This Saturday December 17th marks the last major bout of the year as future hall of famer Bernard Hopkins tangles with Joe Smith, JR. in what Hopkins promises to be his farewell performance. In true Bhop fashion, he has raised the bar again and challenged himself hard edge going against Smith, JR. instead of picking a sure bet opponent where he gets some work in and is guaranteed to go off in the sunset with a victory.
Hopkins is the most old school fighter in the game today and this scribe isn’t referring to his age. During his boxing tenure, of nearly thirty years, he has yet to ever duck a challenge, especially where the logical odds were stacked against him. Believe me, Hopkins and his bravado will be sorely missed.
After an extraordinary eighteen year run at middleweight where he won his first title and went on to acquire all the 160 pound hardware with 20 successful defenses Bhop was presumed finished at forty years old where he dropped back to back decisions to Jermain Taylor. It was in his very next fight where he began to beguile the world and “Father Time” by traveling north 15 pounds and beating Antonio Tarver. He’d go on to wage a one man crusade challenging the best fighters available with a hell be damned attitude not caring if he won or lost as much as the fact he challenged himself.
In today’s world of cherry pickers, and excuse makers coming from both fighters and their promoters Hopkins has stood tall as Liberty herself as a shining monument of light and example. Bhop has tried to lure the spoiled hand fed brethren who clutter today’s landscape to the promised land of all-time greats who made careers on scathing matches and rematches with best of their eras.
During that second career that had no intermission his moniker went from the “Executioner,” to the “Alien” as he dumbfounded his critics with wins over top flight boxers like Winky Wright, Kelly Pavlik, Roy Jones, JR. (rematch) and Jean Pascal. Decision loses to Joe Calzaghe and Chad Dawson were easy to dismiss based on his age, performance and quality of opposition. No excuses he continued to march to beat of his own drummer all the way to ultimate hurdle of asking the “Krusher” Sergey Kovalev for the honor of challenging the best 175 pounder extent.
That was a serious miscalculation where we witnessed Bernard losing every single round and being dropped in the first as well as sustain a beating in final round in which we all assumed would be his final fight and relieved he wasn’t carried out of ring on his proverbial shield. That was two years ago and his fans waited on baited breath to see if there would be one last swan song, one last celebration. Yours truly was glad water was thrown on the rumor mill that he would tangle with undisputed middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin at super middleweight. It was expected that Hopkins would play matador to Kovalev’s bull but he foolishly misinterpreted his power as brute strength and was surprised to learn firsthand that Sergey was a much underrated boxer himself.
After spending two years on the sidelines of the ring where Hopkins is a promoter for Golden Boy Promotions and does commentary work on HBO as well as Jim Lampley’s the Fight Game, he has decided to put one last high profile fight on his ledger. While Joe Smith, JR. might not be a household name the old man just grabbed a tiger by the tail.
The particulars: Hopkins sports a record of 55-7-2, 32 KO’s. The Philadelphian stands 6’1” and has been a role model for treating his body as a temple and always being in gym shape. His 75 inch reach off of orthodox stance has kept him in good company his entire career and exalting him onwards at 51. Smith. JR. is almost half his age at 27 and just entering his prime. The kid stands an even 6’ tall with a 73” reach that he utilizes very well fighting from a classical orthodox style. His modest record of 22-1,18 K0’s suggests he is about to come of age but may not have the experience or wisdom to beat the grand master. Another miscalculation.
This kid hails from my neck of the woods in Long Island New York and is going to give Bhop more than he bargained for. While he doesn’t possess the heavy hands that Kovalev does Smith is a banger none the less and he administers pain with a smooth aggression that flows from good balance and well-schooled acumen. He tucks his chin inside his broad shoulders and keeps his guard high.
Nice jab, fast combos, and power in either hand that he delivers in deliberate fashion. Hopkins was looking for an aggressive fighter who would come to him so he could dismantle him and capitalize on mistakes. Smith, JR. doesn’t fit the bill expect the fact he will be coming forward throwing and not allowing his legendary foe to dictate a slower more comfortable pace. In fact, should Hopkins actually accomplish that it would benefit his young tormenter who can save plenty in the gas tank for a big finish if needed. Smith, JR. doesn’t paw with his jab as a range finder and when he doubles up on it he quickly enters the pocket where he excels at wicked mayhem with pin point accuracy as his last opponent highly respected Andrzej Fonfara was stopped in one round.
Smith, JR. is a modest type who doesn’t talk trash and wears a “let’s wait and see” attitude on his sleeve. For this fight, he is very confident he is at the right place and right time in his career. Adding the name Bernard Hopkins to his resume would be an attractive catalyst to propel Smith, JR. to the upper echelon of division with Kovalev, Andre Ward, and Adonis Stevenson.
What to look for: First the questions. At fifty-one and coming off a two-year layoff how much rust will Bernard take into ring and how much has “Father Time” diminished off his timing and power? The world knows he isn’t here for one last pay day or even a last shot in the spot light, but how will he react knowing he doesn’t “have to” be here if it is obvious he made a serious mistake in picking this fight for a swan song? Can he fight off ropes on old legs where Smith, JR. intends to punish him or can he maintain ring generalship and try to outbox his young upstart? As for Smith, JR., can he remain focused from round to round and follow the game plan not getting caught up in the moment? Should Bhop remain “Alien” resistant can Smith, JR. change gears and momentum of fight when needed?
The fight should establish a flow as early as the second round after the first stanza allows the boys a feel out process for gaging distance and establishing their jabs and rhythm. Smith, JR. is a fighter who will come to fight and test the old man’s whiskers first chance he gets. Bernard will have occasional luck with counter shots and sneaky jabs but his punch volume and power will not be enough to suppress the kid’s attack and forward momentum.
Nothing Bernard can muster at this precipice in his career will deter Smith, JR. nor deny him. Long time respected trainer and sage Nazzim Richardson was not asked to the final dance. Instead Hopkins contacted one time foe and Kovalev trainer John David Jackson. This decision will also play into the outcome of fight as there will be no plan “B” when things don’t go their way. Jackson has a style of being vague in the corner rather than go into battle with a concrete plan.
Smith JR.’s corner of Jerry and Phil Capobianco were setting their sights on WBC champion Adonis Stevenson after their last victory when this bout presented itself.
The outcome. Last week I called the round for Joshua Vs, Molina. I missed the Crawford stoppage by one round. This bout coming to you from Inglewood California and televised by HBO will not be a passing of the torch as Bernard has been off his throne and lofty perch for two years already. As we approach fight night Hopkins has been installed as the early favorite at -255 to Smith, JR’s + 215. Consider this a generosity of favoritism to the legend and an early Christmas gift if you’re the betting type. Smith, JR. wins this contest most likely by stoppage.
Should Hopkins hear the final bell that in itself would be a victory.
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