Make it 20 defenses in row for Hopkins


LOS ANGELES - Undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins prides himself on defeating opponents in a variety of ways. He added another last night by sleepwalking his way to a victory over Howard Eastman.

In winning his 20th consecutive title defense, Hopkins did not take too many chances but he connected on enough punches over the second half of the fight to defeat an overmatched Eastman in a 12-round unanimous decision before 12,828 at Staples Center.

"It's an honor to make history," said Hopkins, who extended his record for consecutive title defenses by a middleweight. "To make 20 consecutive title defenses is a record that I began to look at after my 12th and 13th defense."

In his first career fight in Los Angeles, Hopkins, who turned 40 last month, certainly did not give the type of performance boxing fans hoped to see from a fighter who won his first major championship by stopping Segundo Mercado in 1995. Many in attendance booed Hopkins' effort over the final two rounds.

"But you heard more cheers than boos," said the champion, who improved to 46-2-1 and has not lost since Roy Jones won a unanimous decision over him on May 22, 1993.

All three judges had Hopkins winning easily. Lou Filippo had it 119-110; Daniel Van De Wiele, 117-111; and Ken Morita, 116-112.

"He's a good fighter, who throws a good punch," Hopkins said about Eastman, who dropped to 40-2. "I just wanted to fight a tactical fight and I did that."

Eastman, the No.2-ranked World Boxing Council contender from Battersea, England, entered the night with 34 knockouts, but he seemed afraid to throw any power punches against Hopkins, who kept the challenger fighting at his pace most of the bout.

The fight began at a pedestrian pace with the fighters combining to connect on six total punches in the opening round. The next two rounds did not feature much more action, but in the fourth, Eastman connected with a couple of right hooks that caught Hopkins' attention.

Early in the fifth round, Eastman began to throw more punches, which opened up Hopkins' counterattack. By the time the round ended, Hopkins seemed to take control of the action with three consecutive left hooks that shook Eastman.

Hopkins, who defeated Oscar De La Hoya with an impressive ninth-round knockout in September in Las Vegas, began to show his championship form in the sixth round by controlling Eastman with left jabs and lead right hands.

In the seventh, Hopkins gained more momentum with a couple of lead left hooks, but Eastman never appeared hurt as he continued to apply pressure. In the eighth round, Eastman landed some of his best punches of the fight when he hit Hopkins with a couple of hard rights, but the champion ended the round with his own sharp punches.

With his chances for an upset slipping away, Eastman began to press in the ninth and paid for it late in the round when Hopkins countered with a powerful left hook that rocked the challenger.

The 10th round was all Hopkins as he dusted off a few combinations that usually ended with a hard left hook or left uppercut. Hopkins also dominated with more lead left hooks that he landed over Eastman's right hand, which he kept low for most of the fight.

Over the final two rounds, Hopkins landed more hard punches but did not come close to a knockout. He landed 43 percent of his punches, including 112 of 255 power punches thrown. Eastman connected on only 13 percent of his punches, including just 66 of 349 power shots.

On the undercard, Jermain Taylor (23-0, 17 KOs) made a case for himself as the future of the middleweight division - and a possible contender for Hopkins - by stopping Daniel Edouard at 2:26 of the third round with a series of devastating shots to the head.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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