The self proclaimed “Godfather of Boxing,” Bernard Hopkins has been a professional prize-fighter for almost a quarter of a century. He lost his debut at light heavyweight before spending a year with trainer Bouie Fisher and resurfacing at middleweight. Nobody at the time would have guessed as he did the rounds that he’d turn out to be all that good, never mind great.
He fought Roy Jones Jr. in 1993 for the vacant IBF middleweight title, lost a unanimous decision and effectively got back in line. After Jones headed up to suer middleweight, Hopkins headed to Ecuador where he drew with local favorite Segundo Mercado for the vacant belt, but the rematch took place in America, where Hopkins stopped Mercado in seven and his record-breaking championship reign began. Hopkins smashed Carlos Monzon’s middleweight title defense record of 14 by stretching it to 20 before he lost a controversial split decision to Jermain Taylor in 2005. Hopkins also lost a decision in the rematch that many believed he deserved.
However, he reinvented himself as a light heavyweight, winning THE RING magazine title after giving Antonio Tarver a boxing lesson in 2006. Though he lost to Joe Calzaghe and Chad Dawson over the ensuing years he never ducked anyone, beating the likes of then-undefeated middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik, Winky Wright and Jean Pascal, who he beat to break George Foreman’s record as the oldest fighter to ever win a major world boxing title.
Now breaking records is nothing new to Hopkins, who extended his own record of being the oldest major titleholder by once again turning back father time and out-boxing the game but under-skilled Tavoris Cloud for the IBF 175-pound strap in March.
Hopkins (53-6-2, 32 knockouts) is unique not just inside the ring but also outside it, he’s an incredibly savvy business man who owns real estate in his native Philadelphia.
During the run up to Floyd Mayweather-Robert Guerrero in Las Vegas, RingTV.com’s Anson Wainwright was afforded the opportunity to speak Hopkins at length for a candid look into the future hall of famer’s world.
Anson Wainwright: You’re last fight with Tavoris Cloud and your next one with Karo Murat is at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Can you talk to us about that?
Bernard Hopkins: First of all, (it’s a) great stadium. I don’t know if you’ve been there, (but) if you haven’t you have to get to the Barclays Center as you may have seen and heard (of the) state of art facility. Also, the crowd is unbelievable. The crowd is biased because I’m a Philadelphia guy and that’s East Coast, all up the corner. I call the Tri-State area, you can even mention Boston, Philadelphia, Maryland, Delaware, (Washington) D.C, Jersey and of course the five boroughs of New York, the City they named twice. When you have those fans 14-plus thousand screaming at my fight March 9th… it’s great to fight at home and be appreciated and giving them something they’ll always remember. Some will bring their grandkids or their kids to watch one of the ancient aliens of the boxing world. And I use the word aliens because I realize that’s who I am. I had to discover that I am from Pluto where aging is very slow. I might be introduced as “the Alien” more than “the Executioner” in my next fight so you heard it here first. It’s a great venue to fight at, it’s so great that I requested that I will end my career – whether it’s one or two fights (from now) – there; close out right there and build the fan base there. I never thought I’d be around long enough for something like the Barclays Center to get built and fight there.
AW: You’ll fight long enough for them to take that one down and put up a new one!
BH: Oh, then I’ll have to come up with something past “the Alien,” something crazy from there.
AW: Let’s talk about your next opponent, Karo Murat, who you face on July 13.
BH: I watched his tape. I saw his fight with (Nathan) Cleverly. I learned something from that fight as far as what Cleverly did to neutralize his strength and his straight forward attitude. Do I know a lot about him? No, but what does that say about me? It’s says I have to train for multiple styles, even though I know he comes from a style that is strong, good defense and comes right to you. I have to exploit his weakness and stay away from his strength. As we go on through this promotion, I will get to know a little more about him as I look into his eyes. I’m collecting all the footage I can get. Of course I have the Cleverly fight, and we have one more. But that makes this fight dangerous for me. (I have to win it) if I want to get that mega fight, that’s what I want, I literally want a mega fight now.
AW: What are you looking at in terms of mega fight?
BH: You have a lot of fights coming up over the next month. I’m going to throw some names at you. I’m not giving these guys a commercial but I’m not going to B.S you. There are guys at 175 but they say they’re at 168 right now; some are fighting at 175 for no title: (Carl) Froch, (Mikkel) Kessler, you know about (Jean) Pascal, (Lucian) Bute; they are a good four names out there. I want to leave Pascal out for a minute because been there, done it, done the push ups.
Then I want to mention some 175 pounders who are 168 or 160 waiting for the right opportunity and right person like I did jumping from 160 to light heavyweight. There’s a challenge, not a bully challenge, but there is a challenge to the big 160 pounders walking around thinking their s__t don’t stink. If you want to make history, if you want to be known in the game not just as a champion, there’s plenty of those, then try to do what Bernard Hopkins did. This is what great basketball players have done, guys set records, they break ‘em, Miami Heat were on the verge to winning the most games they fell short, they had a great run they attempted to make that happen, so it’s time for me to expose that the old Grand Pappy, the Godfather of Boxing, is calling out the young lions that’s always dangerous, to see if they really got the goods or if they’re being marketed and promoted. They either will or won’t be when they reach a test.
AW: Do you feel that guys look at you and are like it would be embarrassing to lose to a 48-year-old guy?
BH: There is evidence over the last 2-3 years; losing to Bernard Hopkins is not an embarrassment. I’ve proven that losing to me is not an embarrassment. It’s how you lost to Bernard Hopkins, it’s what you didn’t do that will be an embarrassment as far as losing to me. You can be in a position where they say about losing to a 48 year old, they could say it to someone else but they could never say that about Bernard Hopkins because there are a whole bunch of fighters lining up. If that’s the case, Jermain Taylor all the way down, and he got two gifts against me. He’s nowhere to be seen the last seven years. I ruined him. Same with Kelly Pavlik. I ruined him. We can name a few other contenders who could have been champion if I wasn’t there: Antwun Echols, Robert Allen, do I need to name some more? (Antonio) Tarver hasn’t been right since. I have a history that the managers and promoters know that until Bernard Hopkins is half way on a gurney and he’s 98 years old, he’ll always have a chance (to win). In a way, that’s respect, but it still has to be exposed. This isn’t to take jabs at anyone. I don’t think no reporter would say to a fighter “you lost to a 48-year-old Bernard Hopkins.”
AW: Not like for example, with the greatest respect to, say Evander Holyfield…
BH: Yes. Now if Holyfield beat somebody, they’d be the first to say to say Holyfield beat this young guy. That’s not saying Holyfield’s not a Hall of Famer but Holyfield is not the Holyfield of the cuiserweight division and let’s not even talk about the heavyweight version that came on the scene and had wars with George Foreman and Michael Moorer, but I have to bring that up to let people know there are a lot of people who are politically ducking me and I have to mention their names. They will get a good pay day fighting me, I’ve put a lot of money in a lot of pockets including Tavoris Cloud, who’d never made close to 1 million dollars in any match; he’ll tell you. James Prince his manager will tell you, so I’m giving guys pay days. Same what Floyd’s doing, he’s giving guys pay days, these guys aren’t mandatories. We giving Murat a pay day, we already agreed to fight him before Tavoris Cloud. Murat never made the money he’s going to make. So what I’m saying is this, if the young guys at 160, 168 who were calling me out earlier, one of them beat my protégé Gabe (Rosado), Gennady Golovkin. I can push it up on my phone ‘I’ll fight Bernard Hopkins, I don’t want to fight him at a catch weight, we can fight at 175.’ That was his emotions talking because his trainer (Abel Sanchez) got to him and told him to keep his mouth shut. I saw him at the Boxing Writers (BWAA) in New York City, we took a picture, he’s a good guy, it ain’t him. I believe fighters will fight even if it’s not in their own best interest. But you got the money makers who want the easy route or they don’t have confidence in you.
To every fighter who reads this interview, you were told stay away from that old man but you could make a good pay day and do something that has never been done – knock him out, TKO, make it look embarrassing – and you will become an instant star with a pay day. That’s worth the risk and at the end, with all that you have to gain, if you don’t come through don’t feel bad cause you ain’t the only one. They’re in a win-win situation but the reason they’re silenced by people who know A) he can still fight and B) I think I can get him but the advisors and managers/advisors say no (whispers) no we don’t need that!
AW: As you once said, I think it was when you fought Jermain Taylor, “I take souls.
BH: I take souls. You’ve got a great memory. I take souls and when you take souls you take careers. We shouldn’t have fought the second fight because I took his soul the first fight. I had him barely out in the 12th round, he got a split decision politically, but he also knew his career paid the price for that. But here I am still going 10 years later.
AW: After you, Jermain Taylor barely beat Cory Spinks and Kassim Ouma before losing to Kelly Pavlik.
BH: And you saw the decline. Not taking anything away from Kelly Pavlik, but he had the residue, like a good pot roast.
AW: What do you think of the other champions at 175? Cleverly? (Beibut) Shumenov? Of course you’ve fought Dawson already.
BH: Richard Schaefer put an offer out to Shumenov in (Las) Vegas. I believe he trains here, but he turned me down for the WBA title. I wanted to fight someone with significance. I wanted to fight someone who not only had a belt but a name and be a threat to me because that’s the emotions of going into a fight I need. The let down comes to me when I’m just going through the motions.
This title defense (vs. Murat), the burden is on me to win spectacularly. I’d rather them say he’s a nobody than say I struggled with him. There is so many ways I’m in a lose-lose situation, if I don’t look spectacular, I haven’t had a stoppage since, fortunately or unfortunately, (Oscar) De La Hoya. Fortunately for me and unfortunately for him, that’s the last time I had a stoppage and I would like to have one. I would have liked to have one March 9. Do I press it more than I should? I’m learning and believe me I tried to beat guys down and then stop them.
AW: What goals do you still have in boxing? Perhaps a cruiserweight title?
BH: Where’s the big names in the cruiserweight division? I don’t know any big money fights. The goals I have are to continue to set a high standard, as high as I can, and to fight meaningful title fights prior to fighting a mega fight. My whole thing is to get a mega match and make money in the light heavyweight division. It’s not with Dawson, it’s not with Cleverly, not in the States; it’s with Bernard Hopkins. That’s why Cleverly wants to fight Bernard Hopkins, one of the reasons, I’m pretty sure he has more. That’s the reason Cloud and I fought because we started that on our Tweets and it came to fruition because of my relationship with James Prince and, of course, he represents who? (Andre Ward)
AW: What fights mean something to you then?
BH: Exactly that, the fights that mean something. Jean Pascal is fighting Bute with light heavy no belt on the line just a lot of money. How do you think Bute and Bernard Hopkins would do in Montreal? I’m a name there. I saw the crowd shout and holler my name there. I gained a lot of fans there (at) the Bell Center. That’s a huge money fight. Froch, if he beats Kessler, in his hometown (is a big fight).
AW: I get the impression you’d like to be the away guy like Marvin Hagler was when he fought Alan Minter when the crowd booed him and going crazy, hating you, that kind of thing.
BH: Yes. I would go to these places tomorrow, not because I’m desperate, just because I want to make that big show. It would be big over here in New York, at the Barclays Center, either way New York or Canada, I’m widely known, all over.
AW: You’re probably the poster boy for mind games in the sport at the moment and one of the greatest of all time, you infamously shoved Winky Wright, said to Joe Calzaghe “I’ll never lose to a white boy,” the push up with Jean Pascal and so on. Where do those things come from?
BH: They click, I do them spontaneously. Certain things you can’t plan, it just comes out, definitely the push ups. With that I saw him move fastly to his stool, losing a slight exchange and ding he’s gone to sit down. If you can beat an old geezer to the stool I knew the effect of me doing push ups while a 19-year younger guy is sitting down breathing like a race horse then that must take his moral to whatever he think’s he’s going to do to me to 1.0. I got him here (points to his head) and then I got him physically.
AW: You dare to be great. Most fighters don’t even try to be. Is that fair to say?
BH: Most people don’t believe what they say. They hoping they can bluff you to beat you. Very few people can back up from A-Z what they say and what they do. Most people don’t want to take the risk to be wrong so they don’t try. (It’s) not very often somebody says (something) that they do. So I think the best credibility that to have a resume is one that speaks that you told the truth about what you did more than you said. When you go to a job interview the first thing they want to know that is important to them, what’s your experience, what’s your track record, your track record accumulates to credibility. (You’re) saying what you can do but I need some evidence. In the criminal world they have a thing called do you have a record. You can say what you want but your record reflects who you are, not what you say. If you meet someone who you think is a nice girl, stick around a couple of weeks, maybe a month and see if she’s still that same girl that you think she was when you met her the first day. Do you marry someone you don’t know? Fools do. So I take that into life, I take that into the ring, I take that into my business ventures, I take that into anything I do. Because at the end of the day there’s no price on being somebody you’re not, but it takes a whole lot to be somebody that you say you are. It’s pretty deep right?
AW: We know about your boxing career. Tell us a little about Bernard Hopkins the man away from boxing?
BH: I don’t have to step away from it. I’ve been doing it for years. I literally make a living off my real estate. That pays my bills. In Philadelphia it’s growing like most major cities. My life style is based on the people that pay for my life style. I own 50 high-end properties in yuppie neighborhoods. The coffee house cities, the Mr. Rodgers neighborhoods. You buy cheap, you buy low, you buy abandoned and you fix it up. You buy in blocks and the city would love to give it to me. I’m the Magic Johnson in boxing with the business ventures. I took a page out of his book. I want to be that type of guy that reached that level from the boxing world and put that together as I managed my career from 1995, call my shots and live with the ups and downs. So I transport that thinking of Bernard Hopkins into the boxing world. If you boxed 20 something years and you stop and you think what you’re going to do at the end now boxing is all you’ve done, it’s too late. Same with your taxes. You pay your taxes as you box when you box and every time you fight, you realize you have to give up 35 percent if you’re in that tax bracket. It’s the same things you do in life. You know what I enjoy? The simple stuff. I’m considered to be a boring guy. My past time has nothing to do with alcohol for 28 years now, it has nothing to be with being in a club; it has nothing to do with being in a strip club. That’s not me. People can do what they want to do, they’re grown. I don’t like to get teased, but my life style is that I drink a glass of wine every day just because of life, (for) accomplishing things before I became Bernard Hopkins, the fighter. Knowing what I overcame. I look at this picture (looks at his phone of his prison mug shot) from when I was at Graterford (Penitentiary). This is a reminder I’m unnatural. Drinking champagne every day by seeing my kids dive in the pool, run around in the acres, playing video games, reading a book, private schools, going on vacation, going in an old neighborhood, which has now been rehabbed to a safe neighborhood and having a stake in that, helping finish the Joe Frazier statue to be built by the end of the year, helping young fighters to not only become champions but businessmen for those who want to step up and be responsible. Living an example not only in the ring but outside the ring. How to extend your life by taking care of your body early, like investing money, to have something later, it’s called interest. That’s what I like doing. All the other stuff, I’m going to use the word “old” lightly, but I’m too old for that s__t. I’m too old to spend a half million dollars on a car. I’m too old where I’ve got to wear 13 pieces of jewelry, that’s just not me. My thing is how can I leave a profound history outside boxing. That’s sealed, other than Larry Holmes in Easton, Pennsylvania, why can’t I be the Magic Johnson of boxing? I got the personality, I’ve got the vocabulary, I can speak, I can handle myself. It’s a gift to be able to express yourself in all kinds of ways. It hasn’t been done in a long time. Boxing is what I have done but not who I am. You have to show why you are what you say; it’s easy to say not show. Word gets out Bernard has 50 properties in Philadelphia, after taxes on $500 K and everything say he walks away with $300 K, you have to do these things to be successful. The business plan always has to be a guy’s number two plan if you’re an athlete. You got to do it early as an athlete.
BH: There are some amazing stories throughout your career. Could you share one with us?
BH: We were in New York City (before the Felix Trinidad fight) we heard there was a terrorist attack (9/11) and we knew we couldn’t stay down there cause we didn’t know what was gonna happen. I guess most people would be s__ting their pants, so I said lets go to the Bronx. They’re not going to bomb the Bronx. Anybody bombing New York City, they’re bold enough to do that. There not going in the ghetto, there’s nothing there for them. They bombed the World Trade Center. It was just the thinking, it’s not that it was insensitive, maybe a little selfish, but I knew I had a major fight I had to fight and win, so I had to navigate those emotions and make that decision. You have to remember no phones were working, they knocked out and when they were back on and everybody was calling so it’s jammed. Let’s go to the Bronx because I didn’t want to miss a day’s training. Now is that cool under pressure? You know where that came from?
AW: No, can you talk us through your mindset?
BH: Being on D Block, some people get raped, get stabbed, extorted, beat up, hit in the head with a lock and a sock, see chunks of meat off their skulls. When you see things that you don’t normally see in a world of society, at least not in your face I do understand… I’ll never forget it. I might need therapy but it’s a driving force behind me. I don’t glorify it. It doesn’t make me tough but understanding I haven’t forgotten that though all the high life. It makes you not want to go back and not want to fail. Failing to me is worse than cancer.
AW: Finally there is a very public spat between Golden Boy and Top Rank that also has divided the networks, Showtime and HBO. You’re very much in the middle of it all but how do you see it?
BH: I see it that things play out in time because at the end the promoters don’t get hurt, the fans get hurt and when the fans get hurt boxing gets hurt, the business gets hurt. We might not get along but at the end of the day but if we all take the fans as important then we have to be courteous to the fans and put our egos and differences to one side. That doesn’t mean you let one guy or another take advantage and step over you. I believe there needs to be resistance (to) a dictator but I also believe when the smoke clears the company that has the deepest pool of fighters will win at the end. Win what? They will win the support of the fans saying “stop the B.S we want to see this fighter fight that fighter and those fighters are with two different promoters,” the networks will bring things to fruition, the same networks that broke it up will be the ones who fix it. I believe if HBO’s Ken Hershman said let’s talk tomorrow, I believe Richard and Golden Boy would be there to see what we can do to resolve this issue. ‘Cause at the end of the day there are matches that need to be made from both of these two major big companies but the companies with the better fighters and the deepest stable last longer in the long run. The company who has four or five fighters fighting each other, OK, but late summer, early fall, who you got? As you spread it out to last a year there are pockets when nothing happen, then there are more dates than fighters which hasn’t happened in years. There are 12 months and millions of fighters and they all want dates. At the end of the day it’s a lose-lose for the fans but there is a caveat with this, the fans are seeing quality fights now, reporters are writing great stuff about really even matches. To me that’s a good thing but I would like to see back to business on all fronts for everybody before the summer is over, definitely before the year’s out but I think it’ll be at least a year. Hopefully it’s less.
Photos / AFP, Al Bello-Getty Images, Jed Jacobsohn-Getty Images, THE RING