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October 20, 2016

In final bout, legendary Bernard Hopkins will defy logic one last time

The joints are a little sore today. His breathing somewhat heavier than normal after a quick routine at Joe Hand’s Boxing Gym on Third Street. Bernard Hopkins is going to do this again. 

He has always been defiant. The foundation of his legend was forged on insolence. The world goes left, “The Executioner” would invariably go right. His body tells him one thing, his incredible willpower tells him something else.

He’s been told for at least the last 20 years that he’s too old to fight at an elite level. And, for the last 20 years, he’s defiantly waded forward and succeeded. There was always a hint that “B-Hop” wasn’t done — even at the ripe young age of 51. The all-time great and future Hall of Famer said so, acted so, and lived so. When there was no fight signed in the foreseeable future, Hopkins was still training every day like there was, still very conscious of his diet and still believing he has something left.

His longevity in this brutal, young man’s game stretches logic.

Hopkins will get the chance to do it one last time, in “The Final 1,” when he fights light heavyweight Joe Smith Jr. on Saturday, December 17, at the Forum in Los Angeles, which will be shown on HBO both Golden Boy and Joe DeGuardia, President of Star Boxing, Smith’s promoter, confirmed.

"I’m older. I always wanted to go out like Sugar Ray Robinson, where I take the four bows — and this is my chance. ... There are no options for me. I have to win this fight."

Smith (22-1, 18 KOs) sent a shock through the boxing world when he stopped Andrzej Fonfara on June 18 with a first-round knockout. A construction worker when he’s not boxing, the 27-year-old from Long Island was a 14-to-1 underdog against Fonfara.

The legendary Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 KOs) hasn’t fought since he lost to light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev on Nov. 8, 2014 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Hopkins was dominated in that fight. He rose from a first-round knockdown and struggled seriously to get out of the 12th. It was hard to watch.

This is, Hopkins vows, his last fight.

And he’s right about something — he can still kick the butt of almost every contending 175-pounder in the world today. It says something about the thin, weak state that boxing is in today. But it also speaks volumes about Hopkins, who will be fighting in his fourth decade

“I’m going to be 52 on January 15, 2017 — and I still feel I’m in great shape,” Hopkins said. “This is going to be it, the final one. It’s why we’re calling it ‘The Final 1.’ I’ve been through this before. No one has ever been able to talk me out of my dreams, and it’s still in my spirit to fight at a high level no matter how it looks to people. I’m pleased this is happening, because it will be happening a month before my 52nd birthday.

“How many athletes in any sport have played for four decades? I don’t think there are many that come to mind, and then you consider that it’s boxing, the most vicious sport of all, I think it says something. Boxing has an opportunity to push the envelope here. We’re talking four decades here. This is where my lifestyle has led. I’ve done what Frank Sinatra has done with music. I’ve done it my way. I know the media doesn’t look at boxing like it does the other sports, but we’re talking about a fighter who’s fought competitively for four decades.”

Hopkins goes into this fight the overwhelming sentimental favorite. It’s a role that Hopkins is getting used to lately. Before, B-Hop would conjure up some chip-on-the-shoulder slight as self-motivation. In the twilight of his career, he’s grown into this magnetic sage, much like Muhammad Ali did.

And like Ali, no one wanted to “The Greatest” get hurt in the last few fights of his career. Smith is a big-time puncher, much like Kovalev. No one wants to see Hopkins, who’s never been stopped in his career, get hurt.

“I believe that,” Hopkins said. “I’m older. I always wanted to go out like Sugar Ray Robinson, where I take the four bows — and this is my chance. There will be a lot of emotions that night, and I respect that. I respect the fact of how people see me now. I’ll admit, it took some time to accept that people really like me [laughs]. I always had to find something to rally around. And lot of it was legitimate. Now people just want to see what the old man has left and what he can do.

“I appreciate the support that I’m getting. I’m fighting to show what everyone fears — and that’s old age. I’m lifting weights during training for the first time. I’m motivated for this. I want to go out on a positive note. There are no options for me. I have to win this fight. I can’t think the fans are going to cheer for me whether I win or lose. I don’t fight to be just there. I fight to win. That attitude has never changed. I’m walking across a tightrope with alligators waiting for me if I fall—that’s how I feel. I want this final fight to be a celebration. It’s a celebration of a man who people might not have always agreed with, but respected. I want to go out a winner. I want to give people on December 17th a fight they’re going to remember, and hopefully afterwards, they’re going to say, ‘Damn, I’m going to miss him.’”

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