Bernard Hopkins
Bernard Hopkins will end his career against Joe Smith on Dec. 17. His last fight was against Sergey Kovalev at Boardwalk Hall Arena on Nov. 8, 2014 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Getty Images

With his 52nd birthday just around the corner, Bernard Hopkins is finally ready to step away from boxing. After 66 professional fights and a record number of title defenses, his legendary in-ring career will come to an end with one more bout Saturday, Dec. 17 at the Forum in Inglewood, California.

But Hopkins won’t hang up his gloves without one more challenge.

The surefire Hall of Famer will take on up-and-coming light heavyweight Joe Smith Jr. Nearly half Hopkins’ age at 27 years old, Smith is fresh off an upset of Andrzej Fonfara, knocking out the heavily favored boxer with a first-round TKO in June to improve his career record to 22-1.

“You’re gonna see Joe Smith at his best,” Hopkins told news outlets, including International Business Times, at a media event Tuesday. “We all know that you don’t come in the ring out of shape with Hopkins. Let’s see if Joe Smith, who has the ability, can figure it out before it’s too late.”

Certainly part of Hopkins’ sentiment comes from his attempt to promote the fight, which features a largely unknown opponent who is a decided underdog. Smith, however, is a more than credible threat to the veteran. Hopkins decided to pass up the opportunity to face a lesser boxer and guarantee that his career ends on a high note.

It’s essentially what Floyd Mayweather did in September 2015. He took on an overmatched Andre Berto in what was billed as the undefeated boxer’s final fight. Days before facing Berto, Mayweather was listed as -3500 favorite. As Hopkins’ swan song approaches, the betting website gives him just -265 odds to leave the sport with a victory.

A loss for Hopkins won’t do anything to damage his legacy, though it would add a blemish to what’s been an impressive final act. Smith has much more to gain, potentially getting closer to a title shot by defeating a legend.

“I wanted to go down that [light heavyweight] division and see who’s the most dangerous, the hardest puncher, the most threatening guy that has really nothing to lose,” Hopkins said. “Because you can always get in line and say, ‘I lost to Bernard Hopkins.’ That doesn’t mean his career is over. Just get in the long damn line. But if he pulls something off that no one’s ever done, now we’re talking that we got a new star in town. Either we’re gonna see a falling star, or we’re gonna see a rising star.

“There’s two ways to pick someone to fight: Someone to [make you] look good, and someone that will bring the best out of you. I look for guys that bring the best out of me.”

It’s what Hopkins has done his whole career, taking on the best boxing has had to offer. From facing the likes of Felix Trinidad and Antonio Tarver in his prime to taking on the best light heavyweights as he neared 50 years old.

Hopkins faced Sergey Kovalev the last time he stepped in the ring. Kovalev entered the fight on Nov. 8, 2014 undefeated with nine straight knockouts. Hopkins was dominated throughout the fight, but he went the distance against one of the hardest punchers the sport has seen in recent years.

“That’s just who I am,” Hopkins said when asked why he didn’t take an easy fight for Dec. 17. “I don’t want a pass, and I never did want a pass because I’m me. Agree or disagree, approve or don’t approve.”

Hopkins takes pride in the fact that he hasn’t backed down from a challenge in his career, even after nearly 30 years in the sport. While facing the best of the best, Hopkins has managed to go 57-7-2, setting a record with 20 straight middleweight title defenses along the way. He’s held championships in two weight classes, and he became the oldest boxer in history to win a major title when he did so against Tavoris Cloud as a 48-year-old in 2013.

But stepping inside the ring with a formidable opponent isn’t enough. After losing by unanimous decision in his last bout, Hopkins is determined to go out on top.

“The happy send-off won’t be based on just fighting. The happy send-off is winning,” Hopkins said. “My thinking isn’t just to be in the moment and to be happy, it’s to win. It’s not about wrapping up and saying I have the opportunity to wrap up. That’s there no matter what. But to actually know that I’m stepping in for one purpose and one purpose only: to school Joe Smith.”