Hopkins’ legacy is secure in spite of the fall
INGLEWOOD, Calif. – It wasn’t supposed to end this way, not with a devastating loss and not in such a bizarre manner.
Bernard Hopkins looked like an average fighter at best in his farewell outing against Joe Smith Jr. on Saturday night at the Forum, as the 51-year-old struggled to get his punches off and took too many hard shots for anyone’s comfort outside Team Smith.
“The Executioner” had his moments but there weren’t enough of them for this to have a fairy tale ending. Instead, it was more like the conclusion of a horror story.
The eighth round had begun about 30 seconds earlier when Hopkins found himself with his back against the ropes and Smith firing away. The lean, but powerful Long Islander landed a hard right followed by several more nasty blows, the last of which sent Hopkins crashing through the ropes and onto the floor as a disbelieving crowd of 6,513 gasped.
Hopkins had 20 seconds to get back into the ring, as per the rules, but he was unable to do that because he evidently hit his head in the fall and somehow injured his right ankle.
That gave Smith a technical knockout and a place in history – the only fighter to KO Hopkins.
So that was that, the end of the fight and Hopkins’ career. And lest there be any doubt about this being his last fight, he was asked point blank whether he thought he’d ever fight again. He said unequivocally, “No.”
“I’m ready to move on,” he said.
Hopkins (55-8-2, 32 knockouts) had been fighting for most of the past half century, if you count years on the unforgiving streets of his Philadelphia neighborhood.
He had just one more thing to accomplish in a 28-year professional career that has seen him win 10 world titles in two divisions and the respect of everyone with any knowledge of boxing. And that was to go out with a victory in his final fight.
No one would’ve criticized Hopkins had he chosen a pushover as his foil. He certainly has earned it. Instead, he chose Smith.
The 27-year-old wasn’t perceived as a world beater. His solid, but limited skill set and relative lack of experience seemed to be made to order for Hopkins, one of the most skillful boxers of his or any generation. At the same time, Smith posed a threat. He’s young and packs power in his punches, as he demonstrated by stopping contender Andrzej Fonfara in the first round in his previous fight.
Turns out Smith (23-1, 19 KOs) could win rounds after all while his power, indeed, turned out to be the difference in the fight.
Hopkins did a pretty good job of bobbing and holding to avoid the majority of Smith’s punches – he landed only 21.2 percent of them, according to CompuBox – but plenty landed, including some very hard shots that made many in the crowd wince. And while Hopkins had his moments, landing an eye-catching shot here or there, he was essentially outworked in seven-plus rounds.
Smith landed 86 of 405 punches; Hopkins 54 of 185. And the winner was leading on the cards after seven rounds: Judges Thomas Taylor and Tim Cheatham had Smith ahead 69-64 and 67-66, respectively, while judge Pat Russell somehow had Hopkins on top 67-66. I had it 68-65 for Smith.
Of course, none of that mattered when Hopkins went flying out of the ring.
Hopkins was able to stand on his injured ankle moments after the fall but he told California Athletic Commission officials that he needed time to determine whether he could fight. That wasn’t an option. His failure to get back into ring within 20 seconds ended the fight.
“I just remember bouncing off the ropes, using them as defense, bouncing off the ropes and looking to counter or for positioning,” said Hopkins, who limped to and from the post-fight media conference.
“I could feel after those punches that I couldn’t grab the ropes; there was nothing to grab. I felt a push or body push with an elbow. That’s really all I remember. I tried to grab (the rope) and went down.”
The image of Hopkins on the floor – and the fact he couldn’t continue – was painful to see for anyone who has followed his career. Most of us thought he would outbox Smith and eke out a decision victory, certainly not anything like this.
It could’ve been worse, though. He could’ve broken his neck in the fall, as one colleague pointed out. Can you imagine that? Or he could’ve been knocked out cold or taken a beating in the final four-plus rounds, which seemed possible.
As it was, he went out in an ugly way but he was talking lucidly about it not long after it happened. He seemed embarrassed, but healthy.
And he can say this: He’s not the only great fighter to finish his career after falling through the ropes. The exact same thing happened to Joe Louis in his final fight, courtesy of fellow Hall of Famer Rocky Marciano.
Those who reflect on Louis’ career don’t think of that fight first; it’s more or less an afterthought. They remember his great victories and impact on the sport. And that’s how it will be with Hopkins.
We’ll remember BHop’s amazing, record-setting run as middleweight champion, his “upsets” of Felix Trinidad, Antonio Tarver, Kelly Pavlik and Jean Pascal, as well as many other important triumphs. And, of course, we’ll remember that he was able to fight on an elite level into his 50s – think one more time about that – because he did everything the way it’s supposed be done.
What happened on Saturday night doesn’t diminish any of the above one iota.