By Marc Livitz: Whether as boxer, promoter or both, Bernard Hopkins has been a staple of the boxing vanguard for the better part of two decades. The former undisputed middleweight champion was victorious in twenty consecutive title defenses over 11 years before he made the choice to jump 15 pounds to the north and test his luck as a light heavyweight. History will undoubtedly praise the career move as a triumphant one, as his first outing at 175 pounds was a smashing success by way of a win over one of the top fighters of the time, Antonio Tarver in 2006. Five years later, "The Alien" Hopkins became the oldest world champion in history at the age of 46 when he defeated Jean Pascal. As he nears his 52nd birthday, the man from Philadelphia has accomplished too much and left far too great a legacy in the sport to simply be passed off as a mere anomaly. Sometime in his mid forties, he dropped the moniker "The Executioner" as his alias to henceforth be known as "The Alien". It’s makes perfect sense, as most American men at or near their fifties likely have trouble climbing multiple flights of stairs or find the breadth of their exercise to be trips to and from the kitchen.
On Saturday, December 17th, Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 KO’s) will take what he insists will be the final walk to the ring as a fighter and face hard punching Joe Smith, Jr. (22-1, 18 KO’s) of Long Island, New York. Almost 25 years his senior, Hopkins hopes that he as well as his fellow east coast boxer give fans at the Fabulous Forum in Los Angeles a night to remember. Of course, we’ve heard or at least read into such hints from "The Alien" in years gone by, yet this should be it, by all estimates. Many fans of the sport will thank him for pushing his absolute toughest opponent, Father Time as far as possible. So much more can be said and written about the man whose fist is a lock in plaster for Canastota. He’s making his first appearance in just over two years. We last saw him in late 2014 when he survived a drubbing at the hands of Sergey Kovalev but still lost an absolute one sided, unanimous decision. He may be missed by some while perhaps excused by others, but there can be no confusion that the sport of boxing is greater because of his contributions.
The bout will be televised in in the United States as part of HBO’s "World Championship Boxing"
(10 PM ET/PT).
Hopkins and Smith took part in an international media call on Wednesday afternoon and they were joined by Oscar De La Hoya (President and CEO of Golden Boy Promotions) and Joe DeGuardia (President and CEO, Star Boxing). Selected highlights listed below.
Opening Statements, Oscar De La Hoya: "On December 17th, a boxing legend will enter the ring for the last time at the Forum in Los Angeles as he faces Joe Smith, Jr., who has born two years after Bernard turned professional. Bernard’s boxing ledger reads like a Hall of Fame introduction speech. He’s faced the "who’s who" in boxing. Felix Trinidad, Glen Johnson, Antonio Tarver, Roy Jones, Jr., Winky Wright and myself have all tasted defeat at the hands of "The Executioner".
"This will be an amazing final fight for Bernard Hopkins and it will top off the year with a big "bang". This is no walk in the park for Bernard. He always wants to fight the very best and he always wants to challenge himself. This is a big fight and anything can happen. He’ll make history on December 17th against a very tough fighter in Joe Smith, Jr."
Opening Statements, Bernard Hopkins:"This is a historic night for me. I hope to show the fans some action from top to bottom. I’m ready to have the "final one". I’m in competition with myself and I’ve always been in that state. Physically, my condition is automatic. It’s more a mental challenge these days. I’m ready to start the final stretch of my career and I’m feeling great. The young guys are going to learn something. They’ll be learning the textbook version of boxing on HBO in prime time. I’m really looking forward to this. Just sit back, enjoy and understand that there will be no more like me."
Opening Statements, Joe DeGuardia: "We thank Golden Boy for giving the chance to Joe to be part of this fight. It’s a pleasure to be part of Bernard’s final fight at the Forum. We’re looking forward to this night. Joe Smith will be part of the final night of Bernard’s career, who’ll be in for a surprise. Joe’s a hardworking guy who swings that sledgehammer and is part of the union. He’s is part of the American Dream."
"We’re all focused on Joe Smith defeating Bernard Hopkins, then hopefully every door in the world will open for him."
Opening Remarks, Joe Smith, Jr.: "I’m looking forward to putting on a great show. I’ve been working hard in the gym for what’s to come and getting ready for everything Bernard’s got. I’m ready to get in there and put on a good show."
Hopkins on trainer, John David Jackson and his future: "I’ve been working with John David Jackson for a while now. We came to a decision that Naazim (Richardson) isn’t fit for this situation for personal reasons of his own. The glove fits and John’s a champion from Philadelphia, too. I’m in good hands. He has the right information and I respect him. You need to have confidence and trust in your teacher. To me, this was a perfect transition. He trusts me and I trust him. That’s important as a veteran of the ring."
"I’m done. This is it. Whether through John David Jackson or Naazim Richardson, I know what I can do. As long as I’ve been in boxing, I already know that I have more than Joe Smith does. I want to put on a performance where you’ll ask and beg me to stay, but I won’t. I hope Smith pushes me to bring my greatness out. I believe timing is everything. I proved lots of people wrong. It’s at a point where there’s nothing left to prove. I’ve done it my way. No one can look through my eyes and see what I’ve seen. When I’m done, there will be no stone un-turned."
On why he’s done and changes during his career: "I’m in control of what I do. I’ve been doing that since 1988 when I was released from prison. I’ve learned from everyone I’ve been with and take the knowledge from the cradle to the grave. Joe Smith can learn this, too. Just because you start off with a team doesn’t mean that you’ll end with them. It’s part of life. Some things you can’t control. I can function under any circumstance and I’ve proven that. It’s not a badge of honor but just that I’ve been here before."
Smith on his chances and strategy: "I’m prepared to go twelve rounds. Bernard is a crafty guy and he knows how to survive in there. If the chance comes, then I’ll look to take him out. I go into every fight the same way. I just see who’s in front of me and know they’re there to hurt me and take everything from me."
"I believe that I have one the best jabs in boxing. Most of my fights have been short, but a lot of people will be impressed what I can do in there."
Hopkins on fighting in LA and closing his career: "One thing about having longevity in the sport is that you’ll gain support and become worldly known. Joe Smith mentioned that he’s part of the union. I’m also from a union known as the Philadelphia Department of Corrections. My fan base is everywhere. He has his chance on December 17th to turn his page."
"I will be the Matrix, the Executioner and everything I need to be in that squared circle. I know the real estate of every ring before I even step in it. This is like watching the last game of Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. I can do a lot of things at the same time. Joe Smith has to train for maybe six to seven different styles that I show him."
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December 1, 2016