IT’S been over a week now since the self-styled “Alien”, Bernard Hopkins, was so conclusively outpointed by Russian puncher Sergei Kovalev in their light-heavyweight showdown, and no one knows for sure whether Hopkins will box again. Some have been saying that because he didn’t lose inside the distance he has enough credibility left to engage in one more big fight, possibly a crack at WBC king Adonis Stevenson next year.
The idea is that Bernard could set some sort of record by winning a title fight in his 50s (the Philly marvel reaches that landmark in January). Only Hopkins truly knows what has left in the tank, physically as well as mentally, but he would do well to ponder the last fights of some of the sport’s greats; for every one that went out on a high there have at least two that didn’t fare so well.
Yes, Rocky Marciano retired undefeated in 49 fights and never came back. Yes, an earlier world heavyweight king, Gene Tunney, quit as a reigning champion with just one loss on his ledger, to Harry Greb (subsequently avenged).
But Hopkins surely knows enough about boxing history to recall that a 37-year-old Joe Louis, with a huge tax bill to pay, ended with an eighth-round hammering by the rising Marciano; that Louis’ successor as world heavyweight champion, Ezzard Charles, finished at 38 with defeat to one Alvin Green in Oklahoma City some eight years after losing his crown.
And it goes on. Henry Armstrong, one of the all-time greats, lost his last paid fight to the unheralded Chester Slider, who was never a contender for any world title, never mind capable of holding three at the same time, as Armstrong had done.
Sugar Ray Robinson, for most the greatest ever, bowed out in November 1965 with a points defeat to Joey Archer, who would go on to fight Emile Griffith twice for the world middleweight title. Losing to Archer was no disgrace, but the truth is that the Sugarman had earlier in ’65 lost in Mexico to one Memo Ayon, who would have only four more fights – and lose all inside the distance.
And what about Muhammad Ali? His fabulous career ended with that shambolic, embarrassing, humiliating 1981 loss to Trevor Berbick in the Bahamas, when a cow bell was needed to signal the rounds because the inept promoters – the only ones prepared to promote an Ali fight by that stage – hadn’t the wits to arrange a real boxing bell.
Perhaps the best ending of all belongs to former world middleweight champion Marvin Hagler. He did not go out on a terrible defeat or even a victory over an undistinguished opponent. Marvin still bitterly contests his shock 1987 loss to Sugar Ray Leonard, but “Marvelous” resisted the temptation to come back, instead leaving many to think he ended his career on a loss that was unjust.
Always leaving them wanting more, as the show business saying goes.