By Francisco Salazar
INGLEWOOD - Bernard Hopkins wanted a memorable send-off Saturday night at The Forum after 28 years as a pro.
Everything seemed lined up for him to get a win tonight, including whom many thought would be a fighter in Joe Smith who would be in over his head.
Turns out the result was memorable indeed, but not the way Hopkins would have wanted.
Hopkins was counted out after being sent through the ropes and onto the floor before a shocked crowd of 6,513.
With the win, Smith improves to 23-1, 19 KOs, while Hopkins ends his illustrious career with a loss, dropping his record to 55-8-2 1 NC, 32 KOs.
Hopkins was hanging up the gloves for good, or so he says he was, after winning world title belts in two different weight classes, including the 20 consecutive title defenses of his IBF World middleweight title.
He had not fought since November of 2014, when he lost a 12 round unanimous decision to Sergey Kovalev.
Smith was coming off an upset win on June 18; a first round knockout victory over Andrzej Fonfara in Chicago.
If Smith did not have Hopkins' attention before the fight, he sure did in the later stages of the opening round, when a right hand momentarily stunned Hopkins, sending him back against the ropes.
As the bout progressed, Hopkins began to land his trademark right hand to the head. Hopkins varied that attack, landing lead or counter right hands. On top of Hopkins landing repeatedly with that right, Smith had to deal with a cut over his left eye, mostly likely due to an accidental clash of heads.
Hopkins seemed to be in control of the fight until round five, when Smith landed a series of right hands to the head that seemed to stun Hopkins.
Both fighters had their moments during the sixth and seventh rounds. Smith began to breath heavy, as he seemed to exert a lot of energy from the number of times he would throw and miss.
Moments into round eight, Smith backed Hopkins against the ropes, throwing a left and followed by a right hand to the head. The momentum of the punches sent Hopkins through the ropes and landing on his back on the cement floor.
As outlined by the unified rules of boxing, because a fighter falls through the ropes and lands on the outside, a fighter has until the count of 20 to return inside the ring. Referee Jack Reiss counted Hopkins out at 54 seconds.
Hopkins appeared upset with the outcome of the fight more than he was hurt by the punches Smith landed. Hopkins did claim he hurt his ankle when he fell out of the ring.
"I hurt my right ankle when I fell out of the ring," Hopkins told the assembled media after the fight. " could stand, but I was trying to put weight on my foot."
Asked about the impact of the loss to Smith compared to others, Hopkins was diplomatic.
"I feel worse now than when I did when I was 25. I'd rather get a win or something where it's clear, whether it's a loss or a win. I look at the result of this fight as a misfortune."
"This is the fight I wanted. I didn't want to be a cherry-picker. I felt good. I felt him out and I executed what I wanted. He was getting frustrated. He was missing. I could take a good punch.
Asked about whether tonight was the final time he would appear in the ring, Hopkins said yes.
"Win, lose, or draw or controversy, this is it. I have no regrets."
For Smith, the victory on Saturday opens more door for bigger fights in 2017.
"It feels great. It's the best feeling in the world to accomplish something I set out for and wanted to do."
"It feels great that I was able to do something that Sergey Kovalev wasn't able to do. I was able to stop Andrzej Fonfara when Adonis Stevenson wasn't. I'm looking for those big fights."
Featherweight contender Joseph Diaz, Jr. won a 10 round unanimous decision over Horacio Garcia.
Diaz improves to 23-0, 13 KOs, while Garcia falls to 30-2-1, 21 KOs.
It was all Diaz during the first three rounds as he landed the more effective punches. The southpaw Diaz was able to sit down on his punches, connecting with repeated left hands to Garcia's head.
Garcia had his best round during the fourth. He was able to stand in the pocket and connect with a series of right hands to the head of Diaz.
Garcia, who has fought a majority of his fights at 122 pounds, was not able to build off that momentum as Diaz mixed his attack of countering or initiating exchanges during the middle rounds, finishing with more left hands to the head.
As the bout entered into the final rounds, Garcia's punch output dropped, but he was still looking to set up his right hand. Diaz was able to beat him to the punch, scoring repeated with left uppercuts to the head.
All three judges scored the bout 100-90 in favor of Diaz.
Oleksandr Usyk successfully defended his WBO cruiserweight title by stopping Thabiso Mchunu in the ninth round.
Usyk improves to 11-0, 10 KOs, while Mchunu falls to 17-3, 11 KOs.
Both fighters measured one another during the first two rounds. The lack of action brought down a cascade of boos from the crowd.
The shorter Mchunu was effective in punching through Usyk's guard early on, but the Ukraine fighter finally got on track by the third round, eventually closing the distance between the two fighters. Usyk let his hands go, snapping Mchunu's head back at times.
Usyk finally scored a knockdown in round six, courtesy of a left uppercut to the head. Mchunu was able to beat the count and fight on.
While Usyk closed the distance, he threw repeatedly to the Mchunu's head. As much as Usyk continued to throw an abundant amount of punches, few punches landed flush to the head as Mchunu utilized lateral and head movement.
Mchunu was able to land a few left hands to Usyk's head in round eight. But Usyk swung momentum his way in round nine, dropping earn Mchunu with a left hand in round nine. Mchunu was able to beat the count, but found himself on the canvas from a barrage of punches from Usyk. Referee Dr. Lou Moret saw enough and stopped the bout at 1:53.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper, RingTV, and Knockout Nation. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing