The surprising Joe Smith Jr. made Bernard Hopkins look his age, turning the Final 1 into his coming out party.
SAN DIEGO – December 17, 2016 – Future Hall of Fame boxer Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins (55-8-2, 32 KOs) entered the ring to the sounds of his own version of “My Way,” flanked by two hooded executioners as he stepped into the ring. The Los Angeles crowd pf 6,513 at The Forum greeted the Philadelphia native with respect and anticipation.
Meanwhile, the nearly forgotten opponent, Joe Smith Jr., (23-1, 19 KOs) patiently waited for all the pomp and circumstance to die down and the opening bell to sound.
Over the next eight rounds, Smith Jr. showed he wasn’t intimidated by the backstory, the history, and the obvious affection in the boxing community for Hopkins in what he said would be the final fight on his way to the Boxing Hall of Fame.
But it wasn’t going to happen. Hopkins said he felt he couldn’t continue due to a sprained ankle, and it was over, with Smith Jr. winning by TKO. It is the first knockout and stoppage loss by Hopkins in his 27-year-career. With the victory, Smith Jr. now holds the WBC International Light Heavyweight title.
“It feels great, it’s the best feeling in the world to accomplish something I set out for and wanted to do,” said Smith Jr. How was Smith Jr. able to stop Hopkins when no one else had successfully stopped him? “I had seen him every time I threw the right hand, he was throwing the left. I had seen him fall, and I kept hitting him until I saw him go out, and I landed that left hook until he went out. I knew he had time to go out, but I hit him with four or five clean shots and they were good shots on the button,” explained Smith.
“I knew he was a true champion, and if he didn’t get injured he’d be back here,” Smith said. “I came here to do my job, this is my coming out party too. I had to finish him, it was either my career was going to end or his was going to end, but I needed mine to continue. I’m going to get back in the gym and train hard for my next opponent. I’m up for anything.”
Backstage after the fight, Hopkins insisted he was pushed out of the ring, not punched. “I was throwing the right hand and a combination and then using the rope as an offensive as I’m known for, and making a mess. He got frustrated, and I might have gotten glazed with a left hook and next thing I know he was throwing me out of the ring. I injured myself and hit my head first and hurt my ankle… I said I could walk but I couldn’t box.
“I had a choice to make, but I guess the referee made it for me,” said Hopkins “I know if I hadn’t made a mess and gotten knocked out of the ring, I would’ve come back like I’m known for and would’ve had my chin. The reason I said I’m upset they are giving Smith the TKO is because the momentum threw the ropes, I didn’t dive through the ropes.”
“I knew he could punch, that was one of the reason I wanted to fight him,” said Hopkins. “As far as taking body shots, I think the momentum was clearly playing out into my hands. I believe if you look at the scorecards, one had it me, one had it him, and one had it nearly a draw. That doesn’t sound like blowing a 51 year old guy out.”
Despite the unexpected ending, Hopkins insists it was his last fight. “I promised it would be and you come to that point in life where it is final and I’m happy with my retirement,” said Hopkins. “I know the fans will know I went out as a soldier, fighting the toughest, baddest opponents. I’m not saying I agree, I’m not in denial—Joe was a tough, heavy hitting fighter.”
“I don’t want the fight to end the way it was, I’d rather get beat. I’d rather get a win or something where it’s clear to everybody …This was the fight I wanted, not a cherry pick that’s why the fans love me. I take the baddest, biggest of my era. I have no regrets. However, it ended, it ended.”
“I came here to win tonight and move forward in my career and I did it,” said Joe Smith, Jr. “I said I’d be the first one to stop him in his career and I was. I have lots of respect for Bernard. He is a true champion. Lots of people love Bernard and still will because he’s a true champion.”
Hopkins did not pick a pushover as his final opponent. He hand picked Smith Jr., who until recently was still shoring trenches as a union construction worker on Long Island. Smith Jr. already scored one Knockout of the Year contender against Andrzej Fonfara, and for sheer drama the stoppage of Hopkins will make it into many year-end highlight reels.
Take nothing away from Hopkins. Let’s remind ourselves he is 51-years-old, and gave a solid performance up to the point of the stoppage. He did not intend to be a novelty act, and he is in phenomenal physical and mental condition for a fighter of any age, and a role model for young fighters for many years to come – including the opponent who beat him. After the fight, Smith Jr. asked Hopkins to autograph his gloves.
Smith Jr. said he’d be interested in an all-Irish contest against fellow Long Islander Seanie Monaghan. In the meantime, he said he’d probably go back to his second job as a union trenchman. If it helps him with his power punching, why not?
In the televised undercard fights, Joseph “JoJo” Diaz Jr. (23-0, 13 KOs) demonstrated the skills making him one of the Golden Boy stable’s brightest young stars. Diaz showed patience and control in the ring against Horacio Garcia of Mexico (30-2-1, 21 KOs) as he put on a display of boxing fundamentals.
Diaz has solid footwork and lands his punches with exceptional accuracy. Diaz landed 266 of 629 punches (42.3 percent) to Garcia’s 116 of 690 (16.8 percent). Diaz landed 53 percent of his power punches, the gold standard in boxing. Diaz’s defense has elements of the Floyd Mayweather style. The only thing Diaz lacks is knockout power. His skill set is so solid it hardly matters, but if he adds power, he will be a force in the competitive featherweight division.
Diaz tried his best to please the hometown fans, dialing up the attack in the tenth round. Garcia wasn’t going to hand him the fight and held him off long enough for the final bell. Diaz won every round on all three judges’ scorecards for a unanimous decision, 100-90 X3.
“I knew I was facing a tough, experienced opponent, so my plan was to go in there and get him using my jabs, angles and everything I worked on in my training camp,” said Diaz, Jr. “I came in and got what I wanted and I’m very happy with the outcome.”
Garcia called it a power versus speed fight. “For every power punch I would throw, he would throw two. I agree with the judge’s decision, and we’ll hit the gym to make the adjustments.”
Ukrainian cruiserweight Oleksandr Usyk (11-0, 10 KOs), and South African Thabiso Mchunu (17-3, 11 KOs) started off cautiously in their 12-round bout. It was Usyk’s much anticipated American debut, and by far the biggest stage ever for Mchunu. Overall it was disappointing. The significance of the stage may have caused early round jitters. As caution turned into a lack of action by the middle rounds, it seemed more like serious stage fight – or maybe the fighters were doing the Manniquin Challenge.
Usyk finally got into gear in the sixth round, scoring on Mchnu with hooks. A right upper cut finally knocked the sturdy South African down, but he finished the round without appearing significantly hurt. The pair slowed down again until Round 9. Usyk began making good contact, and dropped Mchunu. He got to his feet, but Usyk decided he wanted to close the show, and referee Lou Moret stopped the bout after a solid right hook hurt Mchunu again at 1:53 of the round for a TKO by Usyk.
“I get to take my belt back home, and I got to do it with my fellow Ukrainians in the crowd,” said Usyk, who had many supporters at The Forum. “We were hoping to get the knockout earlier, but we got it and we’re looking forward to bringing more fights to this cruiserweight division.”
“He got the better of me, and he used it against me,” said Mchunu. “All I can say now is that we have to go back to square one.”
Usyk retained his WBO cruiserweight world title with the win.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +
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