By John J. Raspanti
When Joe Smith Jr. knocked future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins out of the ring, and into retirement last weekend, a chorus of critics sang, “Hopkins is 51, So what?" and “Ten years ago, Hopkins would have toyed with Smith.”
Admittedly, the Hopkins of today is not the fighter he was in 2006.
After losing a close decision to middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, many offered that Hopkins should retire. As usual, Hopkins ignored the cackling hens and did his own thing.
He challenged reigning light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver to a fight. Tarver entered the ring a 3-1 favorite. Hopkins floored Tarver in Round five, winning a wide decision.
Hopkins next defeated Winky Wright, lost a close decision to Joe Calzaghe, and posted victories over Kelly Pavlik, and Roy Jones. He truly is an amazing fighter.
Smith, after a successful amateur run, turned professional about the same time Hopkins was defeating Pavlik and Jones. He won his first six fights before he ran into a left thrown by Eddie Caminero that broke his jaw.
Out of action for 11 months, Smith, a native of Long Island, New York, returned with a vengeance, knocking out his next five opponents.
He reeled off 15 more victories, with 11 knockouts. He then ventured to Chicago to face Andrzej Fonfara in what was expected to be an easy victory for the hometown hero.
Make no mistake. Smith can punch. Just ask Fonfara. After being backed into the ropes, Smith let fly with his powerful right.
The right-hand crack landed right on the button. Fonfara collapsed in a heap. He got up, but seconds later was down again.
The fight was over in a mere two minutes.
Joe “The Irish Bomber” Smith had arrived.
Still, when Hopkins picked Smith as his swan song, most outside of the boxing world, hadn’t heard of him.
Hopkins was his usual cocky self.
Smith was ready.
“I’m a common guy,” said Smith who works between fights as a laborer for Local 66. “I haven’t made forty million dollars. I’m going to show that the common man can beat the legend. I’m expecting him to run like he did against (Sergey) Kovalev. If I hurt him, I’m going to finish him.”
Hopkins used all the guile and experience he could muster to keep Smith off him. He did well at times, landing sneaky rights off the ropes. Smith pushed forward, winging hooks to the body and head. His pressure forced Hopkins to fight.
After seven rounds, I had Smith winning the fight by four points. The end came 54 seconds into the eighth round. Hopkins was on the ropes, resting, trying to counter, when Smith tagged him with a left, right, left combination. The force of the blows sent Hopkins out of the ring where he was counted out by referee Jack Reiss.
“I had seen him fall, and I kept hitting him until I saw go out,” said Smith in the ring after the fight. “I knew I had time to go out, but I hit him with four or five clean shots.”
Smith wants the winner of the upcoming Andre Ward—Sergey Kovalev rematch.
Memo to whomever faces Smith next.
Don’t underestimate him.