On December 17th the legendary Bernard Hopkins returned to the ring following a two-year hiatus to take on top Light-Heavyweight contender Joe Smith Jr. at The Forum in Inglewood, CA. The main storyline of the bout was that it was billed as “The Final One” a title to symbolize the final time Bernard Hopkins would enter the ring as a fighter after an illustrious twenty-eight year career. Prior to this bout, this observer stated that even though Hopkins himself was insistent on this being his last fight, I was not sure on the basis that the fifty-one year old future Hall of Famer was facing a fighter who was rated in the top five of two world sanctioning organizations and that if he were to emerge victorious and do so in convincing fashion that one could assume that he would seek another opportunity at a world championship.
For a time it appeared that would be the case as the fight was fought at a measured and tactical pace, which is tailor-made for Hopkins. Hopkins using lateral movement and strategically placing his punches seemed to hold his own against a fighter nearly twenty-five years his junior. Hopkins not only held his own, but also dictated how the fight was being fought for much of the bout. Even though Hopkins was using all of the craft and tactics that made him a dominant world champion in his prime, what was also noticeable was the effect of Smith’s punches when he was able to land flush.
In previewing this fight I also stated that it was logical to question whether or not “Ring Rust” would be a factor for Hopkins given not only that he was coming off of a two-year layoff, but more specifically due to the fact that he is approaching his fifty-second birthday in January 2017. Although Hopkins was able to have moments where he was able to use Smith’s own aggression against him, Smith’s constant pressure did have success and despite being made to miss some of his offense, he was able to land punches on Hopkins that perhaps would not have been the case against Hopkins a few years ago when even as a fighter in his late 40s, Hopkins was able to befuddle opponents and slip some of the type of punches that he was getting hit with in this fight.
Hopkins was still able however, to execute much of his offense with what has been a key weapon throughout his career, his right hand. Despite being at a stage in his career where he was taking more punishment, Hopkins was able to keep the fight close and competitive throughout. It was in the eighth round however, that the fight would end under odd, but not unprecedented circumstances.
In the early seconds of round eight Smith as he had done for the entire fight applied pressure on Hopkins and forced Hopkins on the ropes. A sudden and short combination from Smith knocked Hopkins out of the ring and out of the fight as Hopkins was unable to get back in the ring before the count of twenty giving Smith a knockout victory. When Hopkins went through the ropes and out of the ring, I immediately had thoughts of the first encounter between former Heavyweight world champions Hasim Rahman and Oleg Maskaev in November 1999 where Maskaev landed a hellacious right hand that knocked Rahman out of the ring and out cold.
Although this knockout was not as devastating as Rahman-Maskaev 1, it was sudden, dramatic, and frankly scary due to the way it occurred. Almost immediately after being knocked down, Hopkins for his part contended that he had been pushed out of the ring. In the days since the fight, this observer has studied several replays of the knockout and even though Hopkins felt that he was pushed, it was a short, but effective combination highlighted by a right hand and two left hooks by Smith that sent Hopkins out of the ring and it is my opinion that it was a clean knockout albeit odd and rare in the way that it occurred.
Even though I stated shortly after the bout’s conclusion on Twitter that I thought that there would be a protest filed with the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC), after reviewing the replays several times from various angles of the knockout, I do not believe that such a protest would be successful if attempted. Despite suffering the first knockout loss of his career after twenty-eight years and sixty-five professional fights, the loss to Joe Smith Jr. will have no impact on the legacy Bernard Hopkins has established.
Although this outcome was not the way Bernard Hopkins or any fighter for that matter wants to end their career on, Hopkins will go down in history as perhaps the greatest Middleweight of all time having set the record for consecutive World Middleweight championship defenses of twenty that he set between 1995-2005. He will also go down in history as the oldest fighter in history to win a world championship. A feat he accomplished twice, first in May 2011, when at age forty-six Hopkins surpassed George Foreman as the oldest fighter in the history the sport to win a world championship by defeating then WBC Light-Heavyweight world champion Jean Pascal in their rematch. After losing the championship in his rematch with Chad Dawson in April 2012, Hopkins would break his own record in 2013 by defeating then undefeated IBF Light-Heavyweight world champion Tavoris Cloud at age forty-eight.
The most important part of Hopkins’ legacy however, in the eyes of this observer will always be that he established that legacy often without the support of mainstream exposure, particularly for several years as a Middleweight world champion and being a man of strong conviction and at times leaving lucrative opportunities on the table and choosing to stick to his principles as well as at times doing battle with various promoters and calling to task some of the political elements that surround the sport in the process. Even though for a good portion of his career, Hopkins did not receive the recognition or respect he truly deserved, it was refreshing to see Hopkins, a true credit to the sport of Boxing receive what amounted to a standing ovation from the crowd in attendance as he left the ring for what he insists is the final time following his loss to Joe Smith Jr. For a fighter who later in his career would periodically walk to the ring to versions of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” this observer has one thing left to say.
Mr. Hopkins, you truly did it “Your Way.” Congratulations on a great career.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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