BOXING

Smith KOs Hopkins, Diaz wins big, Povetkin in trouble again

Joe Smith Jr. Knocks Bernard Hopkins Out of Ring, Into Retirement

The long and accomplished career of Bernard Hopkins came to a bizarre end on Saturday night, with the former middleweight and light heavyweight champion knocked through the ropes, out of the ring and into retirement.

The man who put him there, Joe Smith Jr., scored a surprising eighth-round knockout.

No matter what, this was going to be the last fight for Hopkins, who turns 52 in January, turned pro nearly three decades ago, and had not fought in two years. He wanted one final bout, one final challenge. He just couldn’t have expected it to end like this.

It didn’t start out great either for Hopkins, who appeared to be hurt by a short right hand from Smith in the first round. Hopkins was able to damage Smith in the second, albeit with a head butt that appeared to be intentional but was ruled accidental, bringing blood from a cut over Smith’s left eye.

Hopkins also had moments that came from good boxing and clean punching. He used movement to buy himself time and breathing room, making an aggressive fighter like Smith miss and move and reset. Hopkins landed shots, though not enough to keep Smith from coming. He resorted to holding when Smith got too close.

Smith was scoring as well. He continued to pursue, continued to throw, believing that even if he often were made to miss, the punches he hit Hopkins with would make a difference. Smith wisely wasn’t wild, often waiting for Hopkins to stop moving before sending out power shots. Early in the eighth, Smith followed Hopkins into a neutral corner, threw a left hook and then caught Hopkins with a right as he ducked down.

Smith followed with a pair of left hooks as Hopkins, who’d been leaning on the ropes, began to fall between the middle two. A right hand and then another left to the head propelled Hopkins the rest of the way through. He fell backward, the back of his head hitting the floor. Hopkins had 20 seconds to get back in the ring. He was on his feet by 13. But he’d hurt his ankle, he said, and wasn’t sure if he could stand and fight.

That didn’t matter. While Hopkins incorrectly thought he’d been pushed out of the ring, the referee rightly ruled that the knockdown came as a result of a punch. Hopkins didn’t made it back to the ring. He could’ve been disqualified anyway due to people at ringside helping him to his feet. The fight was over.

With that strange conclusion, Hopkins completed his Hall of Fame career with a record of 55-8-2 with 32 knockouts, including a middleweight title reign that lasted a decade, saw him become the undisputed champion and brought wins in 19 defenses. He soon followed that up with a move to light heavyweight, where he twice became the true 175-pound champion, all while in his 40s, and later on became the oldest boxer ever to hold a world title.

His final title reign ended in November 2014, when Sergey Kovalev shut Hopkins out over the course of 12 rounds. It was one thing to lose to a very good fighter like Kovalev. A younger Hopkins never would’ve had any trouble against an opponent like Smith. The older Hopkins picked Smith as an opponent because he knew that Smith, while limited, also could be dangerous.

Smith has made the most of his opportunities in 2016, scoring a surprising first-round technical knockout of Andrzej Fonfara in June and adding this knockout of Hopkins. The 27-year-old is now 23-1 with 19 KOs. It’s been a very good year for him. That will land him another big fight next year. We’ll see if he can make it three big wins in a row.

 

Joseph Diaz Jr. Wins Wide Over Horacio Garcia, Moves Toward Title Shot

The featherweight division is stacked with talent. Joseph “JoJo” Diaz Jr. believes he belongs among them. That remains to be seen. He’s spent his 2016 looking good while developing from a prospect into a contender, picking up his fourth win of the year in a unanimous decision this past Saturday over Horacio Garcia.

Garcia had lost only once before. He wasn’t on Diaz’s level, though. Garcia gamely came forward all night. He was there to be hit. That allowed Diaz to throw in combinations throughout and land often. Garcia attempted to respond with combos of his own and seemed to stem the tide in the beginning of the fourth. Diaz withstood the momentary revolt and then reassumed control.

Diaz was credited with landing 266 of 629 punches over the course of 10 rounds, according to CompuBox, a 42 percent connect rate. He was even better with power shots, landing more than half of what he threw, going 250 of 476 on the night. Garcia, in contrast, was 116 of 690, or 17 percent, with a huge number of those misses coming on jabs — he was only 6 of 292 with that shot on the night, while going 110 of 398 with power punches.

All three judges saw the fight a shutout, 100-90, giving all 10 rounds to Diaz.

He improves to 23-0 with 13 KOs. Diaz’s team has spoken of wanting him to challenge for a title in 2017. The four major titleholders at 126 are Carl Frampton, Gary Russell Jr., Lee Selby and Oscar Valdez. There also are contenders such as Abner Mares and Josh Warrington. It would be good for Diaz to face better competition before taking on any of the best.

Garcia is now 30-2-1 with 22 KOs.

 Highlights

Oleksandr Usyk Defends Title With TKO of Thabiso Mchunu

It had been a long, long time since HBO aired a cruiserweight fight, and the last one was a great one — the 2003 war between James Toney and Vassiliy Jirov.

Cruiserweights returned to the network on Saturday underneath the Hopkins-Smith bout. But this wasn’t going to be a war, not so long as Oleksandr Usyk had a say in the matter. Usyk, a skilled and gifted boxer who won gold in the 2012 Olympics, demonstrated his superior hand and foot speed en route to a ninth-round stoppage of contender Thabiso Mchunu.

Usyk won a world title in September, outclassing Krzysztof Glowacki, who had dethroned longtime titleholder Marco Huck in 2015. It was just Usyk’s 10th pro fight.

He started slow in the first few rounds against Mchunu, then turned up the volume and took over. His style didn’t exactly endear him with the booing fans — he’d landed more jabs than power punches through four rounds — but his activity and the occasional moments he punched with power led to a knockdown in the sixth and two more in the ninth.

Usyk is now 11-0 with 10 KOs. Mchunu is now 17-3 with 11 KOs.

 Highlights

Stiverne-Povetkin Fight Canceled After Povetkin Tests Positive

For the second time in 2016, Alexander Povetkin had a fight called off at the last minute after he tested positive for a banned substance.

The first time was in May, when Povetkin was supposed to challenge Deontay Wilder for a heavyweight title. Then the news came out barely a week before the fight that Povetkin had tested positive for meldonium. Wilder ended up flying home. The fight was off. But Meldonium had only been banned since the beginning of the year. Povetkin’s team said he had not taken it since then and the substance must have remained in his system from before — something scientific research had shown to be possible.

The winner of Povetkin’s fight with Stiverne, which was supposed to take place this past Saturday, would’ve been named mandatory challenger to Wilder’s title. This time, Povetkin tested positive for ostarine. The news came out less than 24 hours before the bout. The fight was canceled. Povetkin fought anyway, taking on and knocking out Johann Duhaupas.

Povetkin is now 31-1 with 23 KOs. But it is highly unlikely that he’ll be allowed to face Wilder for the title in 2017. Stiverne’s team is lobbying for that bout instead, hoping for a rematch and a chance to regain the title he lost to Wilder in January 2015.

David Greisman
About the Author:

David Greisman.

David Greisman is an award-winning boxing writer based out of Washington, D.C., who has covered the sport since 2004. He is the senior staff writer and “Fighting Words” columnist for BoxingScene.com and a reporter for The Ring magazine. Greisman is the author of the book “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing.”
Follow on Twitter @fightingwords2

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