Bernard Hopkins - The Glassjaw Chronicles
On Saturday night, at the age of 51, Bernard Hopkins will call it a career with a final fight against Joe Smith. Five years from now, Hopkins will be a first ballot member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. That tells you everything you know about the career of the Philadelphian, but boxing doesn’t tell the whole story.
In 2004, I had the pleasure of spending a day in his training camp as he prepared for a bout against Oscar De La Hoya. Other media members apparently didn’t see the need to take the trip to the Upper Darby PAL gym to talk to someone who was well on his way to greatness, but I’m not complaining. I took the two-hour ride, wrote the following series up for MaxBoxing.com and it was a day I’d never forget.
Here’s 11,000 words on what happened that day.
PART ONE — HARD LESSONS AND EARLY VISIONS
Watching Bernard Hopkins train is a lot like watching him fight; there is no wasted movement, with every feint and every step designed for one purpose — to win. It’s all that matters for the 39-year-old who is still on top of a game designed for men at least ten years his junior.
And by all intents and purposes, he shouldn’t be here, preparing for the most lucrative fight of his almost 16-year career, a September 18 showdown with Oscar De La Hoya. To rise to these heights, he had to hit bottom.
He still remembers the date.
“May 22 — Washington, DC — RFK Stadium,” said Hopkins, recalling the last time he lost, a decision defeat to Roy Jones Jr. in 1993. “I was miserable. I was devastated to the point where I wasn’t right for eight months to a year.”
All three judges of the vacant IBF middleweight title fight saw the bout 116–112 in favor of the unbeaten Jones. And though Hopkins finished the fight strong, there was no controversy to the verdict.
“I made a vow to myself which I’ve held up for 11 years now, that I’ll never lose on my feet again,” said Hopkins. “I train that way, I think that way, and it’s been 11 years. Some people don’t think that’s important. I think it’s very important to make a statement and to work hard to live by it.”
In a nutshell, that’s Hopkins, who has drawn his line in the sand and dared the boxing industry to cross it. It’s a dangerous game — especially in this business — and the Philadelphia native has had times where he not only burned bridges, he has obliterated them from the face of the earth. In a way, no matter how bizarre the reasoning, it’s how he keeps his edge.
But to be blunt, no one cares about what you have to say and no one is forced to deal with you unless you keep winning. Hopkins’ reign of unbeaten terror, which began after that May night in 1993, has kept him not only relevant, but also necessary in a game in need of his particular brand of oratory.
“I know that I have to win because a lot of people are counting on me,” said Hopkins. “One of them is my five-year-old daughter, who knows, not the business part, but knows what I do. All that I’ve said that keeps the leverage and the power and attention of being a winner — people listen to winners — that’s my motivation. Can you win all the time? Can you win forever? Nothing lasts forever. But I know that the more I want to be open with people about what I feel, my opinion is based and predicated on what I’ve done, my track record, and my deeds. I live on the edge in a positive way.”
The undisputed middleweight champion does live up to his boasts — he doesn’t drink or smoke, and he’s a dedicated husband and father. And one day with him in the gym is enough to see that for all the hardcore tactics — mental, physical, and verbal — employed when it comes time for him to fight, Hopkins does have another side to his personality.
Young kids are running around the Upper Darby PAL gym. One little man, who couldn’t be older than four or five years old, is wearing small pull-on gloves and is working the pads; others push the bag, while some just run around, oblivious to the fact that one of the best fighters in the world is about to enter the gym.
Hopkins enters, wearing a t-shirt and a floppy hat. There is no fanfare, no bowing at the waist, just a series of waves and greetings. It may not be in the heart of Philly, but this gym is “real”. Seven heavybags of various sizes hang from the ceiling, and the battered ring could probably tell stories of the wars it has seen. The ropes are just as beat up, some held together by tape. This is no fancy resort or private workout facility.
“It makes you feel at home, and the excitement is always at home,” said Hopkins’ venerable trainer Bouie Fisher. “This is the type of gym where guys really learn how to fight, and they learn the craft real well.”
“There are a lot of benefits,” adds Hopkins. “No silk pajamas or drawers, no marble in the bathroom.”
No air-conditioning either.
“If there was we would tear it out of the windows,” he said. “Wait till we get to Miami. We shut the windows and turn the fans off. They know me there.”
Hopkins leaves for Miami at the end of the month to begin his final preparations for the De La Hoya fight. It’s his sixth camp in the Sunshine State, but there is plenty to do in Pennsylvania first.
That includes being honored with his own day in Philadelphia this week, and meeting some of the people who see his life not as a cautionary tale, but as an inspirational one. Before sparring with his nephew, unbeaten junior welterweight Demetrius, Hopkins makes a point of having his visitors pull up chairs close to the ring to watch the three-round session. And as he signs autographs for the kids, he looks to the oldest child, maybe 13 or 14 years old, and says with a smile, “Stay out of this place — it’s addictive.”
“I think things happen because they’re supposed to happen,” said Hopkins of his journey to this point. “That’s my opinion, and knowing that, it puts me in the situation where I have the responsibility for those kids over there, and the owner over there that met me in a restaurant, and he wanted to bring his kids down to meet me and to talk to me, knowing that I was a convicted felon, and knowing that I was one of the baddest guys in the city at my age. That’s respect, man. That’s respect.”
Respect is a recurring theme with Hopkins, and it’s obvious that he doesn’t care whether you love or hate him, as long as you respect him. Legacy is also important, as is consistency, and resiliency.
It’s amazing if you think about it, that back in the early 80’s Bernard Hopkins was on his way to becoming not a hall of fame boxer, but a statistic.
“I’m saying that I’m here for a reason,” he said. “Why didn’t I get killed and my brother (Michael) got killed in ’84 doing the same thing I was doing? I go to jail and he gets killed because he didn’t go to jail. If I would have stayed home and done the things I did but didn’t get caught, I would have been dead, and he would have been probably in jail. And because he boxed, maybe he would have been, maybe not, a champion. But there’s a reason why the reverse roles was changed. I think that everything happens by karma. I think everything happens for a reason. I don’t think things happen because of luck. I don’t think that things happen because of timing.”
Yet before Hopkins is turned into a mythical figure who is pre-destined for greatness, let’s inject the following into the equation: Hopkins, a good amateur fighter with some potential, is a no holds barred bad guy in the streets of Philly. He finally gets arrested at 17, and is sentenced on multiple charges to up to 18 years in Graterford State Penitentiary. He boxes while in prison, does 56 months, and is released in 1988–23-years-old with nine years parole and a cloudy future.
Despite what the streets may have had planned for him, Hopkins didn’t want to go back to prison. He got a job in the kitchen at a local hotel.
“I worked at Penn Tower Hotel, across the street from Children’s Hospital,” Hopkins remembers. “I worked there as a kitchen guy. I knew how to break down after-hours kitchen stuff. It needed to be cleaned, stuff needed to get off the belts, the bump way. I was good at that. That’s what I done when I was away. You’re talking about pulling up the rubber mats and cleaning all the grimy stuff that falls between that with the hose. I was quick. My wife’s using me at home to clean up. Believe it or not, I like doing it when I got time because that’s something that I’m good at. The undisputed middleweight champion of the world do clean.”
He can laugh about it now, but times were tough back then, especially when he turned pro as a boxer and lost his first fight, a four round decision to Clinton Mitchell on October 11, 1988. He wouldn’t fight again for almost two years, and by that time he had hooked up with Fisher and started to formulate a plan — it wasn’t elaborate or lofty — but it was something to reach for.
“My vision, when I first started out, was to make some money,” said Hopkins. “Then it became, ‘I want to be a champion.’ I won my first title in 21 seconds with Wayne Powell on BET in 1992. Then I said, I’m gonna win a world title. But I had other issues that I was really more concerned about, and that was not going back to the penitentiary. I had nine years to walk off, and at 23, that stood in my mind because I never stayed out for 30 days, let alone nine years. But boxing really kept me out of going back to that same circle. The environment didn’t change for me right away. The environment didn’t change for me until 20-something fights when I had enough money to get an apartment, and me and my wife — she was my girlfriend then — moved to an apartment, and eventually to a house, and of course now I’m in Delaware.”
Slowly but surely, the wins started to pile up, and Hopkins’ rep grew with each victory. “I seen that this fairytale dream can come true,” he said, and it was going to be a fairytale come true if he could make it, because the odds were firmly stacked against him from the outset.
“You’ve got to understand, my thing was just to not go back to jail,” he emphasizes. “I’m not saying that all this was an accident, but it was something that if you asked me, ‘Bernard, did you know that you were gonna be where you’re at, say in 1989?’ I lost my first fight. That’s another reason to say this ain’t gonna happen. I tried and I failed. I’m outta here. But I never gave up. Because every time I gave myself a chance and said I’m gonna stick in here a little bit more, something good happened. It reminds you of breadcrumbs. You lead the bird to the breadcrumbs and next thing you know, the bird is in the house. Every time I told myself that I’m not gonna give up, because I really didn’t have a lot of options — eight felonies, nine years parole, who’s gonna hire me? I mean, with a decent job? McDonald’s would grab me. But I stuck in there, and then one thing became another, and then another became another, and the next thing you know I’m getting that much press, and as the guy’s reading over there, now I got a whole page of the (Philadelphia) Inquirer.”
Hopkins won the USBA title in 1992, and six months later he got his shot at the vacant world title against Jones, which he lost. But despite the disappointment of that defeat, Hopkins kept plugging away with a new determination, and he finally got that IBF title, stopping Segundo Mercado (who he had previously drew with) in seven rounds on April 29, 1995.
Then the reign began as Hopkins started to break down the middleweight division from top to bottom. Defense after defense piled up, and soon, ‘The Executioner’ started to think about more than just making a few bucks; he started to think about history.
“It was around the tenth defense,” said Hopkins, who defeated Antwun Echols in that tenth title defense. “I started asking, what’s (Marvin) Hagler’s record? Of course, somebody brought it up. What’s (Carlos) Monzon’s? Oh, I’m on to something. It wasn’t planned the first five defenses. I don’t think anybody in my crew knew how many defenses he had. Not that we were dumb; we just didn’t pay attention to it. And if we paid attention to it we probably would’ve lost because then you’re worried about defenses. Only when it was brought up, and somebody said, ‘Oh, Hagler had 13 defenses,’ that’s when it started.”
PART TWO — THE CEO
Get Bernard Hopkins talking about the business of boxing, and you can just sit back and move out of the way. The undisputed middleweight champion gets a fiery look in his eye — a look usually saved for his opponents — and becomes a preacher, not a pugilist. It’s his worldview that is fascinating — skewed, sometimes — but fascinating nonetheless. Yet when he brings up the topic of his family, his voice growls louder — protective even — as it’s obvious that he’s willing to do anything to keep that unit intact.
Needless to say, that leads to a question.
“I know that leads to a question,” quips Hopkins as he gets his hands wrapped at the PAL gym by trainer Bouie Fisher. “I saw your ears wiggling.”
So why would Hopkins try to keep his family away from the business that has made him a wealthy man?
“I made a conscious effort to keep my family away from this business because to me the boxing business is just as bad as the drug business,” said Hopkins. “And to have a business where people act worse then drug dealers, I don’t want my family — and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want your family, I’m pretty sure Mr. Fisher wouldn’t want his family — around drug dealers, even if you have to work in their midst. I said that to be as graphic as I could, and that’s why I used those terms.”
You don’t see Jeanette Hopkins around the perimeter of the fight game like some spouses. You don’t see Hopkins parading his five-year-old daughter Latrice around in front of the boxing world either.
“I’ve been married 11 years out of a 14-year relationship and you rarely see her,” said Hopkins. “The only time you’ll see her is at a fight, and she don’t holler, scream, or jump up. You might have sat next to her and never known that. How many fighters can you say — and I’m not saying they’re bad people — kept their family away like I’ve kept mine away?”
Not many. It may come from the lessons learned in Graterford State Penitentiary, where you don’t give out too much information about yourself because that can come back to haunt you. A few years back I remember interviewing a fighter who was an ex-con, and he made it a point to ask me not to include the name of his wife in the article. “I just got out and I don’t need anyone back there to know how to get to me,” the fighter said.
But just because Jeanette Hopkins is out of the spotlight, that doesn’t mean she’s a shrinking violet, as Hopkins points out, “she knows more about boxing than you think because we run our own business. She handles all the E-mails, she knows all about the lawsuits.”
Ah, the lawsuits. At certain points in his career, it appeared that Hopkins was splitting his time between the ring and the courtroom. And the list of heavyweights Hopkins has battled in legal terms rivals that of his in the ring opponents. From his legal wars with Butch Lewis to America Presents to Lou DiBella, Hopkins has become a fighter either loved or hated by those in the industry. There is no middle ground. And for all his rantings, you can say this about Hopkins — he believes passionately in what he does outside the ring, and he will shoot himself in the foot over a principle if he thinks he’s right.
“I ain’t as crazy as people think I am,” says Hopkins.
Some would beg to differ, but in a world of followers, Hopkins has made his own path outside the ring. And as ludicrous as some of his decisions may have appeared, in some strange way it has all worked out for the best, because on September 18, Hopkins will make the biggest purse of his career in the biggest fight of his career against Oscar De La Hoya. And in a symbolic way, Hopkins, who has fought the industry for years, now has the opportunity to knock off the man who represented it for the last decade.
“What I’ve done is looked at history,” said Hopkins. “And then I looked at myself — that I was born with something that everybody ain’t born with — my heart, to stand up — not a heart beating — but a heart to stand up, and balls to stand up, and courage to stand up, knowing that you can risk big paydays. I’ve been criticized for turning down monies that most thought that it was crazy for me not to take certain things. But now, as we fast forward, I am not fighting a heavyweight, which is Roy Jones. I’m fighting a middleweight, junior middleweight, welterweight, or whatever, and I’m making three times more of the money.”
Sounds like a master plan coming to fruition, but it wasn’t always big paydays, pay-per-view fights, and appearances not only in boxing magazines, but also in mainstream publications like Vibe and King. There were hard times, all made harder by the fact that Hopkins still had to perform in the ring to keep afloat in a sport where his mouth was rapidly making him enemies.
He made little money for his first world title fight, the battle against Roy Jones Jr. for the vacant IBF middleweight crown in 1993, and that led Hopkins to court to break away from promoter Butch Lewis — which he did successfully.
“It’s easy for me to stand up because that’s me,” said Hopkins. “There are times when I took my last earned money and went to court and fought Butch Lewis and won because the contract was a bad thing.”
Next was a war against America Presents, which sued Hopkins in 2000, with the Philly native filing a counter suit against the promoter. The case ended in a hung jury, and Hopkins escaped from America Presents.
He also testified in front of the US Senate to discuss boxing reform, and suddenly, the ex-con was a trying to pave the way for a new generation of boxers. The boxers responded.
“Everywhere I go, it’s ‘thanks for standing up for us, man,’” said Hopkins. “I heard that way before I became undisputed. They are just afraid because it takes that special individual to come up and say, ‘I know I’m risking my career. I know I’m risking getting blackballed.’ Because you can get blackballed in boxing easier than in any sport in America. But that shows Bernard Hopkins’ character, man. I didn’t have a million dollars. I didn’t have three belts. And I stood up then. That’s why no one can say that I’ve changed. You can say anything about Bernard Hopkins — I might agree with you, I might not — but one thing you can’t say is that Bernard Hopkins started talking more when he won the undisputed middleweight championship. You can’t say that I was a quiet, humble guy before September 29, 2001.”
“Would you agree with that Mr. Fisher?” Hopkins asks his longtime trainer.
Bouie smiles, not raising his glance from the task at hand.
“I will agree wholeheartedly,” said Fisher. “Wholeheartedly.”
But in any war, there are casualties. After Hopkins won the undisputed middleweight title in 2001 by stopping Felix Trinidad, “The Executioner” imploded, turning down lucrative fights with Jones and James Toney, nixing a three-fight deal with Showtime, and losing a libel case to then-advisor Lou DiBella, a case that cost Hopkins $610,000 and smudged his reputation as someone you could actually do a handshake deal with in the dirtiest of businesses.
Nobody expected Bouie Fisher to be the biggest casualty of all.
“You know what the low point was?” asks Hopkins. “The low point was, out of all that — even though it had to do with boxing, but it didn’t have to do with the people in boxing — it affected my team and they didn’t see my vision; they didn’t see that these people were doing this to hurt everybody. What really affected me was when we went through the thing with Bouie and his sons. Because if I’m not getting the money, and I’ve got to fight lawsuits — Bouie never got a lawsuit against him, James never got a lawsuit against him. I stood up and fought and took a stand that I believed in. He agreed that it was a stand that I should have took — at least that’s what he told me — and everybody else agreed, but that don’t change what’s happening to me. So if I’ve got to fight, then I’ve got to fight with money. And if I’ve got to fight with money, you ain’t gonna get what you think you gotta get. I can’t get what I gotta get. And everybody else can’t get what they gotta get. Why? If I’ve gotta fight on my own and still pay you money, then you’re not in this fight with me. That was the lowest point — when I got sued by them. It’s just happened to be Lou’s lawyer, Judd Burstein. So maybe at the time he was the only lawyer in New York, or maybe it was a conspiracy, or else I’ve just got bad luck.”
The lawsuit filed by Fisher against Hopkins (over contractual and money issues) left a bad taste in the mouths of practically everyone in the boxing business. Bouie was a father figure to Hopkins and a key to his success. Even for boxing, this was a bad one. Jeanette Hopkins shed her share of tears.
“She was more devastated about our breakup and what was going on than anybody,” said Hopkins of his wife’s reaction to the split with Bouie. “She cried like a baby and that’s the first time I ever seen it. She said, ‘I know what you did.’ But we let that go, because we don’t run down the hill. You walk down.”
More on that hill later, but at the time Bouie Fisher filed suit against Hopkins, it appeared to all that the thinking man’s champion, the maverick, had outthought himself, had made one move on the chess board too many, and was now stuck in a corner with no way out. And while some call it paranoia, Hopkins saw it as another road to cross, and another lesson learned.
“See, I’m so vocal, I used to let people know, because that’s my realness about me,” said Hopkins. “If you done me wrong, I’ll warn you and I’ll tell you, and they’ll wind up locking the door the next day. And I’ll say, damn, how’s the door locked? If I think about it, I did something that they don’t do. I’ve said what was in my heart because you expect people to say that. But instead they held it in and then I learned to do that. I’ve learned how to camouflage what I think. Before, I was quick to tell you I don’t like you. To me, that’s real though. Would you want somebody around you that’s fine until something happens, and then they say, ‘you know, I never liked that motherf**ker anyway.’ And you say to yourself, I never knew that. Why? Because he never showed me any signs that there was a problem. Out of all things that happened in boxing, that (the case with Fisher) was the only thing, because I knew that all I went through from that was geared to make that happen, and they won that particular time. They wanted that interference; they wanted that conflict within my camp — within my home. If they could get to my wife, they’d get to my wife. If they can get to my wife, they need to separate me from those belts.”
Hopkins and Fisher eventually reconciled without going to court, and Bouie was back in the corner for the champion’s March 2003 defense against Morrade Hakkar — another fight for which Hopkins drew ridicule as the fighter that threw away the winning lottery ticket.
He tells a story.
“There’s four cows at the end and I’m on the mountain,” said Hopkins. “I could do two things: I could storm down there because I’m excited and this is the chance to go down there and get ’em, or I can go ahead and walk down there. In the end, I’m gonna have the last word. And I’m gonna have it. Why run down there when you can walk down there and F’ all of them? But if you run down there, you know what happens when they see you running down the hill? They’ll scatter. So you tiptoe down there.”
Slowly but surely, Hopkins became relevant again. The lawsuits were a thing of the past, and in today’s ‘here today, forgotten tomorrow’ world, they were yesterday’s news. So Hopkins kept winning, beating William Joppy in December of last year, and people again started to warm to “The Executioner” as a fighter, hoping that a marquee matchup could be made to showcase him or expose him against one of the best in the world. That doesn’t mean the 39-year-old lost his edge though — or his bitterness.
“What they tried to do to me is fine,” said Hopkins. “We can’t control him. We threw everything at him. We’ve got to mess his credibility up because we know he’s not gonna stop talking; we know he’s not gonna stop expressing his feelings. We know he lives by what he believes is right. So if we attack his credibility, then it will go on deaf ears. So I had to counter back in my plan. Their plan — our plan, and we’ll let God make the final decision on whose plan works. I had to counteract that, and how do you do that? I had to keep winning. I had to keep my title because that’s 75% of the leverage, because even if you don’t want to interview me, even if you don’t want to listen to me, I am the undisputed middleweight champion of the world. Some are forced to do interviews. Some are forced by their boss to come and see me and ask for the interview. That hurts some, not all, because they have to humble themselves, especially when you realize that you’re that puppet on a string for a higher being that you put in a position as your God because I understand that your electric bill needs to be paid.”
But as if a ray of light has emerged from the clouds of conspiracy theories and industry-based rants, Hopkins mentions his motivation, which comes in great part from negativity. It’s his fuel.
“Motivation can come in all shapes and forms with me,’ he admits. “If I go outside and all my tires are slashed, that’s motivation. When things run smoothly, somebody has to break a glass; somebody has to do something. Some people need bumps in the road to make things happen. It don’t always have to be downright dirty, ignorant stuff; it just has to be some type of motivation. In boxing I’ll never have a problem being motivated because there’s always something in boxing, whether it’s on my end — to be fair — or somebody else’s end. There’s always some motivation that will be brought to me, or some adversity will be brought to me.”
He even goes as far as to say that one of his motivations to not lose to De La Hoya is because he doesn’t want to be fighting, at 39, on an ESPN or Fox Sports Net — a ludicrous thought, but hey, whatever works.
“I’ve always been one fight from being close to the hall of fame status, the elite superstar fighters, and one fight out of boxing, if I lose,” he said. “A lot of that has to do with — now that I’m 39 — I wouldn’t want to be on ESPN anymore. Not that I have anything with ESPN or Fox TV. But with what I have accomplished out of the ring, I don’t think a lot of people will get ulcers or cry all day if Bernard Hopkins don’t come up with a win.”
Does he really need that type of mental push, even if the thought seems far-fetched to the rest of us?
“I need all that,” Hopkins admits. “In the way of motivation, certain things have been brought upon myself, or maybe in some cases I’ve interacted and made it to the point where I brought it upon myself. Either way, I am so used to having that motivation that brought me here, even when I knew I wasn’t fighting for the dollars that should have been there for certain fights — believe it or not I argued for more, I fought for more, I stood up for certain things — but at the end of the day I went and trained and fought for — as you have wrote less than two years ago — for less than $300,000, $200,000, for the same titles on purse bids. The William Joppy fight was what, $300,000, $250,000? Now it’s $10 million plus. But I still went in there and had that hunger. And there were still people asking me, ‘Bernard, are you motivated?’ ‘How can he get up for it?’ And there was nothing at the end of the rainbow. It wasn’t like Joppy and De La Hoya. It was Joppy, and where I go next? If I got up for that, and there’s no 10 million dollars on the table for the Joppy fight — it’s $310,000 gross, not purse; expenses come out of that — then yes, I am motivated.”
Say what you want about Hopkins; he has stuck to his guns, right or wrong.
“That’s something that comes with being consistent, even when the hard times come,” he said. “I think truly that outside of the athleticism — I’m lobbying for myself to say this — you’ve got people that fight on cancer — my mom died last year at 56 but she battled for three years — but any people that are battling disease or anything that’s adversity, it could be anything — losing their jobs, kids won’t speak to them or listen to them — but just take me as a poster boy. And I don’t mind being it; the city embraced me for it.”
That it did. Last Friday, Hopkins was honored with his own day in Philadelphia, two days before he left for Miami to finish up his training for the De La Hoya bout. It was something inconceivable, not just 16 years ago, but maybe even in 2002. And now, a little more than a month away from the biggest fight of his career, Bernard Hopkins thinks not of just wins and losses, but of history.
“I want to see if you can relate to this — maybe not agree, but relate,” said Hopkins. “Every century or decade, a person or persons, or an athlete, come across while we’re alive, and does something that’s not popular amongst the remaining athletes that’s in your era. You had Satchel Paige, Jim Brown, you had Bill Russell in the Boston Garden — who caught hell up there and he played for Boston — you had Muhammad Ali with the Vietcong quote. He was under fire, he was ridiculed, he was scorned, and he was executed basically, because he didn’t agree with the majority of people’s opinions of this country. And I say, forget his health, Ali’s in better shape than we think he is as far as his wit. Physical is one thing — he understands. But isn’t he the most recognizable athlete of all-time, and he did the opposite of what was politically correct? There’s only certain athletes — and you can’t match one history up or one century up with another; I’m not doing that — but when you look at me and my era — I can only speak for my era, (Marvin) Hagler can only speak for his era; I would never disrespect anybody’s era — but when I look at it, I look at it as the same type of fight of risking — in some cases, maybe your life, if your employment is based and predicated on you feeding your family — if I’m weak-minded, I can go back into the streets and rob, steal, sell drugs. If you’re weak-minded you can be forced by the powers that be to do something that they will sit back later on and say it was you who killed your own career when they might have played a role in you committing suicide in your own career.”
But for every Paige, Brown, or Ali, there’s someone like Curt Flood, whose fights against the baseball establishment paved the way for the multi-million dollar salaries we see in the major leagues today. When Flood died in 1997, most of the media gave the former Cardinal centerfielder his due. Later that year, Pat Brady wrote, “In the last decade, Flood has moved from blasphemer to hero, from ingrate to pioneer, and from dupe to legend.” Yet if you took a poll of major league baseball players today, most would probably not know who Flood was or why he is the reason most of them make such lavish salaries today.
Only history will tell where Hopkins will end up in the sociological history of sports. But in the meantime, listen to him. If you listen long enough, you might just say, ‘hey, this guy may be right after all.’
“I have warned everyone that my plan was to be patient, and to put myself in the position of being CEO, of being the manager,” said Hopkins. “It’s a role that I take on where you must get criticized for decisions. And when you try to separate me from being what I put myself in a position to be, I can’t be free under the law of the land. If I say that I am EX Promotions, which I am, and I am manager, which I’ve been for five years, I am Bernard Hopkins Jr. Inc., my corporation in Delaware, if I can’t be legally under the same guidelines that any other corporate American person is, than why am I treated and criticized for making a CEO decision because I am head of them? I don’t work for them; they work for me. I have a payroll. So why is the establishment, 70% of them, finding it hard to separate the athlete from the businessman? Why haven’t they left that master’s mentality? It’s a good thing that I, as a promoter, can show that there’s more out there than the biting of ears, the fighting in the parking lot, the cursing at every press conference.”
Click. The tape has run out. Bernard, you’re the first fighter to do that.
“It ain’t the first time it happened,” he deadpans.
PART THREE — A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY
Speed kills. For Oscar De La Hoya fans, it may be their only hope — the only thing that could keep “The Golden Boy” from being mangled by Bernard Hopkins on September 18. So while in the Upper Darby PAL gym days before Hopkins left for his final camp in Miami, it was interesting to watch him go three rounds with his nephew, unbeaten junior welterweight Demetrius, to gauge where “The Executioner” was at in terms of chasing down a speedy foe.
And Demetrius is fast. As the undisputed middleweight champ put it, “I feel like a Volkswagen going up against a Corvette, but I’ll be catching up sooner or later.”
The bell rings, and the gym goes quiet, the boom box barely audible as uncle and nephew circle each other. The only sounds you hear other than leather on leather and flesh, are the voices of Bouie Fisher and Leon Tabbs, Hopkins’ trainer and cutman, respectively, who are manning opposite corners.
Did I say Demetrius Hopkins is fast? Well, for the first minute of that first round, the 23-year-old’s speed, movement, and rapid-fire jab was doing wonders. Uncle Bernard was undeterred as he moved forward, gauging the distance, judging the speed of his nephew, and generally waiting like a panther to pounce.
In the second minute though, within seconds, Hopkins made his move — bam, bam, bam — three moves and Demetrius was on the ropes. Hopkins gave his nephew a few tough love taps on the inside and they broke. Again, the 5–11 junior welterweight set his distance with his jab and used his speed and footwork to stay out of harm’s way. And again, Hopkins made his move — bam, bam, bam — and he had Demetrius in the corner.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
It was so subtle as to be indescribable, but within 60 seconds, Bernard Hopkins had nullified a speedier foe. He didn’t do it with speed — because he’s not that fast — and he didn’t do it with power — because he’s not a Tyson-esque power puncher. It was experience, guile, and unspoken pressure that put him in his opponent’s chest in the time it takes to dodge a jab. It’s something that takes years of practice in real gyms. You don’t learn this from a videotape.
And just as soon as you think Hopkins may be troubled by De La Hoya’s speed, he shatters that notion with three steps.
“I did a couple of good rounds today and the speed is a lot different, but that’s what I need,” said Hopkins, who on this particular day fought three rounds with Demetrius and three with amateur standout Michael Dargan (cousin of US Olympian Rock Allen). “I’m normally fighting guys my weight or lower — or a little higher — but it’s good. It keeps me sharp — my eyes, my coordination — and it helps them too. It’s not about beating people up and it’s not about babysitting in the ring. If a guy keeps himself open, you go for your shot. It’s tough love, but it’s there, and it’s gonna help everybody. It’s definitely gonna help me and it’s gonna help the young guys too. People are gonna be surprised to see how quick and how fast Bernard reacts to everything.”
That may be a surprise to some, but it won’t be a surprise to see Hopkins emerge with a win on September 18. In fact, it may be more of a shock if De La Hoya is even competitive in the fight once it moves past the midway point. And though stranger things have happened in the squared circle, you would be hard pressed to find even a handful of seasoned observers who believe De La Hoya has a chance against Hopkins. It almost makes you believe that all Hopkins has to do is step into the MGM Grand ring and accept the victory. Being that heavy a favorite, in the most lucrative fight of his career, makes Hopkins very nervous.
“It’s very dangerous,” said Hopkins, when asked if there is a down side to fighting a fighter (De La Hoya) who basically has nothing to lose. “I feel like I’m trading gold in for silver. I’m taking all the risks as far as history-wise, and stepping up to that level of greatness. I’m sacrificing everything that I worked hard for, not just the belts and being undisputed, and reaching the 20 defenses that I’m two fights away from. I’m risking a lot. I hear regular people — when I leave the gym or when people are at a restaurant or whatever — and it’s like, ‘You’re gonna beat Oscar’, or ‘It’s gonna be easy.’ To me, that sort of bothers me in a way that that edge of ‘it’s a pick-em fight’ or ‘I’m the underdog’ is not there like it used to be for me in my whole career. So there are a lot of things that I have to adjust to. It’s the second time I’ve been in this situation — the first time of course, it was with (Felix) Trinidad — and with De La Hoya, it’s the reverse now. Everybody’s picking me like they was picking Trinidad. And it goes deeper with me because some gave me a shot (against Trinidad) because I had been in the middleweights for so long.”
In the bout against Trinidad, on September 29, 2001, Hopkins silenced a partisan Trinidad crowd in Madison Square Garden with a boxing clinic capped off by an emphatic 12th round stoppage. For Hopkins it was a vindication for all the years of hard work in the gym and apathy from the boxing industry. Yet after a tumultuous 2002 that was spent in courtrooms and boardrooms, Hopkins lost all the momentum he gained from beating Trinidad, and most observers believed the Philly native would never get back to such lofty heights again.
Most were wrong.
In fact, after turning down bouts with Roy Jones Jr. and James Toney, tougher fights than one against De La Hoya, Hopkins came out as the smartest man in boxing once the ink was dry on the contracts for his bout with “The Golden Boy”. Not only had he achieved maximum gain (an eight figure payday) for a minimum of risk, he secured a bout with De La Hoya, the man who has carried the boxing industry on his million-dollar smile for years. If Hopkins wants to stick it to the industry he feels held him down, what better way to do it than to thrash De La Hoya in front of the widest audience possible. You would almost be forgiven if you thought this was all art of a master plan.
“In a symbolic way, he has been the poster boy for boxing,” said Hopkins of De La Hoya. “Not accusing him or blaming him for anything that happened in my career, but to hand me over their golden goose, I’m honored. And when September 18 is over with, then they’re going to need another poster boy to carry on boxing.”
Even Hopkins knows it won’t be him.
“I doubt that it would be me because I’m cut from a different cloth,” he said. “Maybe it’s Jermain Taylor. And if I’m motivated, and the money isn’t disrespectful, then I have a great score to settle in that situation. Trinidad might want to redeem himself because he believes that 9/11 played a role in me being good and a role in him being average. They can get in line, they can talk with some sense, and you can see two or three good fights before Bernard Hopkins retires. I definitely got to fight (Antonio) Tarver. Tarver and I definitely have to step in that ring, only because he beat Roy Jones, and I want to show the world that beating Tarver and knocking Tarver out helps me take care of two situations. Roy will never fight me again so I’ll knock the guy out that knocked him out. So that’s killing two birds with one stone.”
Looking past any fighter could be a huge warning beacon, especially in Hopkins’ case, since the middleweight king is 39 years old and facing a veteran who has never been dominated in the prize ring. And even when he lost, De La Hoya was either robbed or close enough to be respectable. But even given those points, after June 5, when De La Hoya underwhelmed in a disputed decision win over unheralded Felix Sturm, practically anyone who gave De La Hoya a chance, left town.
“In all fairness, De La Hoya didn’t look like the Golden Boy on June 5, so that even hurts the point,” admits Hopkins. “Overall, I think that I have a chance to show the world, outside of the physical part of this sport, how potential great athletes can take all the good distractions and the bad distractions, and still stick to the game plan, and go and fight like it’s a fight you weren’t supposed to win. Sometimes that can be mind challenging.”
That’s where experience comes in, and who better to help out with that aspect of preparation than Hopkins’ trainer Bouie Fisher, who is faced with the unfortunate of task of figuring out whether the De La Hoya of June 5 is the De La Hoya of September 18, or just a mirage.
Fisher goes with the latter.
“That goes for both sides of the table,” explains Fisher. “Maybe they didn’t see the best of us (on June 5, when Hopkins decisioned Robert Allen). We know that we didn’t see the best of De La Hoya; we know that, but maybe they think they didn’t see the best of him (Hopkins). Each camp is going to have to get the program together because this is not going to be an easy fight. This is going to be a good fight, a hard fight. If you go in there thinking it’s going to be a walkaway, it’s going to be a walkaway — and you’ll be the one walking away.”
Bouie grins, all the while keeping his eye on his charge, who peppers the speed bag with surgeon-like precision. He’s been through the good times and bad times with Hopkins, and when you walk through fire like that, you either burn or get bonded. Fisher has an obvious bond with Hopkins, and it may be Bouie that will keep his head together as the fight approaches.
“We talk all the time,” said Fisher. “We talk about things that nobody else knows about. We sit and we watch, and we study, and just get our heads together, making our plans as we go along.”
On September 18, and in the weeks leading up to the biggest fight of 2004, Bernard Hopkins will be in a different place than what he’s used to — and not just because he’s a heavy favorite. He will be operating on the big stage, a stage that will dwarf his previous mega fight with Trinidad. He’s already gotten a taste of it, and it suits him — at least a little bit — as a precursor to where he hopes fighters like himself can take their careers after the final bell has ring.
“It felt good to be at this press conference with Top Rank and everybody’s got suits on,” admits Hopkins. “And De La Hoya set a stage that some fighters don’t understand by representing himself. I am not envious or jealous of De La Hoya — a lot of fighters are; I hear them, they come to me. And I say, no, what De La Hoya sets off is a different stereotype about fighters. Even if it’s for himself, if we can copy, try your best. Of course everybody can’t articulate like Bernard Hopkins, or Antonio Tarver, or even De La Hoya. But there are some, that when we can leave this game, we can come right back in and do what the NBA or NFL players do — come back and give credibility to a sport that’s — right now, until De La Hoya and Hopkins made the match — on life support. So why can’t we establish fighters that can come across and be commentators and be on HBO, and be on ESPN, and be on Fox and Telemundo? The ones that can represent themselves like that, embrace them. Don’t try to embarrass them.”
It’s a role suited to technical masters like Hopkins, or historians like Mike Tyson. But don’t expect either to get too many phone calls from the networks once their careers are over. Their volatility in the ring (and sometimes outside of it) has burned too many bridges and left indelible marks in the minds of those who wouldn’t dare see Hopkins behind a mike because he might slander someone, or Tyson behind one because he might take a chunk out of someone’s ears. They’re single acts that have painted entire pictures of a person, and with so many fighters today –especially complex souls like Hopkins and Tyson — one single aspect of their beings doesn’t even scratch the surface.
But having said that, what does the modern master of the psychological game have planned for De La Hoya, if anything? Will he throw down a flag ala the buildup to the Trinidad fight, or threaten De La Hoya with a repeat of the tragic Emile Griffith-Benny Paret fight like he did with William Joppy? Or will he just sit back and take in the atmosphere? Nah, not likely.
“Whatever comes off the top of my head at that moment,” said Hopkins when asked about his thought process on the pre-fight psych game. “It ain’t planned out. I don’t put much time into sitting down in a room and thinking about it. That’s an ability that Ali had, and I was told that I was the second or the third best quote, other than Kevin Kelley, who can talk as fast as I can. Antonio Tarver comes off very well and says things that the media loves too. The thing is, I don’t sit down and get a book or get a pad; whatever comes off the top of my head, I will give it a thought, and I will spit it out.”
And while Hopkins has played it cool throughout the pre-fight press tour with De La Hoya, one point has been drummed at over and over by Hopkins — Oscar’s face won’t be the same after September 18. It may be the least fearsome in volume than any of Hopkins’ pre-fight proclamations over the years, but maybe one of the most quietly vicious. “The Executioner” is not planning on playing any games once the two future hall of famers are in the ring.
“De La Hoya won’t be thinking about the movies when this fight is over with,” said Hopkins. “And the movies won’t be thinking about him. So any tentative contract that they’ve got with De La Hoya will be null and void after September 18 because he won’t be in any condition. I believe that Bernard Hopkins must destroy De La Hoya. Bernard Hopkins is under a standard where people will put me in a different light if a fight is close or a fight is short. I know that I have to go in there always thinking about totally dominating a guy or knocking him out. There’s no other way to it. My thing is that De La Hoya has never been knocked out. I can make history doing that too. So there’s a lot riding on this. De La Hoya has nothing to lose and everything to gain. He even makes the most money. He has all of the pressure off him.”
And Hopkins has it all firmly on his shoulders. Lose, and his 18 title defenses were a farce because he lost to a fighter that started out at 130 pounds; win, and he beat a blown-up junior lightweight. But dominate and destroy De La Hoya? He will be hailed as not only boxing’s best, pound for pound, but the true middleweight destroyer of this era. It’s similar to the dilemma faced by Marvin Hagler when he faced Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987 — the bout many pundits have compared Hopkins-De La Hoya to.
“De La Hoya better shave his head,” he quips.
But you and Hagler had a lot of similarities in your careers.
“But not in our styles,” said Hopkins. “Hagler is a great fighter but he never did the swifter moves, the combinations. He was a consistent, break your will type of guy.”
Fair enough, but when the comparisons were being made, I could conceive the following — De La Hoya, like Leonard fights the smartest fight of his life, steals rounds when he has to, gets on his bike when he has to, and makes a blowout a competitive battle; Hopkins, like Hagler, fights his fight and in the eyes of many, wins the fight but loses the decision. Disgusted, he walks away from the sport, never to return.
“How are you gonna wake a dead man up and give him the fight?” asks Hopkins. “Leonard stayed on his feet and he was the chosen one to win the fight from the beginning. Hagler was the bald-headed guy — he wasn’t Marvin Hagler, just a guy, Joe Blow, he looked like a guy that came out of Rahway State Prison, like (former light heavyweight contender) James Scott. So Hagler was still bitter about some of them things, and maybe he’s not as much as he was because I’ve seen him showing up on some different stations now and starting to show his face. But I’m aware of history, and I’m aware of what happened in that fight. Truthfully I believed Hagler won that fight. In saying that, I know that De La Hoya will not see 12 rounds. I don’t think they’re going to let De La Hoya get punished like that. I think that his corner has enough sense to do what Joppy’s corner didn’t do — throw the towel in. And that’s what’s gonna happen. He’ll still have his movie career. He’ll have it if they stop the fight in time. Until I open up and you see that his movie career is on the line, then I do think they’ll be smart enough to know that, if they’re trying to build another Clark Gable, we’d better stop right now while we still got an eye left or a lip left. It’s up to them; it’s their call. But I’m definitely gonna give them a choice.”
It’s as harsh and as ominous a prediction as you can get, and the precise reason why boxing is not baseball, football, or any other major professional sport. This is as real as it gets, and it’s no surprise that it comes in the middleweight division, where some of the hardest men ever to lace up the gloves have called home — guys like Harry Greb, Stanley Ketchel, Carlos Monzon, Hagler, and countless others. Not just great fighters, but guys you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley at night (or in daylight). Hopkins fits that mold. How come it happens more often at 160 pounds than anywhere else?
“Cause we in the middle,” he explains, “and when you’re in the middle, you try harder. Everything in the middle is always good. The middleweight division has the power of the heavyweights, and the speed of the flyweights. That’s why the middleweight division will always be one of the prestigious divisions of all-time. Why? The history that the middleweights have left. You named some tough guys, but I can name some guys that never won championships who were mean, from this city alone. Sometimes when I see the heavyweights fighting and I see them getting $30, $40 million, does it pass my mind that I wish I was 30 pounds heavier? Yeah. But being a middleweight is great.”
Hopkins gives a name check to the great Philly middleweights of the past — Bennie Briscoe, Cyclone Hart, Willie Monroe, and Bobby Watts — and while he has surpassed those fighters in terms of fistic accomplishments, in attitude and spirit Hopkins is one of them. On September 18, he gets a chance to show the world precisely what that means.
PART FOUR — THE MENTOR
Bernard Hopkins, whether by design or habit, always seems to have his game face on. You know the face — hard, mean, distrustful, eyes either darting around or staring straight through your skull. But mention his role in the life of his nephew Demetrius, and if just for a moment, the eyes soften and the tension drains from his face.
For that moment, he’s not the undisputed middleweight champion of the world; he’s Uncle Bernard. So when you ask Demetrius, a talented and unbeaten junior welterweight prospect, about having to possibly follow the road traveled by his uncle, the elder Hopkins quickly interjects.
“Don’t do it,” said Hopkins. “I don’t want him to do it. It takes too long.”
The “it” Hopkins refers to is the almost 16-year career that now sees him sitting in the driver’s seat, especially with an eight figure payday coming up against Oscar De La Hoya in a month’s time. But what the casual observer may not understand is the struggle it took to get to this point — the fights, not only in the ring but also in the courtroom; the years of apathy from the media and the industry, and the my way or the highway attitude that burned bridges throughout the fight game. Hopkins is one of the lucky ones, though he wouldn’t call it that. But in admitting that, “you can get blackballed in boxing easier than in any sport in America,” the fact that he will be on the sport’s biggest stage on September 18, making an astronomical amount of money for a fight 95% of pundits believe he will win easily, is quite lucky.
Not many have that luck or, more importantly, the intestinal fortitude to get through those tough times, to fall on the proverbial sword over a principle. Hopkins did. And for those stands — for fighting the industry, for appearing in congress in support of boxers’ rights, and for doing it his way — Hopkins is viewed quite differently by his fellow fighters than the way segments of the industry see him.
Rock Allen, who is representing the United States in the Athens Games, is, like Hopkins, a Philadelphia fighter. But his connection with the champ goes even deeper than that, as his father, Naazim Richardson, is a longtime member of the Hopkins camp. With that type of access, Allen hasn’t blown off such an opportunity; he’s embraced it, soaking up whatever he can from Hopkins.
“Bernard is like a big brother to me,” said Allen. “Whenever he goes running in the morning he calls me. ‘We’re going running. Meet me down at the house at 5am.’ So I get a chance to look at a world champion, the undisputed pound for pound world champion, to listen to him, to see how he thinks, how he eats, how he moves, how he puts on his clothes. That to me is a big advantage because then I can imitate that stuff.”
Allen believes that because of Hopkins’ stands and because of the bumps in the road he had to get around to succeed, his road, once he turns professional, will be easier.
Demetrius Hopkins has already dealt with some bumps in the road in his young career, which has seen him compile 15 wins in 16 fights, with the only blemish being a two round technical draw in 2001. He’s had to deal with not fighting as often as he would like to, seeing his longtime trainer Jimmy Green die last year, and not to mention having to walk around with the Hopkins name.
“It’s not tough having the last name,” said Demetrius, 23. “But some people have the last name and can’t perform. I have the last name and I can perform so that’s the good thing about it.”
Demetrius is soft spoken, almost to the point of being shy, something his uncle has never been accused of. Maybe a full training camp in Miami with Bernard will cure that, but for now, Demetrius is just taking everything in, getting used to training and sparring with one of the game’s hardest workers. As the elder Hopkins puts it, “It’s tough love, but it’s there, and it’s gonna help everybody.”
“He’s headed to camp with me in two weeks and we’re gonna work hard,” said Bernard the week before leaving the Upper Darby PAL to finish up his training camp for De La Hoya in Miami. “And there’s no vacation. I told him, there might be days you might want to go home, but we’ve got to stick in there and do what we’ve got to do. That’s what makes great champions. You’ve got to be bigger than just a champion today. The only way to be bigger than that is to get the people’s respect, whether you have three belts, one belt, or no belts. Arturo Gatti got the respect of people because he puts his heart and soul into it. He’s not overly talented, but he works hard. And that counts.”
Such a work ethic has kept Hopkins young, in a boxing sense, at 39. Always in shape, always a day away from making weight with ease, it’s the champion’s willingness to work harder than everyone else that keeps him relevant in a young man’s sport. It’s a way of life he wants to drill into the head of his nephew, mainly because in this game, an unprepared fighter is one step closer to the hospital, or worse. So the question has to be asked, as an uncle, does Hopkins worry about his nephew when he’s in the ring?
“Not if he works hard and trains hard and don’t take any shortcuts,” said Hopkins. “It’s cool with me because I know that if does what he’s told to do by his trainers, and makes the right decisions he has to make in the ring when things get tough, then no. When you train hard and you focus and sacrifice, it makes it easy on people that are not in the ring that are close to you — girlfriends, wives, or whatever. You have a little comfort. But you don’t want to see anybody you know, or blood, get hurt.”
That doesn’t mean Hopkins takes it easy on his nephew when the two spar. You won’t see “The Executioner” going in for the kill if he jars Demetrius, or adding any of the extracurricular shots he’s known for, but at the end of their time together, the young prospect knows he had to work hard for three rounds.
“It’s nothing but a learning experience getting in there with my uncle,” said Demetrius. “There’s a lot that I have to learn and I learn a lot sparring with my uncle. He takes me to another level. I’m young and I’m still learning.”
He’s also within a year of breaking the top 20 in the ultra-competitive junior welterweight division. Fresh off his biggest win to date, a seven round technical decision over previously unbeaten Al Gonzales in June, Hopkins has an open road ahead of him if he keeps winning and if the level of competition keeps getting amped up.
“I think I should be up there with the top 40’s, but right now I’m just being patient and taking fight after fight and just winning and staying in shape,” said Demetrius, who will return to the ring on September 17, the night before his uncle battles De La Hoya.
“He’s the future of, at least, the Hopkins legacy,” adds Bernard. “Time will tell if he’s the heir apparent of boxing. Ricardo Williams was the hot fighter coming out of the Olympic team when Demetrius came out, and you don’t hear nothing about Ricardo Williams now. So it’s normally a guy that nobody paid attention to that normally comes out on top. So Demetrius has a chance out of the crop of fighters that year to get titles that most of them fell short of, or some of them might have retired or have two or three losses by now. He’s undefeated.”
“He’s not going to be a superstar junior welterweight his entire career,” continues Hopkins. “He’s probably going to be a full-fledged Tommy Hearns type of middleweight. So now, they’re gonna have another problem within two, three years. When I say have another problem, I’m talking about as far as having another Hopkins involved, kicking people’s butts, and holding titles for ten years. And he can do that.”
Hopkins can also remember being where his nephew is in his career. Not undefeated, as the only time the middleweight champion had an “0” in his loss column was when he made his pro debut, but he remembers being on the verge of stepping into the big leagues, where one win could catapult you into the stratosphere, and one loss could send you tumbling backwards. It’s a mixture of elation and trepidation, and there is no question that at that point, there is no turning back.
“I remember it clearly,” said Hopkins. “I was 22–1 and it was around the time I fought Roy Jones for the vacant IBF championship that in ’93 James Toney vacated to go up and fight Iran Barkley. I was just embarking on a USBA championship prior to getting a fight with Roy Jones Jr. or fighting for the vacant title. Demetrius is two or three fights from there. Look what’s out there at junior welterweight, and there’s nothing out there at welterweight as far as I’m concerned. I seen (Kermit) Cintron — he’s a good fighter, I worked with him and gave him some knowledge and lessons and I’m glad to have played a part in him developing. But Demetrius, overall is, I think, the best fighter out there. And I’m biased too, because that’s my family, but he’s gonna have to prove me right, not wrong. And eventually it will come to pass. Patience is very, very, very important. He has the perfect blueprint to look at. And when I say patience, all you have to do is turn around and look at your uncle.”
“The benefit Demetrius has, I think, is that he has someone in his family who is at the top of the game, pound for pound, who is the undisputed middleweight champion of the world,” continues Hopkins. “What better blueprint, or what better teacher can a student follow in that order? I know that there are a lot of fighters out there who will envy Demetrius’ position.”
Maybe, but many of the younger fighters I have spoken to aren’t jealous of Demetrius; they are just happy to benefit from Bernard’s knowledge and experience. It’s a role he embraces, and though the industry probably doesn’t want to hear that there are a slew of Bernard Hopkins clones running around the negotiating table, for a fighter, his stands are proof that there can be a light at the end of the tunnel even if you don’t ‘play the game’.
“I’d like to go ahead and continue to help who I can help,” said Hopkins. “I can’t save the world — I ain’t trying to save the world, couldn’t save the world if I tried — but just continue to do what God gave me the time and talent to do, which is not just to take all that I know and be stingy with it. For whether good or bad, fighters ask me — young, old, whatever — what my opinion is. For me to know, or to at least give a suggestion as to what my opinion is, why not give my opinion if it’s going to help? If it’s gonna hurt, then don’t give it. But if it’s gonna help, and that person tells me two, three days down the line, or a year or ten years down the line — which is what I hear all the time — then so be it. I don’t want to get a pat on that back or looked at as a hero, I just say that all the knowledge that I have, why be selfish with it and not spread it? It’s stupid. People have done that. I ain’t doing it. I just want to show people that it’s more than just being a celebrity — whatever that means; I don’t get caught up in that game.”
Demetrius Hopkins, Rock Allen, and a score of other young fighters have the blueprint. Now it’s up to them to follow Bernard Hopkins on a road that will lead them to Canastota.
“Nothing’s easy in this world,” said Demetrius Hopkins. “I just have to train hard, listen to what he (Bernard) and my promoters (Duva Boxing) have to say. All of this is teamwork, having a good team around you, listening, and being patient. That’s the biggest thing. After that, everything falls into place.”
“Bernard Hopkins gambled and made it,” said Rock Allen. “He was one of the blessed ones. He went the hard route — he went to prison, he went through the system, he went from fighting in the dungeons, and in the gym wars. He has paid his dues, and he was blessed.”
And in the twilight of his career, Bernard Hopkins can look back and say that he did more than just win in a boxing ring. He has laid the groundwork for a new generation of independent thinkers, who are willing to make mistakes, stick to their principles, and do the things the way they want to do them. That could backfire sometimes, but as ex-lightweight contender Brian Adams puts it, “When he wakes up in the morning, he knows he did things his way.”
Hopkins puts it even more succinctly.