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Hopkins showered with respect at Smith presser

Photo by: Tom Hogan/Golden Boy Promotions
Fighters Network

INGLEWOOD, California – The press conference officially announcing the final bout of Bernard Hopkins’ long and storied boxing career – a Dec. 17 showdown with Joe Smith Jr. – dragged on a bit but for once it wasn’t because of “B-Hop,” who’s known as much for holding court with the media as he is for breaking records and defying the odds.

The Monday afternoon presser, which took place at The Forum, where the HBO-televised fight will take place, ran long because Golden Boy Promotions added another fight card announcement to the media event – a Dec. 16 HBO Latino show headlined by Vyacheslav Shabranskyy-Sullivan Barrera – and because those who took to the podium felt obligated to express their respect for the Grand Old Man of Boxing.

“I’m honored that I stepped into the ring with a man who transcends boxing,” said Oscar De La Hoya, who suffered a ninth-round KO to Hopkins in 2004 and has been in the promotional business with the 51-year-old Philadelphian for the last 11 years.

“Four decades, the ‘80s, ‘90s, 2000s and 2010s, this man has been in boxing; it’s really something special,” said Joe DeGuardia, Smith’s promoter.

Photo / Tom Hogan-Hoganphotos

Photo / Tom Hogan-Hoganphotos

Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 knockouts), in the surprise of the day, kept it short at the podium.

“(Ronald) Reagan was on his way out when I turned pro (October 1988),” said the former undisputed middleweight champ and three-time light heavyweight titleholder. “Do the math! We’ve had two Bushes and two Clintons in the White House since I’ve been fighting.

“Name any other athlete in any pro sport that’s been around for four or five presidents’ terms. Just watch, Dec. 17. Let’s see if the fox can dismantle the puncher. I run to punchers. I don’t run from them.”

A look at the future hall-of-famer’s record confirms that he’s never shied away from the sport’s vaunted hitters of the past 25 years, from Roy Jones Jr. (who the iron-chinned technician says hit him the hardest way back in 1993) to Antwun Echols (twice) to Felix Trinidad to Kelly Pavlik to Sergey Kovalev, who dominated a near 50-year-old Hopkins (but couldn’t stop the “old man”) in B-Hop’s last ring appearance in November 2014. Hopkins has been down but he’s never been stopped, and some of his most impressive and memorable performances have come against punchers, such as Echols, Trinidad and Pavlik, or brute-strong fighters, such as Glenn Johnson, Jean Pascal, Tavoris Cloud and Beibut Shumenov.

“Most would avoid a puncher like Joe,” said DeGuardia, “but I knew Bernard would take the fight. He’s like a fly attracted to that pie. But he picked probably too dangerous an opponent (with Smith).”

Photo / Tom Hogan-Hoganphotos

Photo / Tom Hogan-Hoganphotos

Smith (22-1, 18 KOs), a 27-year-old New Yorker who is in the General Building Laborers Union (Local 66), is straight out of Hollywood central casting with his Long Island accent, rugged good looks, and blue-collar back story. But he’s more than a working-class underdog. Smith crashed the 175-pound rankings in June when he knocked out heavily favored former title challenger Andrzej Fonfara in the first round of an NBC-televised show in the Polish contender’s adopted hometown of Chicago. Smith earned a No. 2 ranking in the WBC and No. 8 spot in THE RING’s light heavyweight ratings with the upset.

“I respect and honor Joe Smith,” said DeGuardia. “He’s out there at 9:00 a.m. with a hammer and a jackhammer. He’s a laborer. He was working up until he got the call about this fight. This is a man who resonates with people.”

The same can be said about Hopkins. The 28-year veteran has inspired countless fans over the decades and garnered some of the most diehard supporters. R.A. Thorburn, a hip-hop artist, filmmaker, writer and boxing enthusiast who performs under the name R.A. the Rugged Man, is an unabashed Hopkins fans. Thorburn, who was performing in Southern California this week, had to be present at Tuesday’s press conference.

“B-Hop’s probably the greatest fighter of the last 25 years,” he said. “I put him over Roy, Pacquiao, Mayweather, Oscar. We haven’t seen fighters as great as Hopkins since the Hagler, Sugar Ray (Leonard) era.

“Jones, Pacquiao and Floyd had better athletic talent but Hopkins accomplished everything with brains and he went against the odds more than any of them. No matter how old he got, he was that guy who fought the crazy, dangerous fights, the fights where he was supposed to be killed, the fights that – if you were a fan of his – you didn’t want him to take. I thought he was gonna lose a lot of those fights but he proved me wrong time and time again.”

Thorburn, who has dropped Hopkins’ name in some of his freestyle raps about boxing, is convinced the Philly native is an all-time great.

“If you stopped his career after the Trinidad fight, or even before the De La Hoya fight, he still had done enough to be a first-ballot hall of famer what with breaking (Carlos) Monzon’s middleweight title defense record,” Thorburn said.

“And then if you were to start his career after the two losses to Jermain Taylor, which he shouldn’t have lost, he did more than enough after his middleweight title reign to get into the hall of fame what with all the names he beat at light heavyweight and being the oldest champion ever. So it’s like he’s got two hall of fame careers in one career.”

Boxing history buffs like Thorburn are amazed by Hopkins’ accomplishments and willingness to constantly challenge himself, but the fighter also has ardent fans that are merely inspired by his dedication to healthy living. Hopkins never tires of sharing the “secrets” to his longevity with anyone who cares to listen. And nobody cares more than young boxers.

“Hopkins is an intriguing person, especially if you’re a fighter,” said middleweight prospect Jason Quigley, a 25-year-old former amateur star from Ireland who will fight Jorge Melendez in a scheduled 10 rounder on the Hopkins-Smith undercard.

“He’s deep when he speaks and you can sit back and take a lot of inspiration from him. And what’s great is that he loves to share what he knows about training, boxing and life in general.

“As a middleweight, I obviously notice him and respect him. I want to be like him. Fighting on the undercard of his last fight is something I’m going to look back on fondly one day, so I want to be at my best. I know I will be because just to be around Hopkins gives you a lot of hunger and drive. He’s got an aura of success.”

Will he still have it after two years of inactivity, and just one month away from his 52nd birthday? Will he have it after tasting Smith’s power? He sure sounds like he will.

“If all (Smith) has is power, that’s like bringing a gun with no bullets against me, because that power has to hit something to matter. You might as well throw that gun and get out of the ring,” Hopkins said before pausing to consider whether to continue talking.

He decided to keep it short, ending his podium speech with a reminder of how long he’s been in the fight game:

“Ronald Reagan was still president!”



Email Fischer at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @dougiefischer