By Scoop Malinowski
It was quite evident that Bernard Hopkins had nothing left on Saturday night. His greatness tank was empty at age 51. His legs were barely functional compared to his prime years and even his last fight against Sergei Kovalev nearly two years ago. In that fight against “The Krusher”, Hopkins was astonishingly very competitive in losing a fairly close unanimous decision to the Russian behemoth. But in that fight Hopkins was profoundly pressured for the full twelve rounds and was forced to use up his final reserves of extraordinary ring genius to survive the contest.
Throughout history when an aging great champion is pushed extremely hard in one of his final fights, he has nothing left after that fight. I call this aspect of the sweet science “the last surge of greatness.” A great champion uses up his “last surge of greatness” and then he’s never the same. The magic is gone. His career is finished.
Joe Smith fought a very good fight and impressively knocked out a hollow version of Bernard Hopkins who had no more surges of greatness left in his depleted arsenal.
Let me illustrate some other fights where the super champion used up his last surge of greatness and then was a mere mortal shell thereafter.
Mike Tyson showed flashes of his younger self in the wildly exciting opening round of the fight with Lennox Lewis but was dominated for the rest of the fight. I believe Tyson exhausted his last drops of greatness in that first round and he had nothing left after. Tyson actually did have three more fights after Lewis, knocking out the over-matched Cliff Etienne in one round but then he lost to Danny Williams and Kevin McBride in two forgettable performances.
Lennox Lewis was still considered dominant at age 37 after he beat Mike Tyson. Then he found himself in an all-out war against Vitali Klitschko, somehow summoning his final surge of greatness to survive that Los Angeles brawl to stop Klitschko on cuts after six rounds. The rematch was hotly anticipated but Lewis probably realized he had nothing left after that fight and wisely decided to pass on the lucrative rematch offers. Lewis eventually retired a year later after seeing Klitschko destroy both Corrie Sanders and Kirk Johnson. I believe Lewis was not sure in his own mind that he could beat Vitali a second time and decided to not challenge his luck.
Vitali Klitschko suffered the same fate as most all the other great champions. His final surge of boxing greatness was used up in his very tough decision win against Dereck Chisora. If you watch the final round closely against Chisora you can see how exhausted Vitali is and how he barely hung on to finish the fight. As soon as it was over, brother Wladimir immediately jumped up into the ring and held his older brother in a long embrace int he center of the ring. It appeared to be a brotherly love gesture to disguise how physically exhausted and finished Vitali was after barely surviving that last round. Of course, Vitali had just one more fight after that, an easy win against a vastly over-matched Manuel Charr.
Roy Jones was famously knocked out in the second round by Antonio Tarver but he bounced back for the Tarver rubber match and fought a heroic battle to last the distance. I remember late in that third fight with Tarver, Jones was knocked out on his feet and then immediately was clobbered with another Tarver shot which appeared to “awaken” Jones’s senses and he was able to avoid the knockout loss and actually finish the fight. I believe the very prideful Jones used up his last surge of greatness in the third Tarver fight, which redeemed him from the humiliating one punch KO loss he suffered to Tarver earlier. Against Glen Johnson not long after that points loss to Tarver, Jones was decisively beaten in my opinion because his greatness tank was empty.
Muhammad Ali’s last surge of greatness, in my opinion, flashed before our eyes in Manila against Joe Frazier. Or one could argue Ali’s last surge of greatness came in his rematch revenge win against Leon Spinks.
Kostya Tszyu was another super champion of the modern era. I think it’s rather obvious when his last surge of greatness awed our senses… the Ricky Hatton KO loss which was his final professional fight.
James Toney was another all-time wonder of the boxing world with so many unforgettable magical performances but I always believed his last incredible triumph came in the brilliant cruiserweight unification masterpiece against Vassily Jirov. Though it can be argued the TKO win against Evander Holyfield in his next fight in the heavyweight division was also, if not even more, shockingly impressive. How James Toney continued to fight competitively in the heavyweight division for several years after beating Holyfield, against the likes of Hasim Rahman, John Ruiz and Samuel Peter is also a testament to the all-time greatness of James Toney.
Felix Trinidad was still great against Bernard Hopkins in 2001, losing by late stoppage but he was never the same great fighter after that. Trinidad did beat Hacine Cherifi after Hopkins however he looked ordinary after that in his losses to Winky Wright and Roy Jones.