I don’t think anyone could have written a worse way for the legendary Bernard Hopkins to bow out of boxing after nearly 30 years as a pro.
The 51-year-old hadn’t fought in two years when he stepped into the ring on Saturday against on-the-rise New Yorker Joe Smith Jr, having been decisioned by Sergey Kovalev back in November 2014.
Hopkins’ dreams of hanging up the gloves on another historic win, this time past his 50th birtthday, weren’t just scuppered by Smith. They were positively destroyed.
Smith was not only the first man to stop Hopkins, but did so in emphatic fashion, sending ‘The Alien’ flying out of the ring.
Adding to the embarrassment for Hopkins were his post-match comments, which were frankly difficult to listen to and are no better to read again after the fact.
“He got frustrated,” said Hopkins. “Next thing I know he was throwing me out of the ring. I injured myself and hit my head first and hurt my ankle. I would’ve come back. I went out as a solider.”
Of course, he wasn’t thrown out of the ring. Replays showed the referee’s call was spot-on: Smith sent him out of the ring – and out of boxing – with a legal knockdown.
Though a suspected concussion likely had an effect on Hopkins’ post-match words, it nonetheless painted a picture which betrayed the other 66 bouts of his career.
Jim Lampley of HBO compared Smith Jr’s knocking Hopkins out of the ring to former heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano’s knockout of then 37-year-old Joe Louis in the 8th round in October 1951.
Marciano knocked Louis out of the ring, but he was still on the edges of the ring just outside the ropes. Louis didn’t fall onto the floor outside of the ring the way that Hopkins did. There was a difference. However, Hopkins was definitely sent out of the ring by punches thrown by Smith.
Hopkins’ title wins, spell at the top of his weight class at such an advanced age and his efforts on the media and public relations fronts make him an all-time great and certain inductee to any relevant Hall of Fame the sport has to offer. None of these qualities were on display in his swan song – and it’s a damn shame.
Does this mean we could see Hopkins make one last attempt to go out on a more suitable note, even if it means fighting a far less capable opponent?
While nobody enjoyed seeing such a standout end his career in a defeat which betrayed everything he has contributed to boxing, Hopkins is 51 and clearly his age and a two-year absence played a part in the loss. It’s best for all involved that Bernard sticks to his word and stays out of the ring for good from here on out.
To his credit, amidst his questionable opinion of the fight itself Hopkins remained adamant that he’s done during the post-card press conference.
“This is my last fight, I promised it would be and you come to that point in life where it is final and I’m happy with my retirement,” said Hopkins. “I’m not in denial – Joe was a tough, heavy hitting fighter.”
If ‘The Executioner’ can keep his word and draw a line under his stellar in-ring career, I’m certain boxing fans around the world will return the favour and think not of his demeaning final defeat when they recall his exploits, but of his records broken, titles claimed and odds defied.
Hopkins inspired boxers who retired before he did to give the sport a try. He proved to millions that nothing’s impossible, regardless of race, age, upbringing or the size of the mountain.
The emphatic loss to Smith was a clear passing of the torch, but immortality remains Bernard’s for the taking – so long as he doesn’t cave in to the temptation to give it one last try, as unfortunately so many boxers who needed the adrenaline rush (or the payday) have.