Note: This story appears in the September 2011 issue of THE RING magazine, which is available now on newsstands or in our new digital format.
Bernard Hopkins’ transformation from the seek-and-destroy slugger of his youth to one of the finest craftsmen to ever lace on a pair of boxing gloves has been a metamorphosis bordering on the miraculous. But anybody who thinks that success has mellowed the man who calls himself “The Executioner” is badly mistaken. The over-the-top intensity that has been his calling card throughout a brilliant 22-year career is still as uncompromising as the day he walked out of prison in 1988 and embarked on one of the most remarkable journeys in sports history.
Regaining the light heavyweight world championship at the record-setting age of 46 is the latest feather in a crowded war bonnet, an unprecedented accomplishment that could easily be the cherry on top of a Hall of Fame career. But Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 knockout, 1 no-contest) is far from satisfied with his rarified status. He wants more and, after all he’s achieved, who are we to doubt his ability to do so?
It was a hot morning in June when Hopkins strolled into the Joe Hand Gym in downtown Philadelphia to meet The Ring crew. He wore a small white cap and black-framed eyeglasses. His day-old facial stubble had just as many gray hairs as black. But below the neck was the body of a man 10 to 15 years younger than his chronological age, and when he stripped down to his undershirt, the sleek muscles across his shoulders and arms bore witness to a lifetime of unbending discipline.
Hopkins’ softer side was evident when he paused to sign a glove for a young would-be boxer and offer words of encouragement. Despite his hardnosed attitude, he cares deeply about inner-city children at risk and quietly awards scholarships to kids who could never afford to go to college otherwise. But the Mr. Hyde side of his mercurial personality quickly surfaced when The Ring Editor-in-Chief Nigel Collins mentioned that it was legit to call him “champ” again.
Following a withering rant about how he’s been a champion ever since he was released from prison, B-Hop settled in for the interview process like the pro he is, and, when it came time for the photo shoot, he produced the clock you see on this issue’s cover, which he had purchased himself on the way to the gym. Collins reports:
“I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve interviewed Hopkins over the years, but one thing has never changed: He is extremely generous with his time and always delivers the goods, providing detailed, impassion responses to darn near any question. While there are familiar themes that run through his conversation, he spoke more openly about life after boxing this time than ever before. At one point he said, ‘I might give you a hard time, but you’re going to miss me when I’m gone.’ Amen to that.”
The Ring: Where do you think your career would be today if Jean Pascal had not called you out following his victory over Chad Dawson?
Bernard Hopkins: I don’t know. I think I would still be in a situation where I’d be fighting somebody because you have to beat a name to become a name. As long as my name is respected, some up-and-coming, wannabe star would want it on his resume. That’s why Roy Jones is still fighting, because of his name. I think I’d still be in the game, but where, I couldn’t tell you.
The Ring: Speaking of Roy Jones, how do you feel about what’s happening to him right now, traveling around the world getting knocked out?
BH: Some are happy; some are not.He’s had a long career, two or three HBO contract deals, but there are two reasons why fighters fight beyond the time they are supposed to fight: One is money; two is tax problems. Also, they are in denial as to where their careers are now compared to then. I don’t know for sure, but all of the above probably apply to Roy Jones. But in the end, I believe fighters have to be saved from themselves. If you’re declining, not winning, getting knocked out two times in a row, it’s a problem. Somebody has to go ahead and step in.
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