Bernard Hopkins: No longer boxing’s angry man

Photo by Rich Kane - Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions

Photo by Rich Kane – Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions


This past Saturday afternoon at Della’s Kitchen inside the Delano (the fancy version of the Mandalay Bay), Bernard Hopkins sat down for lunch before his evening duties for HBO Sports, calling the Sergey Kovalev-Nadjib Mohammedi fight. Hopkins ordered a chicken sandwich; that much wasn’t a surprise, given that the man who lives as Spartan a lifestyle as any boxer in the world, usually likes to eat as lean as possible (me, I had steak and eggs. Hey, I’ve never had to make weight).


As his plate arrived, Hopkins saw his chicken was fried and breaded. With that discovery, he proceeded to take off the top piece of bread and meticulously scrape off the outside of his two pieces of chicken until there was nothing more than white meat showing. His order of sweet potato fries basically went untouched and his beverage was water with a side of orange juice.


This is all you need to know about Hopkins: At age 50 and not certain if he has a fight ahead of him, he is still as disciplined as any professional athlete you’ll find. There’s no such thing as “walk-around weight” with him. Basically he’s ready to fight 365 days a year. There are monks who aren’t as committed as him.


Hopkins is hoping for one more fight before finally riding off into the sunset. He’s made it clear that he’d like to add a super middleweight belt to his vast collection and he has targeted WBO beltholder Arthur Abraham to his swan song.


It’s not clear if he’ll get his wish but this much is clear: Till the very end, the core of Bernard Hopkins has not changed. And if he doesn’t get to behead “King” Arthur, does retirement beckon?


“99.9 percent, that will be the case,” he confirmed,”because, at the end, its like this: Whether I mention a guy’s name, they retire or they fight someone else to avoid fighting me or maybe its just makes better sense for them. I don’t know what it is but I can say that, yes, that will be 99.9 percent good reason to say, to just let time take its place and retire myself. But, no matter what, I have no problems saying it; I have no problems telling you or anybody else when that time comes.


“If that’s the case, then I have no regrets. I have an outstanding life, an outstanding career that I’ve made for myself.”


Whenever he decides to retire, five years from that day, Hopkins will be going to Canastota for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He’s a cinch, first ballot Hall-of-Famer, whose record, 55-7-2 (32), doesn’t even come close to telling you the whole story of this career and the man behind it. Like his idol, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, he became the undisputed middleweight champion of the world but (unlike Hagler) then captured the light heavyweight title. Throughout his 40s, he did the improbable by consistently out-running Father Time. Even his last fight, a 12-round loss to the powerhouse that is Kovalev, was a moral victory, as he is one of the few men to see the finish line against the “Krusher.”


Just think about this: He began his career (with a loss, mind you, to the long-forgotten Clinton Mitchell) in 1988 – when the “first” George Bush was in the White House and here he was facing the most feared light heavyweight in 2014, just a couple of months before his 50th birthday.


Like another man he admired, Satchel Paige, he never looked back.


For years, Hopkins was boxing’s angry man, the renegade who railed against the system. Jefferson Smith may have fought Washington but Hopkins battled the likes of Don King, Dan Goossen, Lou DiBella, various networks and anyone else he felt was conspiring against him.


He was Black Sinatra – he did it his way.


And guess what? In retrospect, Hopkins wouldn’t have changed a thing. The hardships he encountered early on forged him as a fighter.


“Absolutely, I really believe that, based on seeing how other things in time have made athletes or boxers think the opposite, so now, I’m really appreciative of – and really glad – and I never thought I’d be here to say this: that I had to go through this. In my personal life, it makes me be aware, be conscious of what I need and what I don’t need and, in boxing, what I established and what I have attached to my name can never be downplayed, never be forgotten,” said Hopkins, who has always been mindful of his place in history.


“And that, to me, means something. Money is great; it’s comfortability, you can do a lot of things but one thing we all know: It doesn’t separate you from people who got money or had money because, whether you got $10, someone’s got $20. Whether you got a hundred million, someone’s got four hundred million but when it comes to what you did on this planet, in this sport that you played a part of, that can only be accomplished through work and time in history.”


“Legacy” is an oftentimes overused phrase in boxing but, for Hopkins, it’s something that is to be taken seriously. “What price do you put on that?” he asks, rhetorically. “Other than you’ve been bamboozled to put the money in front of the legacy.”


This is something that irks Hopkins. Today’s generation of prizefighters cares a bit too much about the bottom line before actually establishing themselves as boxers and truly making a career. Hopkins – who didn’t have a sugar daddy like an Al Haymon to support him – had to build his resume before he started making the really big money. To him, the way it’s being done nowadays puts the cart before the horse.


He says, “Because even though most are being sold that philosophy and now can you compete against a conversation with a young fighter who will say, ‘Well, Bernard, y’ know I got paid X, Y, Z for a fight that I know, at any other place, would’ve been nowhere near this.’ On that note, they are right but what they gotta understand is that A) they are knowledgeable enough to make something out of that money. What is the right thing to do with it? And B) credibility and what you wanna be known for – if that matters to you.”


Now, perhaps this is the promoter in Hopkins speaking out. It’s no secret that his company at Golden Boy Promotions (of which he is a partner) is no fan of Al Haymon. Still, you get the sense that the Philly fighter in Hopkins is dismayed regardless.


“To me, I don’t think they’re getting that option. I think they’re getting one option and that one option is a paycheck. In today’s world, yes, we live with a different mentality of the way young boxers or athletes think. Boxing is a situation where, for a long, long time, where you had to scrape and fight and earn, in time, your star power and the big paydays,” stated Hopkins, who toiled in boxing’s middle class (if there is even such a thing) for years before breaking through to the next tax bracket. “You know when you reach that level when you paid your dues. They’re not paying their dues right now. They’re not paying any dues, man.”


Yeah, Bernard Hopkins is now the wise, old sage. Imagine that. This was bound to happen, given his status and stature in the sport. Just think about it: He had promised his mother, Shirley, that he would retire at the age of 40. We are now a full decade past that point.


The fact is not lost on Hopkins, who chuckles and says, “I got 10 years, plus 11, 12, 13, maybe 14 fights after that?” (For the record, beginning with his 2006 victory over Antonio Tarver, he has had 14 bouts.) “I’m so glad Mom upstairs said, ‘Y’know, he’s hard-headed. God gave him 10, 11, 12 more fights.’ I believe, really through all my faults, all my achievements, good or bad, that when the numbers are added up that, somehow, I’m given a pass to get those fights that weren’t even thought about in everybody’s heads. We were able to do it and also become the oldest athlete to win a world title to break George Foreman’s record, which can’t ever be broken by anybody.


“Sometimes I do look in the mirror and say to myself, ‘I really did all this stuff,’ and I can actually hold a sentence to be on HBO, doing jobs here and there and, also with Golden Boy and Oscar [De La Hoya] and not starting from the ground up but from where we’re at. Yeah, I’m glad I made those decisions that out-weighed the bad decisions. I’m glad that I’m here in a respectful way and being respected. You can’t put a price on that. To me, you can’t put a price on that because I’ve been walking around proud and I can walk around and still be embraced by the fans, whether I’m in Philadelphia or in Vegas, no bodyguards, no entourage, no whole bunch of people, so I can be seen or be afraid that somebody’s going to see me.”


Yeah, Hopkins has found contentment, secure not only with his place in history but with his life. He’s come a long ways from Graterford Prison. Hopkins now does a different type of strong-arming.


“I got a normal life; even at the height of my life, I’ve been this Bernard Hopkins who will talk to a stranger – for good or bad – I’ll talk to him for 20 minutes – and he wants to leave and I’m grabbing his arm,” he says laughing.





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