After an illustrious career spanning over four decades the curtain call has arrived for 51 year old phenom Bernard Hopkins. Golden Boy promotions have billed this definitively as The Final One. Bernard Hopkins faces off against the big hitting New Yorker, Joe Smith Jr for the WBC international light heavyweight title at The Forum in Inglewood California on 17th December.
And now the end is near, and so I face, the final curtain…
I felt a compelling urge to cue Sinatra as Hopkins held an engaged assembly of American boxing press captive with his seemingly improptu but deeply thoughtful monologue at the first conference to announce the fight.
But when Hopkins speaks boxing. You just want to listen.
11th October. 1988. The day when Bernard Humphrey Hopkins Jr took his first steps inside a ring as a professional prizefighter in Atlantic City. 12 minutes of fighting later he would witness his opponent Clinton Mitchell’s glove being raised by the referee. A loss via Majority Decision. A black mark on the resume and just $350 in his pocket.
Hopkins didn’t fight again for 16 months. He said, “I had to ask myself if I was ready to live, eat, breathe and sleep boxing. So when I made the decision and told myself this is what I want to do … I came back with a terror.”
And the rest as they say… is history.
506 rounds in the squared circle. 34 world title fights. Undisputed, unified world middle weight champion. Multiple belt, world light heavyweight champion. Oldest world champion in boxing history.
With that, he may well have already cemented his place alongside the long list of Philadelphia boxing legends in the pantheon of greats but this fight provides him with the opportunity to bow out of the sport on a high note rather than exiting via way of the Kovalev loss.
Simply to be boxing at the elite level still at the age of 51 years is a remarkable enough feat on its own. However, Hopkins has never been a man to shirk a challenge or look for an easy way out. “Give me an opportunity, show me a door and I will open it myself”. So it seems fitting that for his final swansong that he has picked a legitmately dangerous opponent.
27 year old New Yorker, Joe Smith Jr is the new kid on the block. He announced himself on the world scene in his last outing when he brutally destroyed Andrzej Fonfara in Chicago back in June at 2:32 of round one. He completely outgunned Fonfara who was previously thought of as of a strong durable fighter after going the full distance with the likes of Adonis Stevenson and outshooting Nathan Cleverly over 12 rounds.
Smith Jr really stepped out into the limelight with this emphatic win over a genuinely world class opponent and to add credibility he beat the popular chicago-pole in his backyard. With 18 knockouts from 22 wins the man can certainly punch.
However styles make fights and their is vast difference between Fonfara and Hopkins- the key difference being that Fonfara for all is good attributes is there to be hit. You certainly don’t have to go looking for him.
Hopkins by stark contrast is not. He’s a slick and wiley operator. I believe he will be able to stifle Joe and deny him the chance to land clean. He may have been battered from pillar to post by the hammer fisted Kovalev but he still knew how to survive to see the final bell. I therefore believe he will be capable of weathering the storms against Smith Jr.
To win though he will have to offer enough of an offensive game. With age Bernard has become an expert at potshotting. It allows him to use his energy efficiently whilst still landing enough meaningful shots to score with the judges. His ability to throw the single right hand from the orthodox stance is top drawer and I believe it will be in ful effect on the 17th.
And with the accumulation of minutes shared with fellow greats, the likes of Joe Calzaghe, Roy Jones Jr and Oscar De La Hoya, comes a rich wealth of experience that simply cannot be bought. However it will have been 2 years since he last stepped inside the ring. How much has he aged in these two years and how much did Kovalev take from him?
Win or lose there will be a lot of boxing fans ready to tip there hat to Hopkins as he signs off.
And before signing off this article. Whatever happened to Clinton Mitchell? Despite being one of only six men o beat Hopkins, The late Clinton Mitchell finished his boxing career with a record of just 3 wins 1 Loss via KO and 1 draw. C’est la vie.