By Derek Bonnett
Many people wanted to believe. Bernard Hopkins had turned back the clock so many times in his illustrious career, that even at the age of fifty-one and nearly two years of ring inactivity, fans wanted to think that Joe Smith Jr. would be easily dissected and defeated to complete the final chapter of one of boxing’s greatest storylines ever. Hopkins turned back the clock for fans by ditching his silly "Alien" moniker and resuming his role as boxing’s "Executioner", complete with the theatrics from earlier in his career which began in 1988. However, the Hopkins who showed up at the Forum in Inglewood, California, USA was just a shell or, if you would, and empty hood. This Executioner’s song would be the last and, in the end, more of a dirge marking the end of an all-time great career on December 17, 2016.
Hopkins entered the ring a lithe 174 and in admirable shape for a man his age, but lacking some of the muscular support of previous years. The faded former champion was slow afoot and moved in choppy paces, which looked more of a necessity than anything attributed to strategy. The round was slow with low output, but Smith was able to rock Hopkins with a shot high on his skull, which delivered a foreboding message to everyone watching. Wisely, Smith attacked the elder statesman to the body in round two to began chipping away at the future Hall of Famer’s legs. Hopkins was forced to hold repeatedly. The old veteran bent the rules and head-butted Smith on the way in to produce a small cut that would end up having little bearing on the outcome of the fight. Then, Hopkins woke up in the third and began landing right hands off the ropes and even a few of his own to the basement of Smith. Hopkins’ resurgence almost looked methodically, having seen a little of Smith, tasted his power, and allowing the younger fighter to burn off some energy. Round four would be Hopkins’ best of the fight. The aged fighter landed more left hooks and right hands that previous rounds and appeared to be absorbing the power of the younger fighter with greater ease. Smith continued working Hopkins’ ribs, but after four rounds Hopkins managed to level himself on the SecondsOut scorecard 38-38.
The fifth round began with more right hands from Hopkins as he countered along the ropes. Smith continued to stalk and follow Hopkins around much to the dismay of his team, but, contrary to conventional wisdom, Smith was able to have big moments in doing so. Smith plowed Hopkins body with hooks and uppercuts and a big right hand highlighted the round for the younger fighter. The final minute of the fifth round truly marked the beginning of the end for Hopkins. Smith pressure Hopkins through the sixth and kept him with little breathing room. Hopkins remained on the move, in a backward motion, through the seventh, further evidence that Smith’s stalking pressure was actually earning dividends in tiring Hopkins out. Hopkins counters fell to one at a time and increasingly became near-misses. In round eight, a right hook hurt Hopkins as Smith backed him to the ropes. A follow up left, right, left knocked Hopkins out of the ring where he would be counted out. The official time of the stoppage was :53 of round eight.
Hopkins immediately cried foul, accusing Smith of pushing him out of the ring. Citing injury, Hopkins offered his surrender even though he had already been counted out after twenty seconds of being out of the ring. Video replays proved that the only thing pushing Hopkins out of the ring were the thunderous lefts and rights of Smith.
Hopkins, 55-8-2 (32), simply stayed around for one bout too long. It is customary that the records of mighty ring legends eventually get marred by defeats to somewhat ordinary fighters. Hopkins’ battle with Father Time surpassed that of even Archie Moore and George Foreman, but in the end Hopkins was also denied that victory. However, truer words have never been spoken than by Larry Merchant when he called Hopkins a "clock with no hands; ageless".
Smith, 27, to his own credit climbed to 23-1-0 (19). Born just eleven months after Hopkins turned professional, the Long Island, New York fighter has put together a brilliant 2016 with three KOs. Smith’s KOs of Andrej Fonfara and, now, Hopkins, should earn him Upset of the Year contention. Some could say he is even a dark-horse for Fighter of the Year given his stature prior to June. The Local 66 construction worked has much to be proud of and looks forward to high profile bouts in 2017.
Hopkins asked to be remembered as "a hard-worker, a smart worker."
Oh, Bernard, you will be lionized for so much more than that.
On the undercard, Oleksandr Usyk retained his WBO cruiserweight title for the first time with a ninth round KO of Thabiso Mchunu. The performance was impressive as Usyk had to overcome the awkward style of the shorter Mchunu after losing two or three of the opening rounds. The champion responded well though and dropped Mchunu thrice en route to a stoppage victory. Usyk elevated his record to 11-0-0 (10). Mchunu fell to 17-3-0 (11).