LAS VEGAS (AP) – Bernard Hopkins didn’t act his age, but he didn’t win the fight either. Jermain Taylor established himself as the future of the middleweight division, and now Hopkins can only look back and hope his legacy as a champion is secure.

His second narrow loss Saturday night to Taylor did nothing to damage Hopkins’ reputation as an ageless fighter, though it may have finally ended a remarkable career just a month before he turns 41.

If it did, Hopkins has no regrets.

“My career has been tremendous,” Hopkins said. “I really have nothing to be mad about because I changed my life around. I went from being a convict in prison to being wealthy and having a great boxing career.”

Hopkins looked nothing like an aging fighter against Taylor, but he left the ring disappointed once again after a narrow decision went Taylor’s way just as it had in the first fight in July between the two.

After a record 20 straight title defenses spanning 11 years, Hopkins has now lost two in a row.

Even he seems to realize that his fighting days may be over.

“Right now I just want everybody know that I am OK,” Hopkins said. “We’re going to sit down at the top of the year and we’ll take it from there.”

Hopkins seemingly has few options left in the sport, other than to act as a co-promoter with Oscar De La Hoya for other fighters. He talks about moving up to light heavyweight to fight Antonio Tarver but that appears more wishful thinking than anything else, and there would seem little incentive for a third fight with Taylor.

Hopkins thought he did enough to pull out the win in a fight that mirrored the first the first bout, which was won by split decision by Taylor. But once again the judges saw it otherwise.

Taylor won by unanimous decision this time around but all three judges had it very close, 115-113. Like he did in the first fight, Hopkins doomed his chances to win by doing little early and giving away the first half of the fight.

He came on strong in the late rounds, but Taylor had enough in the 11th round to win it on all three scorecards, cementing a win that allowed him to remain unbeaten and keep the titles he won from Hopkins the first time around.

“I give nothing but respect to Bernard Hopkins. He fought very well tonight and he has proven that he is a tough fighter and a true champion,” Taylor said. “But right now I am the champion and I feel like I am the champion. I knew I was going to win and I thought I won the fight.”

Taylor said he learned a lesson from the first fight and didn’t waste a lot of energy chasing Hopkins around in the early rounds.

In a battle of counter-punchers, he did just enough to hold Hopkins off in the later rounds to get the nod.

Both fighters landed about the same amount of punches, but Taylor may have won the fight by pressing the action in the final seconds of each round.

“I’ve still got a lot to learn but I did win it,” Taylor said. “The man is a clever fighter. It’s hard to hit him. You’ve got to pull all the tricks out just to hit him.”

While Hopkins contemplates retirement, the future is bright for the 27-year-old Taylor, who is now undefeated in 25 fights. He’s hugely popular in his home state of Arkansas, and promoter Lou DiBella says he will probably make his next title defense in front of the home fans.

Taylor looked comfortable as a champion in the rematch, unlike the first fight when he admitted he was awed by the circumstances and by his opponent. Though the fight was close, he never lost command on the ring as he had in the first fight when Hopkins landed big shots in the final rounds.

“I think I showed that I am a true champion and my hard work paid off,” Taylor said.

AP-ES-12-04-05 1442EST

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