BERNARD HOPKINS’ legendary career came to an end overnight as he was stopped – for the first and only time in 28 years – by Joe Smith Jnr inside eight rounds at The Forum in California.

Fighting for the first time since his 2014 loss to Sergey Kovalev, 51-year-old Hopkins entered the light-heavyweight bout against Smith with the intention of retiring afterward.

A six-punch combination from Smith in the eighth knocked Hopkins out of the ring and he fell to the floor ringside, where he hit his head. Referee Jack Reiss – as per the rules – gave Hopkins a 20-count, but the former two-weight world champion was unable to make it back into the ring in time and was counted out 53 seconds into the round.

The fight had been close for the first seven rounds, with one judge having Hopkins ahead at the time of the finish and the other two scoring Smith ahead.

Once-beaten Joe entered the bout after stunning light-heavyweight contender Andrzej Fonfara inside a round, and his profile has been enhanced further still after becoming the only man to ever stop Hopkins.

Hopkins insisted he was forced through the ropes, rather than punched through them, and also spoke of an ankle injury he picked up, but is still sticking to his retirement plan.

“This is my last fight, I promised it would be and you come to that point in life where it is final and I’m happy with my retirement,” he said.

“I know the fans will know I went out as a soldier, fighting the toughest, baddest opponents.

“I know if I hadn’t made a mess and gotten knocked out of the ring, I would’ve come back like I’m known for and would’ve had my chin. The reason I said I’m upset they are giving Smith the TKO is because the momentum threw me through the ropes, I didn’t dive through the ropes.”

With a record 20 middleweight defences – during which he held all four world titles for a spell – and being the oldest fighter in history to win a world title, among numerous other accolades, Hopkins will go down as an all-time great.

But in Smith he bit off more than he could chew.

“I knew he was a true champion, and if he didn’t get injured, he’d be back here,” the 27-year-old said.

“I came here to do my job, this is my coming out party, too. I had to finish him, it was either my career was going to end or his was going to end, but I needed mine to continue.”