By Cliff Rold
Entering the ring to a personalized version of the Old Blue Eyes standard “My Way,” the great Bernard Hopkins exited it at the end of a powerful combination of punches from a much younger man in Joe Smith Jr..
The 51-year old Hopkins says he’s done.
His body said that a few round earlier.
There will be some who never warmed to Hopkins over the years who won’t shed a tear. They’ll have heard Hopkins claiming foul at the end, unable yet to give in to the reality of the blows that ended the biggest part of his professional life, and fail to find empathy. Still others will feel sad having marveled at the ring IQ that carried Hopkins farther than his body might have allowed.
In the end it wasn’t a happy ending. It wasn’t a sad ending. It was a boxing ending.
For someone like Hopkins, that feels fitting.
His highlight reel is as mixed a bag as any great fighter in recent recall. There are amazing punch out wins, spirited dissections, methodical chess matches, and plenty of just plain ugly. He really was old school in that sense. His ability to fight multiple ways, clean and dirty, beautiful and mugging, would look right in place in just about any era. He could have grapple/punched through the first quarter of the century and been fine.
Just imagine Hopkins in an era where thumbing and lacing was considered just another part of the toolbox?
At his best, he had enough offense to have banged with a Fullmer or boxed with a Benvenuti. He was the sort of guy who would have been in the mix in any era. Would he have been Bernard Hopkins in the age of a Robinson, Monzon, or Hagler?
Maybe. Maybe not.
None of them would have had an easy night.
Even Saturday, against a big strong young guy like Joseph Smith, Hopkins almost worked his magic again. The scorecards had one guy watching the fight with clear eyes. He had Smith way ahead. The other scores were split by a point either way.
Some of that happened as Hopkins got older. There was a tendency in close fights to sometimes give Hopkins rounds when nothing much happened. That was how ingrained respect for his boxing mind became. It was sometimes about scoring what was perceived to be going on between Hopkins’ ears and not so much what was going on in the ring.
There wasn’t much going on for Hopkins Saturday night outside of a nice call back fourth round. Neither guy was landing a ton clean, but Smith was clearly landing harder and outworking him. He hurt him in the first. He hurt him in the fifth.
And then he knocked him clean out of the ring.
Two of the judges were missing the fight. That’s okay. They weren’t the first. When a 51-year old Hopkins is staying in there despite all boxing logic that says it should have been done for him years ago, it’s human to see the magic over the reality.
It’s been part of his appeal for years.
Someday, thirty years from now, young boxing fans are going to see Hopkins laid out differently than we do right now. They’ll know he was great. The body of work is clear in that regard. They’re going to see the nights like Tito Trinidad and Kelly Pavlik and Jean Pascal and appreciate those.
When they see stuff like the Winky Wright fight or Keith Holmes or some of the other nights where twelve rounds felt like three times more, they won’t see the magic the same way.
We’ll tell them they had to have been alive then, seen it when it happened, to really understand how impressive the sum of the parts really was.
Boxing won’t be the same without Bernard Hopkins. The only question left was whether or not someone could finally put a stoppage loss on his record. It happened and Hopkins will move on to promoting and announcing with his faculties intact.
He retires rich, having fought almost everyone he could have in his years at middleweight and light heavyweight, and awaits induction to the Hall of Fame in five years.
Who could ask to have it any other way?
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com