Bernard Hopkins Interview
Bernard Hopkins, known as the Executioner (born January 15, 1965, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) is an American boxer. He is known for his ten year reign as middleweight world champion in which he successfully defended his title a record 20 times. He is the first fighter to retain all 4 major boxing governing body belts including the Ring Magazine belt in the same fight. He is the oldest man to ever hold the middleweight championship in professional boxing.
Born to Bernard Hopkins Sr. and his wife Shirley. Bernard grew up in the Raymond Rosen projects with his family. Hopkins turned to crime early in his life, by the age of thirteen he was mugging people and had been stabbed three times. At seventeen Hopkins was sentenced to 18 years in Graterford Prison for nine felonies. While in prison he witnessed rapes and the murder of another inmate in an argument over a pack of cigarettes, but also discovered his passion for boxing. After serving almost five years, Hopkins was released from prison in 1988 and decided to use boxing as an escape from his previous life, and converted to Islam. While leaving the prison for the final time, the warden told Hopkins that he'll "see [Hopkins] again when you wind up back here," to which Hopkins replied "I ain't ever coming back here."
He immediately joined the professional boxing ranks as a light heavyweight, losing his debut on October 11, 1988, in Atlantic City, New Jersey to Clinton Mitchell. After a sixteen-month layoff, he resumed his career as a middleweight, winning a unanimous decision over Greg Paige at the Blue Horizon on February 22, 1990.
Between February 1990 and September 1992, Hopkins scored 20 wins without a loss. He won 15 of those fights by knockout, 11 coming in the first round.
His first chance at a world title came on May 22, 1993 in Washington, DC, against American great Roy Jones Jr. for the vacant IBF middleweight belt. Hopkins lost by unanimous decision in a tactical bout. However he retained his world ranking and defended his USBA belt three more times. During a November 7, 2008 interview on XM/Sirius' Opie & Anthony Show, he said that he's been trying for another fight with Jones Jr. but Jones has been dodging him saying that he already defeated Hopkins. Hopkins argues he has floored two guys that beat Jones and that he thinks he's earned the right for another fight. Hopkins says that his first big payday was the Jones Jr. fight. Hopkins' purse was $700,000 but after everyone got their hands into it, he only received $80,000 and after taxes, it was less than $50,000. He said he didn't know to ask the questions "how and why" but that all changed when he learned the truth of his purses in federal court.
ones abandoned the middleweight ranks in 1994, and the IBF came again knocking at Hopkins's door on December 17 of that year, matching him with Segundo Mercado in Mercado's hometown of Quito, Ecuador. Mercado knocked Hopkins down twice before Hopkins rallied late and earned a draw. This remains the only time Hopkins has ever been knocked down. The fight was contested in a bull ring and in the midst of the civil war of Ecuador. It has been argued that Hopkins was also not properly acclimated to the altitude of nearly 10,000 feet.
The IBF called for an immediate rematch, and on April 29, 1995, Hopkins became a world champion with a seventh-round technical knockout victory in Landover, Maryland.
In his first title defense he defeated Steve Frank, whom he stopped in twenty-four seconds. By the end of 2000, he had defended the IBF title 12 times without a loss, while beating such standouts as John David Jackson, Glen Johnson (undefeated at the time and later went on to knock out Roy Jones Jr), Simon Brown, and Antwun Echols.
The arrival of multiple-division champion Félix Trinidad, a Welterweight into the middleweight ranks set off a series of unification fights between major titleholders. The fights involved in the tournament would be reigning IBF Middleweight Champion, Bernard Hopkins. WBC Middleweight Champion, Keith Holmes. WBA Middleweight Champion, William Joppy. The fourth contestant was former Welterweight & Light Middleweight World Champion and the undefeated Félix Trinidad.
On April 14, 2001, Hopkins won a unanimous decision over WBC champion Keith Holmes in New York City. Trinidad, however, knocked out Middleweight mainstay William Joppy in an impressive five rounds. This led to many to believe that Felix Trinidad was simply too much, too strong for Bernard Hopkins.
Then, on September 29, WBA champion Trinidad challenged Hopkins for middleweight unification in Madison Square Garden.
For the first time in many years, Hopkins was an underdog in the betting which led the confident Hopkins to place a $1,000,000 bet on himself to win the bout. During promotion for the bout, Bernard Hopkins caused huge controversy by throwing the Puerto Rico flag on the floor in press conferences in both New York and Puerto Rico, the latter conference leading to a riot in which Hopkins had to be run to safety from the angry mob.
During the fight, Hopkins was on his way to a lopsided decision victory when in the 12th and final round he floored Trinidad and referee Steve Smoger called a halt to the fight after Trinidad's father entered the ring to stop the fight. It was the first loss of Trinidad's career, and made Hopkins the first undisputed world middleweight champion since Marvin Hagler in 1987. 'The Ring' magazine and the 'World Boxing Hall of Fame' named Hopkins as the 2001 Fighter of the Year.
He defended the undisputed title six times. Hopkins bested Carl Daniels on February 2 surpassing Carlos Monzon's division record of 14 defenses, 2002, by tenth-round technical knockout; Morrade Hakkar on March 29, 2003, by eighth-round TKO; William Joppy on December 13, 2003, by unanimous decision; and Robert Allen on June 5, 2004, also by unanimous decision.
In the highest paying fight of his career, Hopkins fought six-division titleholder Oscar de la Hoya, another welterweight for the undisputed middleweight championship on September 18, 2004, in Las Vegas. The fight was fought at a catchweight of 158 lbs, two pounds below the middleweight limit of 160 lbs. Hopkins won the bout with a knockout in the ninth round with a left hook to the body and thus became the first boxer ever to unify the titles of all four major sanctioning bodies. At the time of the stoppage, Hopkins was ahead on two of the scorecards, while De La Hoya was ahead on the other scorecard.
In November 2004 De la Hoya invited Hopkins to join his boxing promotional firm, Golden Boy Promotions, as president of its new East Coast chapter.
Aged 40 years old, an age in which most boxers are retired. Bernard Hopkins reached the middleweight record of 20 title defenses on February 19, 2005, against ranked #1 WBC Middleweight contender Howard Eastman, the European middleweight champion. Hopkins dominated the fight from start to finish winning 119-110, 117-111 & 116-112.
n his next fight on July 16, 2005, Hopkins lost his undisputed middleweight championship to Jermain Taylor via a split decision. Hopkins started slowly but came on strong over the final four rounds. Many press row writers scored the fight for Hopkins. Compubox round-by-round punch stats showed Taylor outscoring Hopkins 6-5-1 in total punches. Hopkins out landed Taylor in power punches 78-50.
On December 3, 2005, Hopkins lost his rematch against Jermain Taylor by unanimous decision. All three judges scored the fight 115-113 for Taylor.
Compubox statistics indicated that Hopkins landed more overall punches and significantly more power shots over the course of the fight, however these statistics may not accurately reflect the judging as rounds are scored in isolation.
Following his two losses to Jermaine Taylor, Hopkins at 41 decided not to retire and made the decision to jump two weight divisions to face off against The Ring light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver on June 10, 2006. Going into the fight, Tarver was a 3-to-1 favorite and had been the first man ever to knock Roy Jones Jr. out. Many now placed Tarver among the sports top competitors. He was constantly ranked in the P4P rankings. However, Bernard Hopkins picked up a lopsided unanimous decision, scoring 118-109 on all three judges scorecards.
Antonio Tarver also lost a $250,000 bet with Hopkins, after he failed to stop Hopkins in the first six rounds.
On July 21, 2007, at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Hopkins defended The Ring light heavyweight championship against former undisputed junior middleweight champion Winky Wright. During the weigh-in, Hopkins shoved Wright with an open-hand to the face, igniting a brawl between both fighters' entourages. Hopkins was fined $200,000 for instigating the brawl. Hopkins prevailed with a unanimous decision victory by scores of 117-111, 117-111 and 116-112.
On April 19, 2008, at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Hopkins lost The Ring light heavyweight championship to Joe Calzaghe by split decision. Judges Chuck Giampa (116-111) and Ted Gimza (115-112) scored the fight for Calzaghe, while judge Adalaide Byrd (114-113) scored the fight for Hopkins.
On October 18, 2008, Hopkins met middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik at a catch-weight of 170 lbs, with Hopkins defeating the then-undefeated Pavlik via unanimous decision.
After Tomasz Adamek knocked out Johnathon Banks of ESPN's Friday Night Fights, Hopkins immediately told ESPN's Dan Rafael that he was interested in moving up to cruiserweight to fight him, wishing to become the Ring Magazine cruiserweight champion of the world.
During the Ricky Hatton vs. Manny Pacquiao media conferences before their fight on May 3, 2009, Bernard Hopkins stated he would be "interested" in a proposed fight with British super middleweight champion Carl Froch.
On December 2, 2009, Bernard Hopkins fought in his home city of Philadelphia for the first time since 2003 beating Enrique Ornelas via 12-round unanimous decision (120-109, 119-109 & 118-110) in what served as a tune-up bout for the 44-year old Hopkins who had not fought since his October 18, 2008 12-round upset victory over undisputed middleweight champion, Kelly Pavlik.
The bout was supposed to be a tune-up for a scheduled March 13, 2010 rematch with Roy Jones, Jr. but Jones was TKO'd by Danny Green on the same day. In his post match interview Bernard Hopkins stated that he would still be interested in fighting Jones.
Hopkins and old foe Roy Jones Jr. eventually agreed to fight in a rematch on April 3rd 2010 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. The two boxers will fight again 17 years after their first bout in 1993.
HT: You grew up in a rough neighborhood in Philly. Do you still live there?
BH: I don’t live there but I go through the neighborhood often. I have a lot of family and friends that live in those neighborhoods that I go see often, so I’m in Philly more often than my home in Delaware. But I got a place down in Philadelphia near the “Rocky” steps, 5 minutes from downtown.
HT: So you always wanted to have close ties with the old neighborhood?
BH: Well, I’m always gonna’ be close ‘cause the old neighborhood is where I grew up and I never lost ties to the neighborhood. But you know that positive things aren’t happening in certain areas so you try to avoid those places. You ride through there and you see people that respect what you did, and you see people that have envy because you got out somehow. Or envy that you can leave when you want, and come back when you want to. So there’s good and bad in coming back.
HT: But you’re a hero to everybody there?
BH: Not to everybody. Nobody’s a hero to everybody. You have your critics. Whether it’s fair or not, it’s just part of the life lessons of being successful. I’ve never had physical problems or anything like that. And I’ve never had out and out disrespect to my face, but you could feel the vibe.
HT: But you never sold out to anybody, Champ.
BH: Yeah, but you got to understand that when you work hard and you’re successful, and you come back to a place where people have to look at you different but they don’t want to because they think you’re gonna’ look at them different because you are who you are. They often don’t have the knowledge to realize that you must not think that if you’re still coming around. See, they’re judging because you’re around, and because of who you are, and because they know what the media says about you; you’re the best, you’re this and you’re that in the sports world. Because of that some think the opposite of themselves than what the world of boxing thinks about me. I think that happens in all other races and ethnic groups around the world; when you got people that support you, whether you know them or not, you’re gonna’ get those people, for no other reasons, not because of the way you look, not because of what you have on…
HT: But you never turned your back on the old neighborhood like some entertainers have. And you have done a lot for the community too.
BH: And I won’t ever turn my back, even though there are those that think you should do more. It’s never enough. See, you do a little then they want you to do more. You do more then they think you should do a lot more.
HT: People like to speculate. “Yeah, but Bernard’s making mad money!”
BH: Yeah, Bernard’s making mad money, and giving $500,000 to such and such non-profit organization, and then coming to find out that it is for profit. Because they’re not going to just take whatever you gave them and give it to somebody and gain no profit. So everything you give is for profit. Even if it’s to save on your taxes, it’s still a profit. It benefits someone. There’s a price for being successful. Everyone should know that! And that price is something that I don’t regret, because I’d rather pay any price to be in the position that I am in life. For the haters, the nay-sayers, and the supporters; this is what you go through everyday for being independent and successful. Give me that everyday! People can be cruel. They can talk about you when you’re dead broke, or when you’re in skid row, and if it’s the opposite, you’ll hear something about that. “Oh, he thinks he’s this, he’s that!” Why?! Because he treated himself to a Benz? He worked hard for it! He didn’t sell no cocaine, no ecstasy!
HT: Not to mention that you completely turned your life around and rehabilitated yourself to get to that point.
BH: Right. For me to keep real, or for me to be down home; I shouldn’t be able to reap the rewards of the blood, sweat, and tears of the boxing world, and I should feel guilty for my success? No one should feel guilty because they have a little more than the other person, because the other person might not have sacrificed what you have sacrificed. Then you might have tried everything but you just didn’t get that break. It’s an accumulation of things reaching the top.
HT: But in the last year, or two, you have managed to finally get the respect as the greatest boxer in the world. Have you seen a big change in the world around you recently?
BH: Well, it goes back to when I came out here this time; Fox Sports only wanted to pay for one first class ticket to LA, and my man James Fisher is not just my trainer Bouie Fisher’s son, he’s like a brother to me. We got 17, 18 years together! I ain’t got no entourage or nothing coming out here, man. I could’ve screamed and hollered about getting a suite. After you spent this time with me, you’re going to get a different perspective on how I think even with the success. Don’t let the diamonds, or my status fool you. Bernard Hopkins likes nice things just like anybody that works hard should, but there’s a limit to nice things, or anything that you do. You just don’t get drunk with success and power; then you become something else. I could’ve hollered and screamed up and down, and said to Fox, “I’m not coming without a suite with a hot tub, and unlimited budget for food!” And this is a write off for them. But I’m here to promote me, so I’m getting something out of being here also. I don’t throw my status around just to say “I’m Bernard Hopkins!” I don’t say things like “Do you know who I am?” I’m not caught up in that. I’d rather for you to not know me in the regular world, and get treated the same way, whether I had a million dollars or $50 in my pocket. I’d rather he or she didn’t know me and they treated me with respect, and maybe someone says to them afterwards, “Do you know who that was? That was Bernard Hopkins, the boxer.” And I’d tell them to calm down ‘cause I’m down to earth.
HT: Someone’s always gonna’ notice that kind of realness.
BH: Yeah, but I still got Fox to give me that other first class ticket for James. ‘Cause I’m not going to ride first class when my guy, who I have known for 18 years, is riding coach. See, there’s a line that you draw. Most of the time I ain’t gotta’ ask for nothing ‘cause it’s already there. People know how to treat celebrities, but every now and then you run into a situation where somebody wants to cut back so that they could look good. I understand that goes on, but I know what I would do and I wouldn’t do.
HT: Have you always been this accessible to the media and your fans?
BH: Always. Too much probably! Yo, you’ll catch me get out on the street in Philly and go to a Starbucks and get me a chai tea, and get back in my car. People would be like, “Yo, Champ! What’s up, man!” you’d think I’m already retired. When you’ve retired, people still respect you but you’re not active no more so the buzz is not out there. When they see you, people still want to talk to you, but I’m still active, and I’m making the defense for history! I’m walking around, going to groceries stores, by myself. I might have one guy with me but he’s not there for security. He’s there to keep me company.
HT: You’ve always been real and you never put up a tough exterior like so many fighters do.
BH: Before three belts! And before the big payday. You got to remember that I didn’t start getting paid until 2001.
HT: Is that partially because you’ve always self-managed?
BH: I figured in the long run, I want my future to be in my hands. I don’t think the majority of the promoters out there don’t have the interest of the fighter. They have the best interest of themselves. That’s why they are called independent contractor. They are independently contracted to do what they want to do. But once you sign on as fighter to their company you’re no longer independent.
HT: Do you like at someone like Roy Jones as an example of a very smart self-manager?
BH: Roy was really smart at a lot of things in boxing. As far as I’m concerned, physically, I think he made an error; one was not staying at Heavyweight after he fought John Ruiz, and just get out. Taking his body from Heavyweight down to Light Heavyweight again, I think he put a stress and strain on his body. Anybody that knows anything about the human body know that the weight going up and down could be very, very stressful on the body from top to bottom.
HT: Unless you stay up there like James Toney.
BH: Yeah, because you get used to it. But business-wise, I think Roy is one of the shrewdest guys in boxing.
HT: Jim Lampley told me a couple of years ago that Roy was undoubtedly the shrewdest businessman out there, but as far as being a top ten fighter of all-time he wasn’t even close because he hasn’t fought anybody. Lamps said that he was a talented fighter, and he could’ve been great, but he avoided any fighter worth his time.
HT: You referred to yourself as a thug in your youth. Would you say that you were a product of the environment that you were in? Was it a matter of eat or be eaten?
BH: Yep. The lamb or the lion.
HT: But in your case, you were a lion but you also protected the weak?
BH: Sometimes. The weak never came around because the other wolves were preying on them. And the bigger wolf always wins too. See, in society, as far as the ghetto, you get more credibility when you got another wolf. Getting a lamb was not a big deal. It’s like going into the penitentiary. When you go into for example, ‘D’ block; the first rule is you got find out who runs ‘D’ block. That’s a bold statement. That’s a bold agenda. And you got to make sure you tie your peace with the guy that runs ‘D’ block physically. Or it’s business. But they don’t want to hear that. That’s his hole, that’s block, so it’s like taking a King off his castle. You have to establish yourself. That mentality has helped 80% of my boxing career. I learned a lot from that life. It fits great into the boxing life. Because boxing’s about intimidation wolves separating themselves from the lamb, and it’s about you and I looking at each other in the face saying what we’re going to do to each other. But when I look, I don’t speak. I let my eyes speak for me. I let my demeanor speak for me. When they see that I believe. Always, including the last guy that I fought; when they see my eyes on the last press conference for the fight which is Wednesday before the fight, they know that I’m not fighting for the publicity, or for a car, or where my next meals coming from. They see something different. It’s an instinct that you have to have by experience, and from where I have been. And that comes from ‘The Life’, both on the streets and on the inside. I mean, they took my name and gave me a number.
BH: Y4145. Our timing here is perfect because I think you were about to ask that?
HT: Yes I was.
BH: How profound that we were half a second off of each other.
HT: Like I said before, you managed to completely change your life around, and become a model citizen. Did you see the light to turn things around as soon as you entered prison?
BH: Nope. A year and a half maybe.
HT: So, you were still a badass in prison for a while?
BH: (laughs) Yeah.
HT: So you tried to survive and learn what it was all about in there?
HT: And you were a young man.
BH: 17. It took a year and a half for me to realize that this wasn’t a place I wanted to be in because I saw more people comfortable there than people that wanted to get out. I couldn’t understand why a guy that got 10 years in prison, and only had a month to go, would walk up to someone and punch them in the face. This guy probably had a jailhouse job that paid him $50 a month, no responsibilities, no kids to pay tuition for; why would they go home? If you ain’t going home for nothing, and they’ve already disrespected freedom. They’re afraid! They’re going home too; locked up in their cells! Now with things changing with computers, I can’t even work my camera phone! And to be out of existence of this world for 5, 10, 15 years, and then you’re back on the streets trying to work a damn phone! When I was incarcerated phones used to be this big. Remember that phone? So can you imagine their state of mind? Again, this isn’t justifying what they did or didn’t do. I think anybody that does wrong should get punished. But remember this, that most people around the world get released before they die. So, we could sit back and act cute, and say, “We don’t have to worry about them coming up to Hollywood Hills up there.” But that’s not a guarantee. So when they let ‘em out like they do every year, they let ‘em out all around the world, man. Thousands and thousands of them. Sick people.
HT: Didn’t you have any ambitions until that moment you decided that you would change your life around?
BH: My ambition was to get out of that damn prison and never go back!
HT: What about before you went to prison?
BH: No. I was boxing on the streets with no gloves on, fighting, assaults, robbery. I had a few things that showed that I was begging for trouble, or begging for help. It was the best thing that happened to me in many ways.
HT: You didn’t feel any injustice for the amount of time you had to serve?
BH: Hell no, I got a break! They wanted to give me 12 years, but instead they gave me 5 to 12. You subtract 5 out of 12 years that was my probation.
HT: Did you feel lucky to come out alive?
BH: I feel anybody going in there that came out alive is lucky. You have to sign a waiver ‘if you die, where you want your body sent.’ Everyday that you made it alive was like Christmas to a kid. A simple day, 24 hours a day.
HT: Getting into boxing in there must have given you respect?
BH: Getting into boxing gave my game major respect. I was like the damn warden. I was like Al Capone in the joint.
HT: And it must have given you the focus for the future?
BH: I transformed that focus into society. It’s been 17 years.
HT: You couldn’t have possibly dreamed of all of this?
BH: Of course, you dream of turning pro. But you’ve got to stick at it long enough before you do that. A lot of people come out saying they want to do this, or do that, but they’re out of there in the first week.
HT: They lose a few fights and they’re out of there.
BH: A few fights? How about 3 or 4 weeks in the gym? They ain’t coming no more! After the first week they show up, they ain’t coming no more!
HT: Did you have a mentor in prison?
BH: Yeah, Smokey Wilson.
HT: He’s still in there right?
HT: Do you still talk to him?
HT: It’s interesting to me that your discipline and mental fortitude is so strong that one wonders if you have some kind of an incredible religious conviction to succeed. I’ve seen pieces on TV about your workout habits and your general lifestyle, and it is quite amazing. I mean, you wake up at like 5.30 whether you’re in training or not.
BH: And I wake up everyone else along with me.
HT: And it’s not like you live the good life and party in between fights.
BH: Hell no! Man, I just be chillin’. I take care of myself.
HT: Tell me about the significance of the song “My Way”?
BH: It’s a profound song that only certain people can relate it to themselves. If you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you can’t even put on “My Way”! If you had things done for you in boxing, because you’re ignorant; so they don’t mind giving you a belt, and take your money and give you the fame. But if you let them take away your fortune, you didn’t do it ‘your way’. If you’re intimidated by the promoters and others that are controlling boxing, you didn’t do it ‘your way’. If you know in your heart that you didn’t earn the #1 position in the world, and you know that got help, then you didn’t do it ‘your way’. But when it comes to Bernard Hopkins, in the heat of being blackballed, being unnoticed, and knowing that the promoters got the writers’ ear to write only about the favorable ones. And when I look at all that, I say to myself ‘I did it My Way’. Very few people can play “My Way”. Besides the credibility, I did it ‘my way’. Many fighters are fortunate that they didn’t have to go through what I had to go through, but how many fighters do you think could come out onto the ring playing a song like that? People are basically baffled that I would come out with a song like that! “My God, he’s coming out with Frank Sinatra playing. It’s the perfect scenario!” It’s a song that I listened to when I was training in Miami, ran in the sand. I listened to that song when I was sore from sparring 13, 14 rounds; my elbows, my joints. People would ask me, “What song are you coming out to, Champ?” and I’d say, “Yo, I’m coming with Frank Sinatra.” I’ll never forget it when I went out to the Tower Records in Miami and bought that record. “My Way” by old blue eyes; that’s a bad song, Jack!
HT: But you could have had all that you have now 10 years ago!
HT: Or do you think you wouldn’t have been ready for it?
BH: I think I was ready for it 6 or 7 years ago, but if I didn’t take the stance and let the promoter do the norm, I would have been a statistic. I would have been another sad story. Another fighter bites the dust. I had a problem with that, because that’s something I would’ve lived with as long as I was boxing, or something I would’ve lived with longer than my boxing career. If you know that you’re going to hear about this thing for the rest of your life, and they’re always going to compare you against the new and the old fighters, you don’t want that ridiculous thing mentioned to your family name.
HT: Yes. As great as someone like Sugar Ray was, there were a few bumps towards the end of his career. But you have no regrets and you have aged like fine wine.
BH: The regret I have is that I learned earlier what I know now. But everything has its timing. Nobody knew me then because I didn’t have a belt, any power, or a voice. So, to speak up and not having anything for people to listen to would have been suicide. But to get in position, and then you let them work on their egos, and their animosity against you; they take a shot by putting Felix Trinidad in the ring against you, thinking that he’s going to solve their problems. And by not going down to him, I became public enemy #1. You got to understand the steps. They came and threw everything against me to see if I would crumble. I stood up, man! And when it came time to fight, whether it was for a $1 million, or $300,000, or whatever the bullshit market value was, let me tell you that I went in there ‘seek and destroy by any means necessary’. I would not like to fight a Bernard Hopkins. I would not like to fight another me, with this state of mind, and the demeanor to prove the nay-sayers who are waiting for me to fail.
HT: They wrote you off in the Trinidad fight, Champ! If you had lost to Trinidad, they would have all got the Roy Jones-Felix Trinidad match-up but you had something to say about that.
BH: I messed up $100 worth of revenue. A lot of people weren’t very happy. Put it this way, I wasn’t drinking water when somebody gave it to me for a week. I didn’t get The Sugar Ray Robinson Trophy until a week later because it had Trinidad’s name on it. How profound is that? There’s a lot of people trying to put things together with me that I don’t know anything about. They’re saying, “We had a diamond in the rough amongst us and we paid him no attention.” But I don’t hold any negative feelings towards them because they’d been outsmarted and tricked by promoters.
HT: What does your 20th Title defense mean to you?
BH: No other fighter has ever done it. It’s history. Let me tell you, there have been a lot of great fighters, but forget about what era because I came in this era! So, don’t punish me, or criticize me because somehow my name is matched up with Ray Robinson. How ridiculous is that? We all change, before or for worse.
HT: You have to fight whoever’s around at the time.
BH: That’s all!
HT: Why do you pass on fighting Roy Jones when you finally got the chance? You just couldn’t accept his standard 60/40 offer to all challengers?
BH: Well, it was a matter of he wanted everything his way. He was offering me the same money for the rematch, or maybe even a little less. He had it to a point where even if he lost he would’ve won, if that makes sense to you. Financially.
HT: You have been very open about the inner workings of Bernard Hopkins. Are there things that just won’t reveal until you’re completely retired?
BH: I have exposed everything, even when they’re all trying to find ways to stop me. There’re no surprises there when it’s all said and done. It’s either he made it or he didn’t. That’s the difference between me and other athletes because I boldly express my feelings out loud.
HT: But not in a cocky way either.
BH: Cocky and being confident is different. Being cocky is bragging after you accomplish something. The things that I do are profound. I’m lucky that I’m smart enough to know the difference between cockiness and profoundness. It is profound when someone does something uncommon. It may not be unheard of, but it’s not common.
HT: That is very well put, Champ. In your opinion, who else handles his business in a profound manner that you speak of?
BH: Allen Iverson, T.O (Terrell Owens), Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Barry Bonds, ‘Prime Time’ (Deion Sanders). Guys like that, who are brave enough to mention what they are going to do before they do it! Most people are followers. 99% of the world are followers! That’s just the way of life. Only few people are going to bravely walk in front of the pack. It’s the same with animals. Someone’s got to sacrifice to change life and make history. You heard about the Civil rights Movement. I can do think as an African American in this world today because somebody went to sleep, and woke up the next day saying, “You know what? Black people should be able to ride in front in a bus. Black people should be able to eat in any restaurant without being spit on and being called ‘Nigger.” That ain’t sports related but that’s about certain demeanors that comes around once in a while that you should either hate or love because a person stood up for something. It could be a female or a male. So what I’m saying is, I appreciate that I look like a unique boxer to have come along in the last 20-30 years since Ali, but what’s the big deal! If someone’s mistreating you and you don’t say nothing about it, then why wouldn’t you open your mouth? If you don’t like it then correct it! Otherwise what kind of man are you? I’m just being me. This ain’t got nothing to do with boxing, man. I was doing this before I had belts. I was never a quiet guy. I spoke with no belt, I spoke with one belt, and I spoke long, long time before the million dollar payday. They can’t call me a hypocrite; they can’t call me a phony, or a prim Dona. I’m sewing my own oats. What my enemies perceived to be their ammunition 4, 5, 6 years ago; it ain’t there no more. Why? Because I outlasted all of them! I outlasted people that don’t box for a living; people that pull the strings. Why do you think the fighters that were in front and behind me a few years ago are not even around anymore? Of course, we know why physically; I’m beyond that! Who’s the last man standing today? I don’t care who’s got next, I’m talking about now. Who is the last man standing and on top of the world of boxing? And just received the manager of the year from the BAA? George Foreman and I are the only ones that ever won manger and boxer of the year! Somehow I’m still making history. If people feel that I’m being cocky after all that I’ve had to prove and overcome, then I can’t change the way people feel. If those critics looked back at the archives of what transpired prior to where I’m at today, they will humble themselves. Not towards me but to the fact that they were wrong. Very few people can do that. They want to fight back with gasoline. You can’t put out a fire with gasoline. So, when they try to put me out, they’re throwing gasoline onto a blazing fire. That’s what I am! I’m going up against wins, losses, and challenges of life. Anything that tries to defeat me, I can do nothing but flame up. I will defeat them in a way they are not expecting; that’s the intelligent and respectful way.
HT: I’ve always wanted to ask you how you managed to completely avoid the temptations of alcohol, drugs, and women. Is it because partially to do with the age you went into prison and when you got out?
BH: Because all that stuff is bad for you, man. I did a little weed when I was growing up, but that was for a brief time when I was 12, 13. Other than that, I wasn’t motivated by all that, I was motivated by having things.
HT: So, you never even touched drugs or alcohol since your early teens?
BH: No. I wasn’t even on the streets long enough.
HT: Is it fair to say that the timing of your incarceration worked positively towards your ultimate destiny?
HT: During the photo shoot you told me how you sleep at 9.30 at night, and wake up by 5.30, whether you’re in training or not, and that you take great care of your skin by getting facials (Hopkins has never suffered a cut in his long boxing career). You are truly committed to what you do. What other lifestyles disciplines do you have that are uncommon to today’s athletes?
BH: I’m a laid back dude, man. I don’t get caught up with all that stuff. Boxing has been 99% of my life. My life’s taken a backseat for 14 years. Boxing’s been 24/7 for me, and my family has sacrificed too. So now they deserve to be in the front line because they’ve been understanding and supportive.
HT: So you don’t see any problems moving onto to the next stage of your life after next year?
BH: No. That’s why I did this thing with De La Hoya to run Golden Boy Promotions East. I don’t see that as a problem at all.
HT: I really believe that you will keep your word and not be tempted by any kind of a comeback like Marvin (Hagler).
BH: Nah, man. Me and Marvin would’ve retired in our early 40’s, and late 30’s; what am I gonna comeback for? It’s not like I’m retiring at 20! I’m not a heavyweight where I could comeback at any weight and just sitting there as a big giant. I’m 40 years old, man. I want to be able to move around and have reflexes. I couldn’t comeback even if I wanted to! Unless I was going to mockery with my legacy, my history, my family; I’m not going to do that!
HT: You’re realistic about it too which is nice. Even Sugar Ray told me a number of times that he never regretted his comeback attempts because “that’s what a warrior does. He wants to challenge himself one more time. If you don’t have that fight in you then you’re not a warrior no more. A fighter gets up when he’s down.” But the bottom line is he still tarnished his legacy. Do you agree?
BH: Yes. You get to a point where you say, “If you’re not hungry then what’re you doing it for?”
HT: Can you point out mistakes that you have made in the ring?
BH: If you don’t win then you made a mistake.
HT: Well, you only have 2 losses so it’s probably hard to pick any bad mistakes. And you’ve been both a warrior and a careful fighter, but what about mistakes you might have made against Roy Jones in ’93?
BH: It’s all experience. You look at a loss and what it did for you at the time. Some fighters lose and never look back. I knocked out a guy called Joe Lipsey, and he just retired. I could have lost my motivation to keep going forward after the loss to Roy, but I didn’t. I pushed forward and became as strong as Roy.
HT: Was there a particular fight that really built your character to become the great champion that you are?
BH: Mercado of Ecuador. Those fights prepared me for the path I’m on now.
HT: Can you talk a little about your trainer Bouie Fisher?
BH: He’s been with me for 17 years, and now he’s working with my nephew Demetrius Hopkins, who is going to keep the Hopkins legacy alive. Bouie’s in his 70’s now so working with a young guy like Demetrius should give him the incentive to stay in the game. Other than that, his son, James, and I do what we got to do to keep moving.
HT: Can you see yourself becoming a successful trainer/mentor like Buddy McGirt?
BH: Not a trainer. I like doing the business side, like I am right now.
HT: You are your own manager, but who puts together your strategy for each fight? You’re in tremendous shape but you have never run out of steam, looked unprepared.
BH: Let me tell you something, buddy. First of all, I respect you for your knowledge in boxing, and that you’ve interviewed a lot of people in boxing, basketball, baseball, and show business. But how long have you been trying to get me? 2 years, right?
HT: More like 4 years.
BH: Okay. So, you’ve been hunting me down for 4 years and you couldn’t get me, or I haven’t been available, right? Then, why do you think this interview and photo shoot suddenly worked out this time when I happened to be in LA for 1 day? Things happen for a reason. You could’ve talked to me a year ago, or two years ago, but we wouldn’t be talking about what we’re talking about now; because it hasn’t manifested yet. (I’m going to use this word a lot) How profound! Here we are talking across the country, and you’re sitting there at 5am in the West Coast on a Saturday morning. I’ll never forget this; not that you’d never done this before, but no journalist ever woke up at 5 in the morning to interview me. But now, you finally got in touch and you got an even better situation that leads to my retirement. And I will be making history, where I will end up being pound for pound # 4 all-time. Things happen for a reason. 2 years ago, we would have been talking about litigation, and other struggles that we’re not going to bore each other with today. But that’s part of my legacy that will be documented somewhere in a movie, a documentary, or a book. All of that will come into play; all the hundreds of thousands of dollars that I spent defending myself as a man. I’m talking about hundreds of thousands I spent because people agree to something on paper, and then disagree in time. And people are supposed to take it on the chin and go their way? Nah, that’s not the way the law’s put together in this country. But how many people enforce their way when they know they’ve got to spend thousands of dollars? I’ve got a 5 year old daughter that I’d rather write a checque out for her future than to some attorney! No matter how successful I am blessed to be I will never disrespect or unappreciated money. Period. I’m not in love with money; it’s not my God, but I will never disrespect it. Especially when you can do more than other people in life can do. That’s what keeps Bernard Hopkins’ Cosco card in his wallet. I’m not saying that I’m perfect. Yeah, I curse; sometimes I shouldn’t. But when it comes to the job that I’ve been doing for 18 years, and my family; there’s no chinks in that armor, Dog! What keeps Bernard Hopkins forward and straight are spiritual things, not the physical. That keeps me in shape for my training everyday. What you were asking me about if I was going to be a trainer; I don’t have to ‘cause I just have to be there around the young fighters. Like my nephew, Demetrius, the next heir apparent; he’s going to be great welterweight champion. He’s not a big puncher yet, but we can work on that. I had Andre Ward in my dressing room when I fought Eastman in California. You couldn’t get a crowbar and pry him away from me! These kids are not asking him business questions, but they want to know how I train, and what I eat. It might seem like common sense to some people but these guys are rookies looking up at a Dr. J, or a young Kobe looking up at a peak Michael Jordan. They look up to me, man. So, I’m not going to limit my knowledge, my pain and suffering, and the glory that came with my hard work at the end of the day! I’m not going let my experience retire with my athletic ability; I’d be an idiot! The worst punishment would be that you had knowledge and you didn’t share it. That’s worst than suicide! At least for me, my conscience tells me that for someone to have knowledge and not pass it on is the greatest sin. That’s the most selfish kind of person to me. I don’t care if it’s the knowledge of being a reporter, or selling sunglasses. You teach them how to present the sunglasses, sell them, and how to treat people. It could even be someone picking up cigarette butts on the street; that could be skill to them! If that’s knowledge, from the littlest to the biggest things; you’re telling me that you’re going not share that? I’m not saying people that, but it’s a great deal that someone would share their knowledge to help change a city, or world, or person.
HT: Your partner, Oscar, always stressed the change he wanted to make in boxing by cleaning up the sport and protecting the fighters from crooked promoters. That is certainly an area you are very familiar with in your career.
BH: That’s just self explanatory. The guy that isn’t taking the beating in the ring making more money is unbelievable! But boxing is a whole different animal from other sports. Many young fighters coming up are uneducated about the sport, or for that matter the world. There’s a high percentage of ignorance in boxers. The other thing is that boxers have to have managers, promoters, advisors, or whatever name they camouflage themselves. It all means the same thing when they take a percentage. You might have an advisor to advise you about the dos’ and don’ts, but the advisor is working hand in and with promoter and the manager. The fighter doesn’t have protection even when it comes to representation, which is the attorney. Boxing has always been the outside sport for years and years. If you don’t believe me, look at the sponsors on the National level. Look at the Fox fights, or even ESPN have gone into the pay-per-view business. Look at the 7-Up commercial Ray Leonard did in the 80’s, or the Ali commercial. You see George Foreman in a few spots, but there’s only a few future Foremans; there’s Bernard Hopkins, Antonio Tarver, Roy Jones Jnr., Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather. I could go on and on and mention guys that could be the blueprint for boxing, but the stereotypes that plague boxing can’t change until we weed out the ignorance and the greed. I’ve experienced sub-diffusion deceit in my career, but so has Oscar in a different level. Trust me; Oscar has stories to tell you too. But he learned from it, and at the end of the day, he’s successful and his company’s successful. But at the same time, we have become public enemy #1 to those small but big minded people who want to assassinate the idea that could come into effect, and that effect come into history, and then history would put them out of business, or in their grave.
History always repeats itself, and the only thing that comes to a person that’s greedy is a stomach ache. De La Hoya and Bernard Hopkins: we are creating that stomach ache right now. You have to think like the enemy sometimes, and understand them. Don’t be like them. That’s the only way to stay competitive with them. Look, Oscar and Hopkins goes into the ring as athletic competitors, and not only do they put up a well documented historical fight; they become business partners! If I was only 10-12 years into my career, I’d say, “how can a guy be beat by another guy and then they become friends?” But that would have been the ignorant side of me. That’s like two competitors like Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s going into business.
HT: It’s merger of two power houses.
BH: Exactly. But it’s also two boxers having enough sense to sit down and talk. Oscar and his partner were amazed that nobody ever had the sense to come and promote me. They said that 99% of the media told them the opposite about me because much of the media is dictated by the promoters for whatever reasons, or for whatever favors. One becomes public enemy #1 in the boxing world because that’s the way the blueprint was laid out. If the struggles in my career is a motivation and inspiration for others then I’m here to help. I hear that wherever I go. They say’ “Keep doing what you’re doing, Champ!” They don’t mean fighting! They’re saying that I survived and that quietened the whole boxing world. It’s a test being successful. As athletes, we have our careers then we have the challenge of trying to keep your money in the bank without giving it away to people. I’ve got different challenges to keep me busy until I die. I’ve been blessed with good genes. I may not look 40 but I am.
HT: So you really won’t miss the boxing at all?
BH: I ain’t gonna miss getting punch in the head, man. I’m always going to be in shape compared to the average person. 10-15 years from now, I want people to say to me that I still look good enough get into the ring and fight. I put stipulations on myself to fight till 40 years old, which is unique in itself. You talk about comebacks 2 or 3 years from now like I’m going to be 2-3 years younger; 2-3 years from now I’m not going to want to comeback because I’ll be 42. It’s important for me to be able function after my career, and to be able to take my daughter to school, and to be able to sign papers. In fact, I encourage people not to become a professional fighter. I encourage young people when I speak to them to not become me as boxer, but to try to become me a successful person. I begged my nephew to take his basketball scholarship, but Demetrius had it in his heart to become a boxer. So, I don’t promote boxing as a profession for people because I know the health risks involved. I had very few options, man; I was a convicted felon, I did 9 years parol, and I finally got a GED while I was incarcerated.
HT: Was your Oscar De La Hoya knockout as good a showcase of what Bernard Hopkins is all about?
BH: I would say the main showcase was the shellacking I put on Tito Trinidad. I told everyone in the media that I was going to knock him out cold unless someone came to save him because Trinidad is a warrior. Well, he didn’t quit but he did get TKO’d before the 12 round was over. I boldly said this; again it was profound and confident, not cocky. That was a bold statement to tell the media that you were going to knockout a 30-0 future legend, who is basically the Sports President of San Juan, Puerto Rico. That’s what I’m trying to tell you! I try to tell people to enjoy me while I’m still here, not because of my talent but things like this long interview we’re doing here. Where else are you going to get profoundness like this? They may come around, but when? When? I look at my accomplishments as a gap between Ali’s era and now. There have been a lot of great fighters in that time. And I stand to be corrected anytime I say something that is incorrect by anybody, but you tell me, who else has stood up since Ali when he stood up against the good old boy network, spoke against Civil Rights, became a Muslim, threw his Gold medal in the river, and he refused to go to war because ‘he couldn’t enjoy his freedom here.’ My era ain’t nothing compared to what they went through back then, but they stood up even when their lives were in danger! My life’s only in danger economically compared to back then. But today’s way of lynching is keeping you from being able to provide for yourself and your family. We’re in the game for economical reasons. And when I stand up for something that is clearly wrong I have to make a choice of whether I want to lay down, or get down. So if I don’t lay down it becomes a fight. Everyone has the right to move up the ladder in life but because you are a threat to someone they try to keep you down and stop you from getting promoted. Everyone’s experienced that! I call it “future assassination.” You stand up! They can’t come and drag you out of the house like they used to in the 40’s and 50’s anymore; there’s another way to skin a cat. They try to say that I’m an idiot because I turn down X amount because I felt that I was worth more; isn’t that the American right that I have? I’m not a slave! If you want to tell me that the times have changed to a point where I’m not a slave no more then give me the Rights of the Constitution! And I know all of them! So if I have the same right that anybody else has then why can’t I use my right to reject or accept no matter what anybody thinks about it!
HT: Why do you say that there is unfinished business with Trinidad when you basically dominated him?
BH: It’s unfinished business to them. I believe I finished Trinidad, but they like to bring up how 9-11 affected them. Yo, if you want to use 9-11 as an excuse then every red blooded American had a bad day because I did! So, if Tito wants to use that as an excuse for the reason why he got his head handed to him, then all I can say is hopefully there won’t be another situation like that for him to lay another excuse on. Hopefully there won’t be a baby out of wedlock that he could say my secret mistress was on mind also. How many excuses are you going to have? Why don’t Tito and his father come to grips that everybody has to lose sometimes in life. Hey, he won 30 fights before he ran into me. You stay in this game long enough you’re subjected to lose one day.
HT: You caused the bleeding in his brain didn’t you?
BH: I caused a bleeding in his heart! If they know that I caused the bleeding in his brain, then you know that they don’t want to fight me now.
HT: It seems like there were some negotiation challenges with your next opponent Jermain Taylor on July 16?
BH: When you say Jermain Taylor, let’s keep it real, it ain’t Jermain Taylor. He’s a confident young fighter that understands it’s not gonna be easy to go up against Bernard Hopkins, but you got to give him credit because he thinks he can do it. It wasn’t Jermain Taylor that wasn’t making it happen, it was his promoter, and he’s got like 5 managers taking a percentage. That’s 5 people eating off this kid’s plate! I’m not saying that it’s wrong or right, but in a situation like that they have to ask for enough money to satisfy everybody, and in the end Jermain may not even receive enough for himself. But Jermain wasn’t the one that made things difficult; he had 5 handlers basically negotiating for themselves. I’m not here to police for fighters that are going up against me.
HT: Do you think Jermain Taylor is your heir apparent?
BH: Yeah…..when I’m gone. You could be that, but I don’t care who got next ‘cause I got now!
HT: You said a while back that it was a win-win for Jermain to fight you because the public will respect him if he puts up a good performance against you, and if he wins then naturally he’d be a superstar. I think Taylor is a great fighter, but I personally think it’s a bad move to fight you, because he’s not ready for you yet.
BH: I agree. He comes out trying to take on Bernard Hopkins, his career might end! Truthfully, Jermain Taylor’s not in my league.
HT: I don’t know if he’s necessarily ready for Trinidad or Oscar?
BH: I don’t know and I don’t care! It doesn’t make any difference to me who he’s ready for. I have a wife and a 5 year old daughter, and my Golden Boy East business to care of, so the last thing I’m going to do is think about someone else’s career. Seriously. I don’t want to sound cold but I really don’t give a damn.
HT: But going back to your turning down Roy’s offer a couple of years ago; that was because also because you had other options as the champion, right?
BH: I had other choices, but mainly because the pool of money that was there compared to the pool of money that Roy Jones was offering me as a gross and not net, and the automatic rematch for the same amount of money, and no upside of the pay-per-view; I couldn’t sign up for that! Not to mention, Roy wanted me to fight at 175lbs. which I haven’t fought at that weight since 15 years ago. So it was financially and physically a lose-lose situation with nothing in my favor. But 8 months go by, and I’m involved in a more marketable and historical fight with Oscar De La Hoya, who’s moving up to my weight! Now who’s the dumb fighter? I get $4, $5 million extra for fighting a guy that’s moving up to my weight. In the Roy situation, I would’ve had to put on 15lbs., and after we weigh in he’d come in 198-200lbs., and I’d be weighing a measly 165lbs. So, who’s the dummy? How many times do you think Don King tossed and turned thinking about me in his bed? At least, a lot in 2001 when I knocked out Trinidad; his meal ticket! I retired his meal ticket! There was a delayed backlash when he tried to come after a year later.
HT: So what is your final year schedule?
BH: Jermain Taylor on July 16. And my wish list is: the winner of Glen Johnson and Antonio Tarver rematch, and finally Felix Trinidad next January will be my last fight. HBO has given me the three PPV dates to go out on. So I’m not done yet. Let me do what I can to concentrate on these because I want it to be a happy ending, and not a tragic one. They like happy endings in boxing; I’m going to give them one.
HT: Would you consider yourself to be a top 5 fighter of all-time?
BH: I consider myself in the top 5, and I’ll take the #5 spot.
HT: Give me your top 5?
BH: 1. Sugar Ray Robinson. 2. Muhammad Ali. 3. Carlos Monzon. 4. Marvin Hagler. And Bernard Hopkins.
HT: In your opinion, do Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones, and Lennox Lewis; do they stand to be in the top 10?
HT: Really? Do you agree with Jim Lampley that Tyson is not even a top 10 heavyweight of all-time?
BH: Tyson never had boxing skills. Once he lost his speed, accuracy, and power he was ineffective. But he was one of the greats. trust me.
HT: Is your reputation as a dirty fighter fair?
BH: Fighting is fighting. There ain’t no such a thing as a clean fight! Have you seen the old tapes of the old fights? I’m a church mouse compared to all that. A choirboy! Whatever they accuse me of; look at the old black and white tapes back in the day; how they use to throw their elbows, and poke your eye out on purpose with their thumb? Come on, man! A fighter should understand that we’re not figure skating. We’re figure skaters compared to the 40’s and 50’s. Jake La Mota, Carmen Basilio, and them guys; their noses were hanging off the side of their faces.
HT: What about ‘the Philadelphia brawler’ label?
BH: I don’t care. Whatever they call me, as long as it’s good. Some look at me a brawler, some look at me as a boxer, but they all see me as someone that could do it all. I’m 40 years old, and I’ve been undefeated for 10 years. And I’ve never been cut, or I’ve never taken a beating.
HT: Is there any fighter out there that could throw you off your game?
BH: The only fighter that could throw me off is another me, and I don’t see anyone like me out there. I would be afraid to fight someone like me. I use the word afraid, but that’s not a bad word to use. If you ain’t afraid of something then you’re a fool. I’m afraid to go outside in the night time in the neighborhood where I know they’ll be shooting. I ain’t afraid of fear.
HT: So the things that you can’t see coming is what you’re afraid of?
HT: If you could fight anyone in history who would you take on?
BH: Ray Robinson.
HT: And what would the outcome be?
BH: Either he will kill me, or I’d get him.
HT: How would you like people to remember Bernard Hopkins?
BH: I would like people to remember Bernard Hopkins, the man. When you bring up Bernard Hopkins – ‘the man’ that brings up the definitions that becomes the book, the biography, and the documentary. When you use the words: Bernard Hopkins slash ‘the man’; that ‘man’ opens up questions and debate, and that’s how I want to be recognize in history.