Bernard Hopkins Takes His Final Fight (We Swear!)

Fightland Blog

By Nick Wong

Photo by Jack Smith/EPA

Okay okay, I know we reported back in October of last year that Bernard Hopkins was going to take his final fight against then WBO Super-Middleweight champion Arthur Abraham, and that that was going to be it for the ring legend. Well, here we are, 14-months later, and Hopkins is now set to step into the ring next Saturday, December 17th, at The Forum in Inglewood, CA. In our defense, Hopkins had full intention of facing Abraham had mandatory defenses from the WBO not gotten in the way, and well it's Hopkins—who is still fighting at the age of 51—so how the hell is anyone supposed to know what's running through that guy's mind?

Hopkins will be facing off against Joe Smith Jr., a light-heavyweight contender who went unnoticed for the majority of his career until he upset Polish fighter Andrzej Fonfara with a 1st round KO this past June. Fonfara is mostly known for pulling off an upset himself against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., so the victory from Smith made him a viable opponent for a farewell fight of “The Executioner.” That is actually one thing that will be coming out of retirement for this fight, as Hopkins has donned his newer moniker “The Alien” for his past few ring appearances. Apparently, he feels it fitting to exit the same way he came.

"While 'The Alien' may be retired, 'The Executioner' has one fight left, and Joe Smith Jr., is going to find out the hard way how well prepared I am for my final fight," Hopkins said in an interview. "A lot of people will focus on my age, the history of my run in the sport, the titles, etc., but I'm focused on one thing—knocking Joe Smith out."

But while one familiar element returns, another one does not. Naazim Richardson, who has been in Hopkins’s corner since the passing of longtime trainer Bouie Fisher, will not be in the corner next Saturday, and will instead be replaced by veteran cornerman John David Jackson.

“We came to a decision that I think Naazim is not capable of working in this fight because of his situation, personally,” Hopkins said in a conference call. “And I didn’t want to be in a situation where I felt that I have to guess or have to scramble later on down the line. So to me, it was really a hand fitting in the glove when it comes to having my options to be with John David Jackson. I’m in good hands.”

For those curious, Richardson did respond to the comments, denying any “personal situation” preventing him from cornering Hopkins’s final bout, and instead hinted that the break was due to financial negotiations, just as it was for Bouie Fisher twice before in the past. There is no ill will between the two (at least on public record), and Richardson both gave his blessing, and deemed Jackson a fitting candidate to fill his shoes. Jackson also helped prepare Hopkins for his fight against Kelly Pavlik, and the two actually fought one another back in 1997, so the union is not completely unfamiliar.

Photo by Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports​

As for Hopkins’s chances, they’re looking good. The ring legend is coming in as the betting favorite by almost all odds makers, and just about every analyst in the sport has deemed Smith too rudimentary and unrefined to handle the experience of Hopkins. While that all may be very true, I’d also like to remind the betting public that the loss to Sergey Kovalev was the last time Hopkins has stepped into the ring, which means he'll have over two years of ring rust to work off, and at 51-years old, who knows what that will look like? Smith, as raw as he may be, is 27-years-old and just fought six months ago. He has 18 KOs in 23 fights, and has only lost one of his contests. Sure, his resume isn't the most impressive, but it isn't the worst either. This certainly isn’t a walkover farewell bout.

But Hopkins would also not likely have it any other way. It would be completely uncharacteristic for him to take on a completely washed-up/never-was contender in a final gimmie-fight as a departure from the sport. Often times, Hopkins will choose a bout because he detects an exploitable defect in his opponent, and proving the public wrong is sort of his forte.

“I believe timing is everything. I believe timing and my calculation of my career — I proved a whole bunch of people wrong, as you know. And so it gets to a point, where after Dec. 17 there’s nothing to prove,” Hopkins said. “My opinion is I’ve done it my way. When I’m done, there’s no stone that hasn’t been unturned. There will be no regrets. There will be no, ‘Oh, I should have done this or done that.’”

"How do you really feel about yourself?” Hopkins continued. “Are you really happy with yourself? Are you happy with what you became in life? Did you reach your full potential like I've done many times?"

Those may be in fact the real questions that Hopkins’s final fight poses to the general public, and perhaps to himself as well. As crazy as this might sound, fighting next Saturday still won’t make Hopkins the oldest person to have competed professionally in the ring. That title belongs to Saoul Mamby, who had his final fight in 2008 at the age of 60.

So will this really be the last fight of Bernard Hopkins? Who knows? It’s not like we haven’t heard this before.


Check out this related story:

Bernard Hopkins: History in the Making