LAS VEGAS (AP) – Jermain Taylor was, indeed, ready for Bernard Hopkins, and he ended Hopkins’ record middleweight title winning streak with a split decision Saturday night.

Hopkins had won 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. It was the first loss for Hopkins, 40, since Roy Jones defeated him 12 years ago.

Judge Jerry Roth scored the fight 116-112 for Hopkins, but judges Duane Ford and Paul Smith both had it 115-113 for Taylor. The AP scored it 114-113 for Hopkins.

Hopkins started very slowly, 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 in the first three rounds.

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.

Hopkins never really opened up full-blast 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.

But he couldn’t, even though he was on the attack in the last two rounds. 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.

AP-ES-07-17-05 0037EDT

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