Light heavyweight champ Bernard Hopkins expressed the sort of confidence that only comes from a hall-of-fame-caliber career like his during a recent media conference call touting the first defense of his RING and WBC belts against Chad Dawson on Oct. 15 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
And since Bernard Hopkins' career has been one-of-a-kind, it's a special sort of confidence indeed.
After winning the IBF middleweight title from Segundo Mercado on April 29, 1995, Hopkins went on to defend it with knockouts against the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, Robert Allen, Simon Brown, Glen Johnson, John David Jackson and Carl Daniels. Overall, he defended his belt a record 20 times before losing to Jermain Taylor by a split decision on July 16, 2005.
After that fight, and a subsequent rematch loss, Hopkins garnered victories over Antonio Tarver, Winky Wright, Kelly Pavlik, Enrique Ornelas, and Roy Jones at light heavyweight. His only loss was a split-decision against Joe Calzaghe.
The other blemish on his record was a fight with 28-year-old Jean Pascal in December of last year, in which Hopkins rose from knockdowns in the first and third rounds to salvage a disputed draw. To end the controversy a rematch was signed, and in May the 46-year-old Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 KOs) became the oldest man to win a significant crown with a unanimous decision over Pascal.
For motivation, Hopkins often thinks back to a time nearly three decades ago, when, as a teenager, he spent most of his days staring at the four walls of a cell in Pennsylvania's Graterford Prison. A former Philadelphia street thug, Hopkins survived three stabbings, was jailed for five years, and then released in 1988.
Hopkins does not believe that Dawson shares his inner toughness and views the younger fighter's constant changing of trainers as a sign of weakness.
Earlier this month, Dawson made the switch from legendary trainer Manny Steward to a former instructor John Scully, and also has sought advisory assistance from Wright.
Below are Hopkins' various responses to topics brought up during the call, including the potential for facing 36-year-old RING middleweight titleholder Sergio Martinez (48-2-2, 27 KOs) at a catchweight.
On the absence of Steward in Dawson's corner:
"He got rid of Manny Steward, then he hires Winky Wright? You're telling me Winky Wright? He hires Stinky Winky? The guy that I sent into retirement? That's like getting a guy to teach me to take my driver's test, and he doesn't even have a license because he couldn't pass the test.
I think, to me, it's a situation of confusion and Manny Steward's probably rejoicing right now because nobody wants to be attached to a loser. At the end, I can't worry about who he's hiring or not hiring.
But that makes it a little bit more interesting because Steward to me is one of the greatest minds in boxing. I consider him a teacher more than a trainer."
On the presence of Wright teaching Dawson his tricks, and the notion that he's a dirty fighter:
You get into the Hall of Fame for having credentials that are either historic or very unique and with your wins and losses.
So when he says that I'm a dirty fighter, to me it seems like he's already complaining about something and we haven't even thrown a punch yet.
Again, that's the difference between being a veteran and the difference between being not necessarily being a rookie, but inexperienced to the point where you have to watch what you say.
When you say things, you've got to have a reason to say it. So I think that he's trying to put it out there to people that I'm a dirty fighter so they have that to look for.
I believe that I'm a fighter who goes in there to win, and I don't have to fight dirty to win. I have been getting hit in the back of the head starting from the Roy Jones fight because I guess that the word got out that that's my weak spot.
But you won't here me bitching about what happens to me, because I realize that when you're in that ring, the referee says it in that dressing room and he says it in that squared circle, that you have to protect yourself at all times.
I know what that means. I've been hearing that for 20-plus years of boxing. So, watch the ageless warrior systematically break down the young, strong, long, tall light heavyweight that everybody has high hopes for.
Chad Dawson says that I'm dirty? All fights are dirty to me. Some are dirtier than others. Whatever he thinks that I can do, he has the capabilities, if he wants to, to do it back."
On the potential for facing Martinez at 168 or 170 pounds:
"I didn't say that. You heard that? You didn't hear that from me. Maybe that's what certain groups out there want. Not that I mind fighting anybody that believes they can bring a challenge to me.
At the end of the day, after I take care of Chad Dawson on Oct. 15, anybody who wants to fight me has to fight me for my title. That's at the 175-pound ring belt and also the WBC belt.
There's no compromising when it comes to that, because I represent the light heavyweight division, and I mean there's no compromising. I'm 46 years old, four years from being 50.
I'm not in any position to give anybody any leeway, because I'm grandpa. Remember I'm the grandfather of the division. How can you ask a favor from grandpa when he's only 30-something.
Grandpa will fight anybody who wants to take the title belt, the RING belt, the WBC belt, and get any part of my legacy on their record. That's huge."
On how his prison past and tough early life is a foundation for his enduring hunger:
I just like to do things differently. I like to be the person who is an example that the norm is not something that you should apply to Bernard Hopkins. Even my life itself, beyond boxing, has been lived against the odds.
To me, I just wanted to stay out of the penitentiary and never go back on parole at 25 years old. That overrides the title stuff, the money, the history, breaking George's Foreman's record.
I just wanted to stay the hell out of prison and to never go back. So, again, I believe that in my spirit and my drive, just as a human being. It's just who I am. It's just who I am.
When it's said that you're not supposed to be able to do X, Y and Z because of this or because of that, I'm the type of person that, whatever it is — and that's a scary thing — I'm the type of person that says, 'Okay, maybe you're right 90 percent of the time.'
But I'm going to be that one out of that 10 percent that you're going to say, 'Well, you know, he's different.' That's just me, and it goes all the way back to before I threw my first punch as a professional fighter in 1988."
On what is left to be accomplished before eyeing retirement:
I can't think about winning and think about retiring at the same time. That's counterproductive. I have to worry about where I am now. I know that I'm in a good place right now.
I'm thinking about defending the title and I would rather be doing that then trying to win a title. I'm enjoying the moment while I'm here, and I'm going to continue to turn the pages and try to keep the pages interesting and meaningful.
I think that everyone should just enjoy me while I'm here, because nothing lasts forever. I realize that a lot of people want me to leave for good and bad reasons.
I don't take it personally anymore. I'm just having fun. I'm not going to be fighting until I'm 50 years old. I don't have to. That wouldn't be a good health risk. But I will enjoy it while I can.
I'll be 47 years old in less than four months, and Oct. 15 is meaningful. I'm just going to let the world know that 46 is a great number for Bernard Hopkins, and I've got to show that next Saturday."
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com