cus D'Amato. "I've seen guys watch guys shadowbox in the ring and get nervous. I've seen guys in the amateurs see that the other guy was wearing a better type of boxing shoe and lose it, or the other guy had a mouthpiece made by a dentist and all they had was a plastic one, and they would lose it."
Or sometimes it takes a little lunacy beforehand to unnerve an opponent. "If a person thinks you're crazy, he tends to fuck with you less," says matchmaker Johnny Boz. "It's like a guy walking the streets and talking to himselfhow many people are going to mug him?"
Apparently, Bernard Hopkins is listening.
Few really expect the 36-year-old "Executioner" (39-2-1-1, 28 KO's) to defeat the 28-year-old Felix "Tito" Trinidad (40-0, 33 KO's) on September 15 at Madison Square Garden. Trinidad, the pride of Puerto Ricans everywhere, has been scintillating in his last three efforts, versus David Reid, Fernando Vargas, and William Joppy. There is speculation that, at age 36, Hopkins is shot, that he doesn't have the power or legs to deal with Trinidad.
Hopkins isn't likely to make Trinidad start shaking with fear, but there's no doubt that the older fighter is playing head games with Tito.
On July 9 at Bryant Park, during the fighters' first press conference, amid chants of "Hopkins sucks, Hopkins sucks," the Executioner snatched a small Puerto Rican flag out of Trinidad's hands and threw it to the ground.
Two days later, at a second press conference in Puerto Rico, Hopkins grabbed a Puerto Rican flag from Don King's hands and again threw it to the ground. This time an angry mob jumped onto the stage and chased Hopkins up the bleachers of Roberto Clemente Coliseo, where he reportedly knocked out an angry fan who was wielding a two-by-four. A helicopter rescued Hopkins from the mob.
"He [Trinidad] tried to pull away the flag, and I just manhandled him and took the doggone flag and threw it to the ground," Hopkins later told Fightnews.com. "The look on his face was like a kid seeing a ghost and calling out for Mommy and she ain't run into the room fast enough." The Executioner hopes these stunts will pay this dividend: that the normally cool-headed Trinidad will come out fighting mad instead of fighting smart.
"It could make Tito so anxious that he's overanxious," allows Atlas. "But I don't believe it will. He's been a professional so long that it won't affect him. Bernard's an experienced guy, a little older, and he's just trying to even the playing field. Also, Bernard's never gotten the attention he deserves, so he's trying to highlight the fight a little more."
If Hopkins does pull out a victory, its seeds will have been sown during the pre-fight buildup. There have been other instances where fights were all but decided before the bell rang. Here are three:
CASSIUS CLAY vs. SONNY LISTON (1964)
Nobody gave the 22-year-old Clay much of a chance against Liston for the heavyweight title. Reporters said Clay held his hands too low and incorrectly moved straight back instead of going side to side. Clay ignored the skeptics and decided the best way to deal with Liston, a distant and gloomy man, was to mentally undress him before the fight.
Clay talked to Liston as nobody had spoken to him before. He drove to the estate in Miami where Sonny was staying before the fight and camped out on his lawn. "You big ugly bear!" he hollered. At the weigh-in, Clay ran around like a schoolkid during recess, hollering, "Hold me back, hold me back. This is my show! Round eight to prove I'm great!" Everyone thought he was a lunatic, including Liston.
Hearing reports that Clay was getting pounded on by his sparring partners in training camp, Liston was confident that he'd get a quick knockout, and he supplemented his training by eating hot dogs and drinking beer at a nearby racetrack. Clay made him quit on his stool after the sixth round.
MIKE TYSON vs. TREVOR BERBICK (1986)
For Berbick, having a date to fight Tyson was like being handed a death sentence and then being told to train for it. Gunning to become the youngest heavyweight champion ever, Tyson was known for going into a frenzy right from the opening bell, often freaking out his opponents. He entered the World Boxing Council title fight 27-0, with 25 knockouts, and everybody ringside could feel the tension in Berbick.