Two years ago, the sun set on Bernard Hopkins’ illustrious career as a middleweight boxer when the veteran was unceremoniously knocked out of the ring in the 8th round of his bout with Joe Smith Jr.
Hopkins, now already 53 years old, enjoyed an incredible career that spanned 28 years, meaning the last guy he faced in the ring wasn’t even born when he started out as a pro.
Despite the huge age difference, Hopkins gave it his all and was even up on one of the judge’s scorecards when he went flying out of the ring. Official Pat Russell had him 67-66 up while Tim Cheatham had Smith ahead by a point, and Tom Taylor had Smith ahead 69-64.
In his post-fight interview, Smith paid tribute to the heart shown by the former champ, even in the face of some heavy shots in the latter part of the fight.
“I landed the left hook there, and it finished the job. I hit him with four, five clean shots, they were good shots right on the button. I didn’t expect him to get up. But he’s a true champion, and I knew if he didn’t get injured he would be back here in the ring. I had to do my job. This was my coming-out party, too.”
Hopkins’s was a middleweight champion for a world record ten years, two months and 17 days and made more than his 20 defences. He also became the oldest world champ in any weight class at the age of 48 years, one month and 22 days, when he beat Tavoris Cloud three years ago to claim the IBF light heavyweight crown.
Hopkins finished his incredible career with a record of 55-8-2 (2 NC) and had notable wins over Keith Holmes, Felix Trinidad (who was unbeaten at the time), Oscar De La Hoya, and Roy Jones Jr. Known for his never-say-die attitude and solid granite chin, he was never knocked out in all his years of fighting; his loss to Smith went into the books as a TKO (somewhat generously, it must be said).
All this is amazing in its own right, but the whole story is even more unbelievable when you consider the fact that his life could have turned out very different indeed. Hopkins grew up in a housing project in Philadelphia and turned to crime at a young age. By thirteen he was mugging people and had already been stabbed three times. At seventeen, he was sentenced to 18 years in Graterford Prison for nine felonies. While in prison Hopkins discovered his passion for boxing and after serving almost five years, was released from prison in 1988.
He decided to use boxing as an escape from his previous life of crime. While Hopkins was leaving the prison for the final time, the warden told him he’d “see [Hopkins] again when you wind up back in here. “Hopkins replied “I ain’t ever coming back here,” and instead, forged a career as one of the finest middleweight boxers of his generation.
Getting knocked out of the ring feels like an unceremonious way for his incredible career to come to an end but, considering the guy, it’s probably the only way anyone could have stopped him…