Daily News boxing writer Bernard Fernandez counts down what he considers to be the top five performances by 46-year-old Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins, who bids to become the oldest fighter to win a widely recognized world championhip when he challenges WBC light-heavyweight titlist Jean Pascal tomorrow night in Montreal.

Here is his account of No. 1, Hopkins' 12th-round stoppage of Felix Trinidad in their Sept. 29, 2001, middleweight unification bout in Madison Square Garden:

Take 19,075 spectators, a bout to produce the first undisputed middleweight champion in 14 years, heated feelings all around and fighters with a combined record of 79-2-1, with 61 knockouts, and what do you get? The most anticipated 160-pound matchup since Sugar Ray Leonard upset Marvelous Marvin Hagler in 1987.

Hopkins came in as the IBF and WBC champ, having defeated Keith Holmes in the semifinal round of the four-man "tournament," the winner of which would receive the newly commissioned Sugar Ray Robinson Award. Trinidad, a Puerto Rican icon and former welterweight and junior middleweight titlist, had moved up in spectacular fashion, having seized William Joppy's WBA crown on a fifth-round stoppage.

And if boxing alone wasn't enough to generate interest, Hopkins stirred passions by twice throwing down the Puerto Rican flag during a promotional tour, which prompted an angry Trinidad to guarantee that he'd win by quick, emphatic knockout.

But Hopkins, at 36 eager to prove he was the real deal, also was seething after he learned that Don King, who promoted both he and Trinidad, had already had "Tito's" name engraved on the Sugar Ray Robinson Award, in anticipation of a victory by the 3-1 favorite. And King wasn't alone.

"I don't see Trinidad having too many problems," boxing legend Thomas Hearns said. "Hopkins is a good fighter, but Trinidad's a great fighter. Great usually beats good."

So true. And on this night, Hopkins was the greater fighter, battering Trinidad and flooring him in the 12th round, which prompted Trinidad's father-manager, Felix Sr., to enter the ring in a sign of surrender. *