LOS ANGELES: Former world champion Bernard Hopkins will call time on his 28-year boxing career on Saturday (Sunday in Manila), taking on Joe Smith in his farewell bout at the Forum in Los Angeles.
The 51-year-old American, a multiple world champion at middleweight and light-heavyweight, climbs into the ring for his 65th fight — one he swears will be his last regardless of the outcome.
Hopkins, nicknamed “The Executioner”, will attempt to improve his record from its current 55-7-2, with 32 knockouts, against Smith, a journeyman who still works as a builder and carries a union card and boasts a ring record of 22-1 with 18 knockouts.
“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,” Hopkins said of his opponent, who was born in 1989 — roughly three months after his professional debut.
Hopkins fought some of the biggest names of his generation during his remarkable career, including bouts against Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad and Joe Cazalghe.
He has not fought since a defeat on points to Russia’s Sergey Kovalev in November 2014, when the World Boxing Association, International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Organization light-heavyweight titles were on the line.
Smith’s only career defeat was a fourth-round knockout in 2010. Although his resume features few big names, Hopkins says Smith’s aggressive style makes him a worthy opponent for his final fight.
“This is something that’s important to me, to end it my way and go up against not a cream puff,” Hopkins said.
“I could have picked anybody to have went in there and it would have been a joke, but I’m not going to do that to my legacy.”
Hopkins launched his ring career in 1988, losing a four-rounder to Clinton Mitchell on points not long after he’d been released from prison in Graterford, Pennsylvania.
“I didn’t fight again for two years,” Hopkins recalls. “I had a tug of war with the streets. I could have been that urban stereotype, the guy who violates his parole and goes back to jail. That’s why losing that fight was almost like death, because if you keep doing that stuff, eventually they will kill you. I decided not to go back.”
‘The Executioner’ returns
In going forward, he amassed 20 straight middleweight title defenses, and became the oldest boxer in history to win a major title when he did so against Tavoris Cloud in 2013.
In 2014 he beat Beibut Shumenov by split decision to become the eldest fighter to unify world titles.
By the time he took on Shumenov, Hopkins had abandoned his “Executioner” persona, re-naming himself “Alien” in a nod to his supernatural longevity.
“I was analyzed and the doctors told me that I am not human, that I am from Pluto,” he said.
However, he said, the “Executioner” will return on Saturday, complete with hood and samurai sword.
“Full circle,” said Hopkins, who says his decision to end his career in Los Angeles — across the country from his North Philadelphia roots — is a nod to sports greats including Muhammad Ali and the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I want to give a performance where people are begging me to stay,” he said.
“My fight will be like watching the last game of Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant.