Bernard Hopkins’ legendary career ended bizarrely Saturday during a fight at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., in which he looked every one of his 51-plus years.
Hopkins was knocked out of the ring by a left-right-left combination from Joe Smith Jr. Hopkins fell backward to the floor with a thud, and couldn’t beat referee Jack Reiss’ 20-count to get back into the ring.
When he failed to do so, his final fight ended ignominiously, with him on the losing end of an eighth-round technical knockout. He said the outside of his right ankle was throbbing.
Hopkins, who is a month away from his 52nd birthday, said he was pushed out of the ring, but replays clearly showed that was not the case. It was clean punches from Smith that knocked Hopkins into and ultimately through the ropes.
It was the first, and only, loss in his 67-fight career by knockout. Hopkins, who had a long stint as middleweight champion and was also the light heavyweight champion, ends his career at 55-8-2.
“I know for a fact that if I had not been pushed out of the ring after I had made him miss, the second half of the fight, where I’m known for coming back and I’m known for going after it when I’m down multiple rounds, I believe he was starting to fade out,” Hopkins said to HBO’s Max Kellerman in his locker room after leaving the ring.
But Smith showed little signs of fading. The ending was reminiscent to two prior Hopkins fight, against Robert Allen in Las Vegas in 1998 and against Chad Dawson in Los Angeles in 2011. Both of those were no contests.
This, though, was clearly a KO or TKO, because Hopkins went down and out of the ring from clean punches and couldn’t get back in.
His denial of that is simply the competitiveness of a man who is among the greatest of his era and will be remembered as one of the finest of all-time.
Smith was leading on two of the three cards at the time of the stoppage. Thomas Taylor had it 69-64 and Tim Cheatham had it 67-66 for Smith. Pat Russell had it 67-66 for Hopkins. Yahoo Sports scored it 68-65 for Smith.
Hopkins landed some flush shots, but didn’t have the ability to hurt Smith with them as he did to prior opponents. He spent much of the night backing up and moving away, which in and of itself wasn’t unusual. Hopkins was a crafty, defensive wizard who didn’t just mindlessly attack.
On this night, though, even though he lured Smith into his web, he couldn’t do much with him. Smith landed all of the clean and hard shots in the fight and seemed to hurt Hopkins on several occasions.
Even for legends, there comes a moment when the body can’t do what the mind asks it to, and that was this night for Hopkins. He looked in amazing shape for a 51-year-old, but his body lacked the definition that it had throughout much of his career. It was just the most obvious example that even one of the greatest can’t beat the calendar.
His pride, though, which pushed him to so many victories, wouldn’t allow him to accept he’d lost.
“Even if they would have called it a no-contest or called it a whatever, but not a loss, because I don’t think it was warranted like that,” Hopkins said.
It was, for Smith, the biggest win of his career. He promised to put pressure on Hopkins and he did that, even if a younger version of Hopkins likely would have chopped him up.
Smith, 27, got a massive win that is going to land him some other big paydays. He is now 23-1 with 19 knockouts.
“I just was doing my job, because this is my coming out party, too,” Smith said. “I had to finish him. It was either my career was going to end or his was going to end. I needed mine to continue.”
Hopkins said he won’t fight again, and there is no reason to do so. He’ll be elected to the Hall of Fame on the first day he’s eligible and he’ll long be remembered for a career in which he milked every last ounce of talent out of his body.
He made 20 successful middleweight title defenses, in 2011 became the oldest man to ever win a major world title and in 2014, at 49 years old, he became the oldest every to successfully defend a world championship belt.
Age caught up to him on Saturday, but he had to know it would sooner or later.
Youth prevailed on this night, but despite the outcome, Hopkins was no loser.
He’s now committed to the historians, and this bout will be long forgotten when the final story of Bernard Hopkins is told.