Bernard Hopkins: My Way

By Norman Marcus on February 24, 2013
Bernard Hopkins: My Way
“I never went back to prison. Prisoner # Y4145, Cell Block D, had learned a big lesson.”

My new neighbor walked by me on his way to the gym. No big deal except for the fact that it was The Executioner, Bernard Hopkins…

“The record shows, I took the blows and did it my way.”—Frank Sinatra

It was a crisp autumn day when my new neighbor walked by me on his way to the gym. No big deal except for the fact that it was The Executioner, Bernard Hopkins. This guy has been a world-class boxer for almost two decades. He is the oldest man at forty-six to hold a championship belt. I decided that if he walked by me again, I would strike up a conversation. How often do you get the chance to talk boxing with a legend?

Here is a quick overview of his most career changing events. Hopkins first won the IBF middleweight title in 1995, the WBC belt in 2001 and unified the middleweight title with the WBA belt later that year with a victory over Felix “Tito” Trinidad. He lost this unified championship to Jermain Taylor on a split decision in 2006. The same year he moved up to the light heavyweight division and took the Ring and IBO titles from Antonio Tarver.

Below are the key fights in that seven-year time frame that make Bernard a sure bet for the Boxing Hall of Fame. He met and beat Felix Trinidad in 2001 (TKO 12), Oscar De La Hoya in 2004 (TK0 9), Antonio Tarver in 2006 (UD 12), Winky Wright in 2007 (UD 12 above 168-lb. limit), and Kelly Pavlik in 2008 (UD 12 at super middleweight). In 2010 he fought Jean Pascal for the WBC light heavyweight title. It ended in a hometown majority draw in Quebec, Canada. In a rematch with Pascal in Montreal on May 21, 2011, Hopkins unified the Ring, WBC and IBO light heavyweight belts. (However, Hopkins refused to pay the sanctioning fee to the IBO, so that part of the title remained officially vacant.) Finally, he fought Chad Dawson on October 11, 2011 in L.A. at the Staples Center in a title bout which wound up a NC 2. Hopkins retained the belts. In a rematch on April 28, 2012 at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, Hopkins lost to Dawson in a MD 12.

Now to my conversation with Bernard Hopkins.

Sure enough, a short time later…“Yo Bernard, you got a few minutes?” Hopkins strode over to me with a big friendly smile on his face. No arrogance, no attitude here, just a man very comfortable with who he is. I introduced myself as a boxing writer and a fan. We shook hands. “I know who you are” stated Hopkins. “I read your stories” he said. I wasn’t sure that was good but I was truly flattered. I asked him if he had some time to answer a few questions about himself. So it began right there, in front of the gym.

We must have stood out there talking for an hour and a half until darkness fell. Here is what I found out about Bernard Hopkins. Some of it is known but much may be new to you. When Hopkins gets on a roll you just stand back and let him talk.

“I am a graduate of Graterford Prison, never got past the 8th grade in school. My life was already laid out for me. I would be in jail or dead if I kept on like I was going. My mother was an alcoholic and my father had a drug problem. They died young, in their fifties. They put all the wrong stuff in their bodies, like fast food, soda and liquor. They have been gone about ten years now. I don’t eat red meat, sweets or processed food. Stick to cranberry juice, apple cider, water with lemon. I’m gonna be forty-eight years old soon.” (Hopkins turned forty-eight this past January.)

Bernard lives basically on soy, turkey, raw vegetables and an occasional free range buffalo steak. He is very careful what he puts in his body. No alcohol, except perhaps an occasional glass of red wine for the heart. Whenever he is in Paris the French graciously offer him champagne. They seem puzzled when he graciously turns them down.

“If you get your body right, you get your mind right; whatever you do you have a fighting chance and you have a chance to be victorious. It is the message beyond sports, it is the message in everything.”

At the young age of seventeen…“I served 56 months of a 18-year sentence for a robbery conviction. I swore that I would never go back to prison again. When I got out I changed my life. I was on parole for years and didn’t want to give the police any excuse to send me back up to Graterford. I didn’t stay out late, didn’t litter or even jaywalk. I worked a job and went to the gym, that’s it. I never went back to prison. Prisoner # Y4145, Cell Block D, had learned a big lesson.

“Don King and Bob Arum are almost gone now. The first time I was invited to Don King’s house he threw down an envelope with $50,000 cash in it and a contract for me to sign. I looked in the envelope and then put it back on the table. It was a lot of money to me. I picked up the contract and looked it over while Don told me how good things were going to be for me when I signed. The contract gave him almost everything, about eighty percent. I told him he could keep the money. I put the contract in my pocket and turned to leave. ‘Hey where are you going with my contract?’ Don asked. I didn’t want his money but the contract was a souvenir that I wanted to keep. I still have it.

“People are always telling me what to do. They told me not to buy into Golden Boy Entertainment. Oscar De La Hoya was supposed to be hard to get along with. I found no problem with Oscar. We get along fine as partners. I have investment properties all over Philly. I need new goals in and out of boxing.

“People laughed at me years ago for investing twenty million dollars in tax free municipal bonds at five percent interest. They were getting ten, fifteen percent in the stock market and then it crashed. So who are the dummies now? I’m getting five percent tax free on my money. That’s a million a year. You know you can live pretty good on that.” I had to agree.

“Boxing has to be regulated. The big guys take most of the money. The boxers get little and never know it. I told that to Senator McCain at a senate hearing years ago. Have a framed letter from him, thanking me for my testimony. I self-manage and promote myself, no hangers-on. I’ve been married since 1993. No cheating, no booze, I put three kids through college. Just take care of my family. People are always asking me for money. My Muslim friends, my Christian friends, everyone wants a check for a good cause. I have nothing to prove to them. Still go to Costco to shop. A Gold Visa Card is good enough for me.

“Sure I am tempted sometimes to do things I shouldn’t. I am approached by scam artists and con men. Beautiful women are always throwing themselves at rich athletes all the time. You know what I do when I am tempted? Let me show you. (Hopkins takes out his cell phone and shows me a photo.) You know who that is? Y4145, that’s a mug shot of me when I was arrested for robbery thirty years ago. I look at that picture and that’s the end of whatever I was thinking about.

“Kids today need goals. I still need that in the second half of my life too. If I can do it anyone of these young people can too. If they work hard and are disciplined, they will get their chance. I tell them to pull up their pants and put their hats on straight.  I’m friendly with Angel Garcia, Danny’s father. We both served time in prison. I helped Danny hook up with Golden Boy Promotions.”

I asked Bernard if he was done with the boxing part of his life now. “I have one fight left on my four-fight contract with HBO Sports and Rick Bernstein. I want to do something special, that people will remember. Can’t tell you what it is yet. But the fight is worth $5,000,000 to me. That’s about $3,200,000 clear. I can’t walk away from that. I can still fight if I want to, no pressure now.”

I gave him my business card and he wrote down his email address for me. We promised to talk again soon.

A few months later… Just talked to Bernard in the gym. The fight he couldn’t talk about earlier has now been announced. He will meet thirty-year-old Tavoris Cloud for his IBF light heavyweight title on March 9, 2013 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. HBO Sports will televise the fight. If Hopkins wins, he will break his own record and again be the oldest man to ever capture a championship belt at forty-eight years of age. He is training quietly for the fight at Danny Garcia’s gym in the Frankford section of Philadelphia. He stated that he left the Joe Hand Gym near his home because it was too public, not enough security. Anyone could just walk in and watch him train—no good. He has a surprise planned on March 9th in Brooklyn.

Oh, by the way, Tavoris Cloud’s promoter is Don King. Yo Bernard, “How sweet it is!”

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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  1. Anthony Rich 06:36pm, 03/03/2013

    Great read/ lotta chit chat oh here that seems a little to negative for a fighter that holds records that matter/ as a middle weight / and just as a fighter/
    don’t throw stones Rick / everybody speaks out of turn at times/ particularly fighters that are part of a pr machine to promote fights and there paydays.
    As for Pete the sneak / chill /styles make fights / Taylor Hopkins 1 action / Hopkins Trinidad action / hopkins tarver amazing action and historic/ Hopkins Delahoya well you got me/ if been fortunate in ringside for the above and I can honestly say they were great fights/
    To the writer friend of mine keeps mentioning your articles online jack lewis from Phoenix / anyway I don’t see any comments from him in this one but I’ll send him the link… He’ll love it!

  2. Rick 10:30pm, 02/26/2013

    I have no respect for hopkins simply because he not once that I recall has been gracious in defeat. He is never man enough to walk across the ring and shake his opponets hand when it doesnt go his way. He was always robbed or something of that nature. And who can forget ” I’d never let a white boy beat me”. I think kids should look elsewhere for the role models.  He may actually be a down to earth guy but often his actions and words suggest otherwise.

  3. Davor 06:01pm, 02/25/2013

    I think that there is no person in the boxing world that i respect more than The Executioner. And what a coincidence, today i was thinking what could have been of a talent of James Toney’s caliber with B-Hop’s discipline…

  4. raxman 03:45pm, 02/25/2013

    fantasic stuff norman - fortune favours the brave, he who hesitates is lost etc etc your taking the chance to front b-hop has provided us an excellent read and insight into the great man

  5. The Fight Film Collector 02:53pm, 02/25/2013

    Here’s what I like best about Bernard; He’s not afraid to lose. It’s like, whatever, he’s already done it all.  He doesn’t appear to take a loss as more than a bad day at the office.  He picks up and continues to fight quality opponents and deliver the goods as his body allows.  Great article, Norman.

  6. glenn 01:22pm, 02/25/2013

    Great story, though ill disagree with the other guys here as i enjoy most of his fights.

    The Dawson fight was a stinker but i thought both Pascal fights were good.
    Guess it depends what youre looking for

  7. AKT 12:00pm, 02/25/2013

    Great Story. Cheers!

  8. David Matthew 08:33am, 02/25/2013

    Really appreciated this story.  Great exclusive material.

  9. the thresher 07:14am, 02/25/2013

    Great stuff Norman. And I’m on the same page as Pete the Sneak here. Though I have a hard time forgiving this guy for one of his racist comments.

  10. Pete The Sneak 06:31am, 02/25/2013

    Not a fan of Bernard (The Exe-clutch-inor) Hopkins and his boxing snoozefests. Always a toss up as to what’s more exciting, watching him fight or spending a day at the DMV. With that said however, the man is a master of discipline, health and frugality that makes him a rare commodity in Boxing. A fighter that is actually able to hold on to his money. Great write up Mr. Marcus on a guy who truly got it when he was released from prison that his ass was not going back. May be boring inside the ring, but got to give the man his props for handling his business properly outside of it. Especially in the shark infested waters known as the business of Boxing. Peace.

  11. JimmyD 04:23am, 02/25/2013

    Great article Mr. Marcus. You really got some interesting quotes from Bernard. I feel like I got into his head a little bit reading this piece. Not just fight facts and stats but the human side of the man. Great work.

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