Thursday, June 08, 2023  |



‘The Executioner’ prepares for his last song

Fighters Network

PHILADELPHIA — He sat there with his left arm extended over a folding chair while getting taped at Joe Hand’s Gym in South Philly, grinning as he passed his right hand along the salt-dotted stubble on his face. “Yeah, I may look old, but I don’t feel old,” Bernard Hopkins said last week, laughing as he announced to a visitor that he would be fighting one last time – something the rest of the world found out this week. For a brief moment, as he’s wont to do, he reached into his past.

“B-Hop” went back to prisoner Y-41-5 and recounted what the Graterford penitentiary warden said to him when he walked out for the last time after doing 4½ years. The tear of the tape over his knuckles seemed to punctuate the words: “You’ll be back.”

What makes him tick will never quit.

Hopkins is back, all right.

At 51, he will close out his illustrious career with a farewell fight against light heavyweight contender Joe Smith on Saturday, Dec. 17, at The Forum in Inglewood, California. HBO will televise the fight.

The last time Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 knockouts) fought was a cringe-worthy beating he took at the hands of Sergey Kovalev in November 2014 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. B-Hop was knocked down in the first round but managed to stay on his feet as Kovalev turned on the pressure in the 12th round.

Smith (22-1, 18 KOs), a 27-year-old construction worker from Long Island, New York, is coming off quite the opposite, stunning the boxing world with a first-round knockout of contender Andrzej Fonfara on June 18 on national TV.

“None of that matters to me,” Hopkins said. “This is my last fight and the way I see it, I have no choices. It’s not just about being happy that I have a fight. I’m going in there to win. I know how everyone is going to be pulling for me, pulling for ‘the old man’ to win, but I didn’t need to get all rah-rah over this, like I have in the past. I have enough self-motivation in me to know that this fight is about my legacy. I won’t be ‘The Alien’ for this fight, I’m going back to being ‘The Executioner.’

Photo by Rich Kane/Hoganphotos-Golden Boy Promotions

Photo by Rich Kane/Hoganphotos-Golden Boy Promotions

“I respect Joe Smith. He’s a good fighter. He’s a hard puncher. But he’s never faced anyone like me before. He’s never faced anyone who can reach as deep into themselves like I can, because for me, this is everything. There is going to be a lot of emotion going on that night. I know where I stand in the boxing community, and through time, I’ve come to accept the fact that people actually like me. (laughs) It’s not easy when you’re the underdog your whole life. When everything has been a struggle to get this far, this is no time now to ease up.”

So in the previous three months, Hopkins had been training, working out now for the first time with free weights. He always keeps himself in pristine shape, so cutting weight won’t be an issue. He knows he’s a superior boxer than Smith. His concern is stamina – can he go a whole 12 rounds, something he opted to do instead of going 10, and press Smith?

“There are no options for me,” Hopkins said. “I can’t go into the ring thinking – in fact, knowing almost everyone in that crowd wants to see me win and will see me as a winner, even if I don’t win. I can’t have that concept. It’s that attitude will get me in trouble. There are no options for me. I have to win this fight. I can’t think the fans are going to cheer for me whether I win or lose. I don’t fight to be just there. I fight to win. That attitude has never changed. I’m walking across a tightrope with alligators waiting for me if I fall – that’s how I feel. I want this final fight to be a celebration. It’s a celebration of a man who people might not have always agreed with, but respected. I want to go out there and fight like the old Executioner. I want to go out a winner.

Photo by Naoki Fukuda

Photo by Naoki Fukuda

“This is the final one – my last fight. It’s why I know that I’m a dangerous man, because it is my last fight and I’ll do everything I can to go out a winner. I’ve been fighting five and six rounds. I’ll increase that total in November. The first couple of days I’ve been training I felt like I was dragging myself up the hill, but each day I feel stronger. I always like to say I’ve preserved the peaches on the porch through all of these years very well. My reflexes are good.

“I also want my body used to being hit again, what it feels like to take punches on my arms and shoulders. That’s also a very big part of this. I need to get the feel of being in the ring, being in clinches, twisting and turning. I wanted this to be 12 rounds. My legacy is on the line and this is bigger than fighting for a title. I’ve never been in a war. I haven’t fought in two years, but I’ve stayed in great shape over that time.”

Hopkins, the former undisputed middleweight, light heavyweight world champion and future Hall of Famer, will turn 52 on Jan. 15. His longevity in this brutal game defies logic.

“It’s like the warden told me that day, ‘You’ll be back.’ Well, I kept coming back, didn’t I?” said Hopkins, with a radiant twinkle in his dark eyes. “I want to give people on December 17th a fight they’re going to remember, and hopefully afterwards, they’re going to say, ‘Damn, I’m going to miss him.'”