SAN DIEGO, December 16, 2016 – When you get to be older, any compliment that ends with “for your age” carries a sting no matter how sincere. “You look good for your age,” or “You’re in good shape for your age.”
Future Hall of Fame boxer Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 KOs) hears compliments like this all the time, and has for more than a decade. Merely stepping in the ring might be considered an accomplishment for anyone else in the 51-year-old Hopkins’ shoes. Not Hopkins. He’s no novelty act and he is in phenomenal physical and mental condition for a fighter of any age as he awaits his 65th professional fight Saturday.
Hopkins of Philadelphia faces relative unknown Joe Smith Jr. from Long Island, New York (22-1, 18 KOs) at a building with its own long history in boxing, The Forum in Los Angeles. The fight will air on HBO Boxing at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT. The winner of the 12-round fight earns the WBC International Light Heavyweight title.
Seeing a 51-year-old athlete in any sport headlining an event like Hopkins truly impresses. The fact that he’s more than a dancing bear (look it up) earns everyone’s respect. Hopkins discovered boxing late in life, after a troubled youth which resulted in nearly five years in prison. Ever since to this day, Hopkins lives a clean life: no drugs, no alcohol, and no sugar, not even a soda which he calls “liquid crack.”
It would take a book to review Hopkins’ impressive career. He was the undisputed middleweight champion, and he has also been the light heavyweight champion. His signature fights include Tito Trinidad in 2001, his curent employer Oscar De La Hoya in 2004, and Kelly Pavlik in 2008. Hopkins is headed for the Hall of Fame without a doubt. He boasts several records that won’t soon be broken. Hopkins has a legitimate chance to break his own record as the oldest boxing champion on record if he wins this fight.
See video of Hopkins’ career highlights here.
Odds are good but not a given. Hopkins did not pick a pushover as his final opponent. Joe Smith Jr., who until recently was still shoring trenches as a union construction worker on Long Island, got everyone attention when he scored a shocking first round knockout upset of Andrzej Fonfara in June. It may stand up as Knockout of the Year and it’s so far the Upset of the Year. Watch it and get to know Smith Jr. for yourself.
Hopkins, an engaging talkative man when he’s not in fight mode, plays the mental game like a Jedi Master. He put Smith Jr. on blast in the final pre-fight news conference, lecturing him like a father lectures an underachieving son. “You have to prove you’re special, no matter how many titles you win,” said Hopkins. “If you use that to stay in the game then you become special and an icon surpasses legend.
“Common man, special man. Which one do you want? Which one do you want? I want the special, you are that before you become that.
“I’m not going to predict that I end his [Joe’s] career. One day if he recovers mentally then he might have something to salvage and go forward. I’m a career stopper to most of my opponents that talk like him. Yes, I’m honored to be respected as Joe mentioned, too. I listen to words. Nobody is really paying attention to Joe. Joe won’t be special come Saturday. He will stay common,” added Hopkins.
“Since I gave you some food for thought, enjoy the final one, enjoy the textbook of the sweet science as you heard in the beginning of this press conference. The sweet science that I’ve been taught about boxing…the sweet science has nothing to do with power. It’s not like I can’t hit; I’ll beat you up.”
Smith Jr. played his role perfectly, respectful but seemingly not cowed by Hopkins. “I’m ready for this Saturday and am very excited. I know I’m going to be there with a legend but I’ve worked very hard in the gym and made many sacrifices to get to where I am today. He is a legend, but Saturday night he’s just another opponent,” said Smith.
See the entire news conference here.
Hopkins needs to be conservative with his energy. He’s a powerhouse physical specimen but it’s unrealistic to think he can put out the same effort as a guy who wasn’t even born when he began boxing in 1988. Hopkins must be smart about when he expends effort and he has to make it count. Age steals speed and reflexes, but it gives back in wisdom. No one has more boxing wisdom in the ring than Hopkins. He knows every boxing trick in the book and he wrote several himself.
Hopkins has every chance of winning if he engineers the fight the way he wants it to go down. He cannot make the kind of mistakes Fonfara made, leaving himself open for a power shot from Smith Jr. This fight will show whether Smith Jr. is a one-dimensional power puncher with minimal boxing skills to rely on, or whether he is a force in this division.
On the day of the fight, Hopkins will be 29 days shy of his 52nd birthday. Both men weighed in Friday at 174 pounds even.
In the televised undercard fights, Ukrainian cruiserweight sensation Oleksandr Usyk (10-0, 9 KOs), makes his American boxing debut against South African Thabiso “The Rock” Mchunu (17-2, 11 KOs) in a 12-round bout for Usyk’s WBO Cruiserweight world title. Also featured is perhaps the best young boxer in the Golden Boy stable, featherweight Joseph “JoJo” Diaz Jr. 22-0, 13 KOs) who fights Horacio Garcia (30-1-1, 12 KOs) in a 10 round bout with Diaz’s NABF Featherweight belt up for grabs. All fighters on the card made weight on Friday.
The Hopkins vs. Smith card includes Golden Boy’s rising stars, middleweights Jason Quigley, lightweights Christian “Chiampa” Gonzalez and Ivan Delgado, featherweight Joet Gonzalez, and super featherweight Ryan Garcia, all of whom are undefeated.
“The Final 1,” Bernard Hopkins vs. Joe Smith Jr. airs on HBO Championship Boxing from The Forum in Los Angeles at 10 p.m. Eastern Time/7 p.m. Pacific Time.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is a veteran boxing observer 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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