Hopkins keeps title with entertaining win over Wright

LAS VEGAS -- The conventional wisdom heading into Bernard Hopkins' light heavyweight championship defense against Winky Wright on Saturday night was:

A) It would be a boring fight.

B) It would be a close fight.

Well, it wasn't boring. It was pretty entertaining. But it was also a fight filled with many close rounds between defensive tacticians who decided to mix it up more than they normally do.

In the end, however, it was Hopkins, at age 42, winning a unanimous decision to retain his title before a crowd of 8,626 at Mandalay Bay.

Although the scorecards were somewhat wide -- 117-111, 117-111 and 116-112 -- there were some very difficult rounds to score as both fighters had their moments. ESPN.com scored it 116-112 for Hopkins.

"It was a very close fight, a tough fight," Hopkins said. "Winky is very tough, and he kept coming. He knows I respect him a lot."

For Hopkins (48-4-1, 32 KOs), it was a terrific encore for what he accomplished 13 months ago, when the long-reigning middleweight champion moved up to light heavyweight and easily dominated Antonio Tarver to win the title.

Hopkins had announced before the Tarver fight that he would retire afterward, and it was one of the great walk-away performances in sports history. But Hopkins couldn't stay away. Feeling strong and good at a heavier weight after more than a decade of squeezing down to middleweight, Hopkins decided to come back to fight Wright, the former undisputed middleweight champ and top middleweight contender.

It turned out to be the right decision.

Although Hopkins no longer can fight for a full three minutes of each round, he was effective in spots with his combination punching. When Wright (51-4-1, 25 KOs) landed his straight left, Hopkins was able to respond with his own blows.

But Hopkins also used his head -- a lot. Referee Robert Byrd warned him repeatedly for using his head, but he never deducted a point.

An accidental head butt opened a nasty cut by Wright's left eye in the third round. Although blood was dripping down his cheek, the 35-year-old was aggressive, with Hopkins countering.

The cut seemed to bother Wright throughout the bout, and he was complaining to Byrd about Hopkins' tactics.

When they clinched in the fourth round, Hopkins rubbed his head against Wright's, drawing one of the many warnings from Byrd.

"I won the fight," said Wright, who suffered his first defeat since a controversial decision loss to Fernando Vargas in 1999. "It was a dirty fight. He was head butting all day. I went up to fight the best. I still want to fight the best. I thought I won the fight, but it was a close fight."

CompuBox statistics indicated it was very close. Hopkins was credited with landing 152 of 640 punches (24 percent) and Wright with landing 167 of 618 blows (27 percent).

Hopkins insisted he didn't butt Wright on purpose.

"He was coming toward me, and I was going under him," Hopkins said. "It was definitely an accidental head butt. It happens a lot when you fight southpaws."

Wright, who earned $2 million plus a percentage of pay-per-view profits, looked as though he was slowing down in the ninth round, and the cut was still bothering him. And, yet again, Byrd warned Hopkins for using his head but still didn't dock a point.

Hopkins looked fresh late in the bout, luring Wright in and snapping off combinations.

In the 12th, he wobbled Wright with a right hand as blood streaked down his cheek.

But Wright didn't blame the head butt for his loss.

"I don't think the head butt was intentional," he said. "It was a head butt. That's that. I told them I was coming to fight. I'm not at 170 [pounds]. I'll go down to 160 or wherever. I'll fight all the best fighters."

HBO will replay the bout, along with live coverage of the Vernon Forrest-Carlos Baldomir junior middleweight title bout, next Saturday (10:15 p.m. ET/PT).

At Friday's weigh-in, Hopkins ignited a fracas when he shoved Wright on the forehead with an open fist. After the fight, he admitted it was a ploy to hype a bout that hadn't caught the public's attention, even though it matched two of the best fighters in the world.

"What happened the other day was just part of the hype of the fight. But it obviously manifested itself in the ring because we both came to fight tonight," said Hopkins, who had $300,000 of his $3 million guaranteed purse held by the Nevada commission for the shoving incident, pending a hearing. "Somebody said it was boring. I didn't think it was boring. It was a great fight."

Hopkins, his legacy growing with each outing, intends to fight on.

"I want [super middleweight champion] Joe Calzaghe next," Hopkins said. "Tell him to come on over here [from Wales] and we'll fight. I'll beat him, too, and then he won't be undefeated."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.