By Mark Lamport-Stokes
(Reuters) - Boxing great Bernard Hopkins, who defended the middleweight title a record 20 times from 1995 to 2005 and has never been knocked out, intends to "overdo" himself when he ends a career of extraordinary longevity on Saturday.
The 51-year-old former champion will return to the ring for the first time since November 2014 for his final fight when he takes on fellow American Joe Smith Jr., the second-ranked World Boxing Council contender, at the iconic Forum in Los Angeles.
"I want to give a performance where you beg me to stay, and it's a challenge that Joe Smith will have to take on. I want to overdo myself," Hopkins, known as 'The Executioner', told reporters while preparing for a light-heavyweight contest scheduled for 12 rounds.
"Joe Smith is a hard puncher, he won't run ... he won't lay back and he won't try not to execute me. However, he has to be trained to pass four, five, six different styles that I will utilize in the ring, and he is going to have to be smart."
Hopkins will be making his boxing farewell one month before his 52nd birthday against an opponent who was not even born when he began his professional career in 1988.
"I'm in a competition with myself," said Hopkins, who has a professional record of 55-7-2 with 32 knockouts. "When you reach this level of professionalism, you have done things that most fighters, especially the young fighters, haven't done yet.
"I will be the matrix, I will be the executioner," he said, referring to Saturday's fight. "I will be everything that I need to be to win.
"The sweet science is something that I've always been addicted too. My fight will be like watching the last game of (former NBA standouts) Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant."
Hopkins has not competed since his crushing loss to Russian Sergey Kovalev two years ago but Smith, 27, plans to give his veteran opponent the utmost respect.
"To fight someone well known like Bernard is a privilege," said Smith (22-1, 18 knockouts). "I go into every fight the same way; whether it is a legend or a nobody that is standing in front of me, they have the potential to hurt me.
"I will be bringing my best, and will make sure that he doesn't return. I will make sure he exits my way."
(Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes in St. Augustine, Florida; Editing by Frank Pingue)