Bernard Hopkins, 51 years old and a walking and talking and most of all fighting embodiment of ferocious pride powered by a fuel of a snarling desire to prove doubters wrong, looked to do it his way in his last glove up, on Saturday night, at the Forum in LA and on HBO.
But no, foe Joe Smith talked in the lead up and said he'd be doing it HIS WAY, and that played out in true theater of the unexpected style. In round eight, three left hooks and a power right knocked Hopkins through the ropes, to the floor. He didn't beat the 20 count, and the man he derided as “common” raised his hands in exultation, having been the first to stop the wiliest sweet and savage scientist of this or maybe any era.
The man who exited a penitentiary at 25 after being told by the warden that he'd be a return visitor, is the most defiant pugilist in the history of the sport. He did it his way to this point, decade after decade, winning fans, losing teammates, spurning suits and business partners, building and blowing up allegiances, in a fashion that shall not be replicable. And he did it the same in the post fight fog. Back in the dressing room, he spoke to Max Kellerman and said he thought he was pushed out of the ring, and lobbied for a no contest.
No dice; Max gently broke it to him that Smith's fists did the damage.
Yeah, Sinatra at the end, all the king's horses and teleprompters couldn't stave off the near inevitable.
Hopkins, from Philly, was 174 pounds. He was 55-7-1-1, and to turn 52 in January. The ex middleweight ace was six pounds lighter than Smith on fight night.
It had been two years since the mega ultra maxi vet fought. That was a loss to Sergey Kovalev.
The Long Islander Smith, age 27, entered with a 22-1 mark, and was 174 pounds. He was trained by Jerry Capobianco, with Tommy Gallagher.
Smith caught Hopkins with two hard launches after getting clinched and evaded in round one. A right on the temple wobbled B Hop.
To the second; we heard “Joey” chants. We saw blood on the eye of Smith, the left eye, from a butt. Stitch Duran closed it. Right counters from Hopkins looked quick for a 51 year old.
To the third round: Smith launched an uppercut then a right. His jab got stuffed a good deal. Hopkins initiated clinches, and backed up, worked out of the corner, looked decent for a supra elder. You could score it 1-1-1 to this point.
To 4; Hopkins moved away from the Smith right. The vet moved, baby steps, landed a right hand, and was in a groove. “Good round,” said Hopkins trainer John David Jackson.
In round five–Hopkins landed two rights and a hook. Smith came back with a left to the body. A massive right was eaten ok by Hopkins. Really well, actually. “Don't get sloppy, don't get lazy,” said Cap after.
To round 6; Smith stalked. Hopkins dipped his head to avoid the right. Smith jabbed busily, was busier, making the old man work. To 7; Smith didn't look gassed. Hopkins wasn't busy enough.
To the eighth, we saw Smith pursue Hopkins and B Hop get knocked outbid the ring. Game over? Yes. He didn't beat a 20 count.
Replays showed Hopkins back to the ropes, in a corner. Smith crunched with a left hook, on the shoulder, a solid right, real solid, which made Bernard dip. Another left from Smith landed on the neck, another left hook kinda cuffed him and that started his long trip to the floor outside the ring.
He didn't do it his way, as most don't. The way of the world did it to him. The younger and stronger next generation beast devoured him. Hopkins deserves immense credit for looking for a stiff challenge in his goodbye bout. But he maybe erred when anointing himself “special” and Smith merely “common.” Sometimes, not often enough for the romantics among us, who pray that karma evens up all the playing fields, the common man summons an uncommon effort.