Photo: Tom Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions
Chronology has long been at the heart of Bernard Hopkins' remarkable boxing career. Consider: More than half of his career took place after age 35 and he turned pro nearly a year before his opponent, Joe Smith Jr., was born. Few fighters have ever entered the ring after age 50 and even fewer have posted victories. Will the man known as "B-Hop," "The Executioner" and "The Alien" defy Father Time one last time or will Smith, riding the wave of the 2016 light heavyweight upset of the year over Andrzej Fonfara (which took place before Fonfara's adopted home fans in Chicago), score an even more meaningful victory?
"Krushed" Dreams: Twenty-five months ago, Hopkins was a two-belt light heavyweight titlist who was seeking to unify against WBO belt-holder Sergey Kovalev. From nearly the first landed punch by Kovalev -- a right hand that sent Hopkins tumbling to the canvas -- the fight was hardly a fight but rather a coronation of a younger man at the expense of a 49-year-old wonder. Utilizing surprising ring intelligence, the longer and stronger Kovalev out-boxed, out-foxed and especially out-worked Hopkins, who threw just 16.2 punches per round to Kovalev's 48.8. Moreover, Kovalev had Hopkins on the edge of a KO loss as in round 12 he landed 38 punches overall and 29 power shots, both the highest totals ever logged in a single round by a Hopkins opponent. At fight's end, Kovalev out-landed Hopkins 166 to 65 overall, 45 to 25 jabs and 121 to 40 power, margins that were created almost entirely because Kovalev tripled Hopkins' output. The proof: Hopkins led 33% to 28% overall, 30% to 18% jabs and 36% to 35% power, which meant that had he matched Kovalev's pace he may well have come out the winner.
The Smith fight will show whether the gap was caused by Kovalev's youth and technical superiority or whether Father Time and Mother Nature had finally snagged their most elusive prey yet. Hopkins, who as mentioned above averaged only 16.2 punches thrown per round (5.4 landed) in his loss to Kovalev, averaged just 37.8 thrown and 12.9 landed in his 14 fights at light heavyweight (division average: 52.5 thrown, 16.1 landed). Hopkins’ strength is "gumming up" his opponent’s offense: Opponents landed just 10.6 punches per round (throwing 41.4 per round and landing just 7.4 power shots per round; division average: 11.2). All but one of his light heavyweight opponents (Ornelas) was a current or former champ when they fought Hopkins.
Work Ethic Personified: Like most fighters, Smith's ring ethic is an extension of his life ethic. In Smith's case, it's reflective of a blue-collar grinder who's willing to work hard (and occasionally suffer) to get the job done. In his most recent fight against Fonfara, Smith took some early fire before landing the fight-changing punch that floored Fonfara for the first time in his career. From there he made up the early deficit and got slightly into the black by fight's end (he led 22 to 21 overall and 20 to 18 power). Though Smith won, his defensive numbers weren't good as he absorbed 38% of overall punches and 49% power shots while landing 33% overall and 42% power. When Smith's fights go longer, he has shown excellent work rate. He averaged 104.2 punches per round in stopping Fabiano Pena in round two, 77.3 in winning a 10-round decision over Will Rosinsky, 68.2 in beating Otis Griffin over six rounds and 85.4 in destroying Cory Commings in two rounds. A telling stat in the Commings bout: Smith accelerated his pace to 87 punches per round in rounds 8-10.
But while his work rate will be a big positive against the notoriously frugal Hopkins, Smith’s defensive numbers in those fights will offset that. Overall, Smith averaged 76.4 punches thrown (24.5 landed) in his last five fights, with four of those last five opponents being non-threatening (Fonfara was legit). Those non-descript opponents and Fonfara collectively landed 38.6% of their power shots -- a major red flag -- which appears to be the reason Smith was chosen as the opponent for Hopkins’ farewell fight.
Prediction: Hopkins' age and ring rust is a major question mark, but Smith was chosen for a reason: lack of defense. Knowing this is his last fight and having been an elite fighter for many years, Hopkins will find enough to walk out with his last points win.