Jermain Taylor was, indeed, ready for Bernard Hopkins, and he ended Hopkins's 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. There was concern, though, that he couldn't handle the seasoned Hopkins, considered as good as any boxer in the sport today.

Early on, though, Taylor dominated. By the time Hopkins took charge, it was too late.

"He never hurt me," Taylor said. "He got some good punches in, but he never hurt me."

It was the first loss for the 40-year-old Hopkins 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. Ford gave the final round to Taylor, and if that round had gone to Hopkins, it would have been a draw.

"It felt great, I felt like crying," Taylor said of the decision.

"This is a situation where I won and they gave it to the other guy," Hopkins said.

Hopkins, now 46-3-1, did almost nothing in the first two rounds, 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, who is from Little Rock, wore Razorbacks red trunks with Arkansas written across the back -- the fans had lots to cheer about.

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.

"I was wasting a lot of energy chasing him around when I should have cut off the ring," Taylor admitted.

Hopkins, who like Taylor weighed the division limit of 160 pounds, never really opened up 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.

He couldn't, even though he was on the attack in the last two rounds. Hopkins even clowned at times, then went back to punishing the challenger.

"From the fifth or sixth round, I just dominated the fight," Hopkins said. "Maybe the only thing I didn't do was knock him out."

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.

It was a sweet victory for Taylor, who said a rematch will be upcoming.

"He's an awesome fighter and I will always respect him," Taylor said. "I learned so much in the fight that I can't wait for a rematch."

* Boxing Notes: WBC heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko was ordered to fight the winner of the Hasim Rahman-Monte Barrett bout by the organization on Friday.

Rahman, a former champion, and Barrett will fight Aug. 13 in Chicago. WBC president Jose Sulaiman said Klitschko must then meet the winner of that bout.