Maybe Bernard “The Executioner/Alien” Hopkins (58-8-2, 32 KOs) was right when he said Joe “The Beast” Smith Jr. (23-1-0, 19 KOs) pushed him out of the ring at The Forum, Inglewood, CA. After all a punch is just a push with speed. To be more exact, its speed and a clenched fist that changes the prod into a strike or blow. It was several of those that propelled Hopkins head first through the ropes on to the concrete floor below. The coalition of those blows brought about the unthinkable…..a stoppage of the wily old predator, who even at age 51 was still the favorite.
The old codger had proven over and over again that he was too smart, too elusive, and too dirty for the young whipper snappers. Anyone who thought his HOF career was over was mistaken. They continually underestimated the value of a sneaky right hand and useful noggin. Couple that with youthful side to side movement and you had a difficult nut to crack, as Tavaris Cloud, Jean Pascal, Kelly Pavlik, and Antonio Tarver found out. Then you had the relative inexperience of Joe Smith, Jr. But, the Beast’s big punch made it all the more admirable for Hopkins, a way to gain yet another victory and a distinguished farewell.
However, fans worried about Bernard. What the hell was a 51 yr old man doing in a professional boxing ring? Hell, he above most others knew the dangers of the squared circle. Sure it’s the sweet science, but there is laboratory science and physical science. Boxing’s physical science wasn’t concerned with the study of the kinds of people in the world. Rather, the sweet science is the study of how to hit and not get hit. Bernard was a master at it. Fans knew Bernard was a professor of the discipline, but even mastery of what to do doesn’t automatically translate into the ability to do it well. Old age has a way of dampening that ability.
Even with that understanding, fans shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss The Beast’s victory over Hopkins as just the defeat of an old man. Give Joe credit. He managed to accomplish something that neither Sergey “The Krusher” Kovalev and Adonis “Superman” Stevenson couldn’t do. He stopped Andrzei Fonfara and the indestructible Bernard Hopkins. Not bad. If you checked over Joe’s face at the conclusion of his seven plus rounds with Hopkins, you would have seen a relatively unmarked puss. He did have a nick over the left eye, due to a head butt. It was one of those unintentional (strategically placed) collisions Bernard and other fighters like Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield and Andre SOG Ward (asked Mikkel Kessler) are famous for. Consequently, Smith should be credited with a decent defense.
What does Smith need to go forward? Roy Jones Jr. suggests he needs to get better at cutting off the ring, and develop a better jab. Moving his head more wouldn’t hurt either. Everyone gushes over Joe’s big right hand, but he’s got a very good left hook too, and he knows how to throw both hands to the body. Another asset is his ability to recognize when he has hurt his opponent, and finish him with a ferocious up and down attack. He slides to the side, and even switches to southpaw to create angles too. Notice too, at times, he will throw a lead right as a decoy, intentionally having it fall short. It is a ploy, hoping to cause his opponent to try a counter. If it works, Joe will beat them to the punch with his left. Bernard didn’t fall for it. However, Joe continued to pressure Bernard and, at .53 seconds of the eighth round, he was able to finish off Bernard with a two fisted combination of hard shots, with four or more punches causing the damage that launched the Alien through the ropes onto the concrete floor. There was no need for referee Jack Reiss to count to twenty. It was obvious Bernard was not going to make it back into the ring.
For Bernard, its as Max Kellerman relates, there’s no defeating father time. It seems everyone knew that except Bernard. His previous successes managed to give him unrealistic confidence that he could do it one more time. A two year lay off and the advanced age of 51 should have meant the risk was too great, especially against a murderous puncher like “The Beast”. All of which should not detract too much from the entirety of Bernard’s career. The TKO defeat (his first) shouldn’t reflect on his physical skill. It’s more like a mental error, not ring strategy or generalship, but a prelude to disaster. He shouldn’t have made the fight.