There are many times that ego and ring generalship pushes a fighter to try to scale greater heights and take more risks. That was the case of 48-year-old Bernard Hopkins in December 17, when he fought Joseph Smith Jr.
It was the worst and most embarrassing defeat ever suffered by Hopkins who likens himself to the “executioner.” On that December night he was the one whose head was on the chopping block and Smith’s hands were like multiple guillotines.
In the weeks leading to the fight Hopkins spoke about how “great” he was and mocked Smith as “mediocre.” He said “I will walk out on my shield of greatness and victory after I perform a Kelly Pavlik-destruction on Smith with a possible knockout,” he boasted, referring to how he once demolished then boxing star Pavlik.
On fight-night I had a sense of foreboding when I saw Hopkins’ emaciated looking body compared to Smith’s relatively chiselled frame. Then again looks could be deceptive, I told myself.
But from the very first bell I concluded that it dawned on Hopkins that he had bit more than he could chew and drawn from the well one time too many. Smith was not to be denied stardom and he pressed awkwardly forward throwing body and headshots after multiple jabs. Smith threw a hard right hand on Hopkins’ temple hurting him and forcing him to hold on to survive the round. The second and third rounds were more of the same as Smith pounded the aged champ with ease to the surprise of his stunned fans. “That’s it Joey. Stay on him. Keep punching but start with the jab,” Smith’s trainer Joe Cappobianco kept yelling.
By the fourth round Hopkins started showing his superb survival instincts and skills. Hitting Smith with powerful shots and even stopping him on his tracks to the delight of many of his fans in the 7,000 crowd at the Forum at Los Angeles, Ca. Hopkins appeared to have also won round five. But the hard-nosed construction worker, Smith, was relentless. Vicious shots from Hopkins’ vaunted right hand wouldn’t discourage him.
In the eighth round, Hopkins was fighting off the ropes, which has been a style he’s used for 28 years as both defense and offense, when Smith unleashed a barrage of eight shots. The onslaught was punctuated by a lethal left hook that sent an already staggered Hopkins flying through the ropes with his face pointed towards the ceilings. Both legs stuck upwards as the rest of his body disappeared from the ring as Smith leapt with both arms up in celebration.
Referee Jack Reiss counted up to 20 — the maximum time allowed for a fighter to return inside the ring if knocked through the ropes. Hopkins was dazed and couldn’t make it back and the fight was over. He claimed, lamely, that Smith had pushed him out.
Smith was ahead on all scorecards by the time of the knockout: Judge Tim Cheatham, 67/66, and Judge Thomas Taylor, 69/64 had Smith leading; Judge Pat Russell inexplicably had Hopkins leading 67/66.
Hopkins who hadn’t fought in two years since losing to Sergey Kovalov had fooled himself into believing he could pull it off.
Smith will likely now demand a fight with either Andre Ward or Adonis Stevenson, light heavyweight champions.
Hopkins should have followed Floyd Mayweather’s lead when he retired while boasting “49 tried and 49 failed.”