The Philly Phantom: Bernard Hopkins

By Norman Marcus on January 27, 2014
The Philly Phantom: Bernard Hopkins
A modest man, Hopkins has no one to impress, except when he steps into the ring.

“When people see the watch on my wrist, nobody would think it wasn’t real. Besides, that way I can keep that fifty grand in the bank…”

It’s still dark out in Philly this time of year. Clock says 5:30 am, hard to see your hand in front of your face on the Delaware River. But some days you can catch a glimpse of Bernard Hopkins, the forty-nine-year-old IBF light heavyweight champion. He’s on his way out to Columbus Blvd. for an early morning run. He’s dressed in a dark colored hoodie, sweatpants and sneaks, no reflective clothing of any kind. I almost ran him over one morning pulling out of the driveway. It’s hard to keep track of his comings and goings. One moment he’s here and the next he’s gone. Just like a phantom.

In the 1930s there was another light heavyweight champion from Philadelphia. His name was Tommy Loughran. Tommy was a South Philly legend and the first to be called the Philly Phantom. It was so damn hard to hit him in the ring. One minute Tommy was there, the next minute he was gone. His mantra was, “You have to hit me to hurt me and you can’t hit me.” Today, Hopkins too has all that covered inside and outside the ring. You never know how long he’ll be standing there right in front of you or when he’ll suddenly disappear. There used to be a famous comic strip in the newspapers called The Phantom. The people in the story called the character the Ghost Who Walks. It describes Bernard’s lifestyle pretty well.

Some mornings B-Hop can be found in the gym, again at 6:00 am, when it first opens. There are few people about and none who would recognize this average looking, 175-pounder. The Alien, Bernard Hopkins, keeps a low profile. Many times I have walked into the gym to talk boxing with him. As I come in, I can catch him looking at me out of the corner of his eye. He just keeps working out on some machine until I approach him and say hello. He acts startled, even though he has been watching me since I first entered the gym. Kinda gives you an eerie feeling. The man is always on his guard. After all, he grew up in a tough neighborhood. His stint at Graterford Prison was also a place where you slept light and always had to be aware of your surroundings.

I noticed this day that he had a big chunky gold Rolex watch on his wrist. My wife got me one too when I retired from teaching a decade ago but not all gold like this one. I had to ask him about the watch. It was so big that it looked as though you had to change the oil and filter on it every five thousand miles! 

So I asked him straight up, “Yo Bernard, what’s with that watch? I got one on my wrist but it’s the little brother to yours!” Hopkins only smiled. “I got it last time I was in China on business,” he said. “Got a great deal on it.” Bernard is the only multimillionaire I know. It’s said he’s worth forty million. “Can I ask what you paid for it?” I asked. “I’ve seen them in the states for about fifty grand.” Watches and cars just make this writer lose his good manners. “Aren’t you afraid of losing it in the gym? Gotta take it off when you train, right?” Hopkins turned to me and said, “Look, I gotta be straight with you, it’s a knockoff. Cost me a hundred bucks over there.” “Why would you buy a fake Rolex when you could buy a real one? You’re Bernard Hopkins.” The champ replied, “Yeah, that’s the point, I’m Bernard Hopkins. When people see the watch on my wrist, nobody would think it wasn’t real. Besides, that way I can keep that fifty grand in the bank.” Hopkins owns dozens of properties in the Philadelphia area. He brags that he can live on his real estate investments alone and simply bank his purses from the ring and his Golden Boy partnership. Yet he watches his money as if he didn’t have much of it. A modest man, he has no one to impress, except when he steps into the ring.

It’s hard to argue with such a mind set. Hopkins grew up poor and now that he’s rich, he still follows that old-school model.

One pleasure he does allow himself is luxury cars. I only know he is home when I see his Mercedes G Wagon parked outside in the garage. On the weekends, this Philly Phantom parks his white Rolls Royce Ghost in front of our building. The Phantom and the Ghost standing by the river—sounds like a new horror story from Steven King.

Hopkins recently adopted a pit bull pup named Jackson. I see him out there in our park with the little guy, again early in the morning. Just Hopkins and man’s best friend. I once asked him if he was friendly with Eagles quarterback Mike Vick when he lived here. Hopkins just shrugged his shoulders. During his parole on a Federal dog fighting conviction, Vick wasn’t allowed to own a dog. He has since bought a Belgian Shepherd. It’s a big powerful animal, used by police all over Europe. Some things never change. The two men had lived on the same floor of the condo tower. Bernard’s only comment was, “I didn’t appreciate the loud noise and weekend parties at Vick’s place.” 

Hopkins is a straight arrow and lives a clean Spartan lifestyle. He doesn’t smoke or drink alcohol, except for the occasional glass of red wine for his heart. The man eats no red meat, just lean chicken, vegetables, fruits and nuts. He drinks plain spring water and fruit juices. His parents were the opposite. Fast food, alcohol and drug problems did them in at an early age. Bernard doesn’t want to make the same mistakes. He seems to be on the right track. Forty-nine years old and planning to unite all the division belts under his name by the time he turns fifty in 2015.

Here is what Bernard hopes to accomplish. He wants the WBA light heavyweight belt of Beibut Shumenov this year. Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer is trying to make that bout happen this April. Hopkins also wants the WBC light heavyweight belt of Adonis Stevenson and the WBO light heavyweight belt of Sergey Kovalev by the end of 2014, just as he is about to turn fifty. He even expressed a desire to fight Andre Ward for his WBA and Ring super middleweight belts and Floyd Mayweather for his WBC welterweight and WBA super welterweight belts before the end of 2015. Bernard also talks about facing Manny Pacquiao next year. I know the man wants to leave the ring with a record that will stand the test of time. But hasn’t he done that already?

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  1. Lit Tony 04:56am, 03/06/2014

    This is straight from the heart.as real as a comment could get.i grew up on boxing.and do not believe there’s a fan other than the Sr commentators that is a bigger boxing fan than me.and where I’m going with this talk about boxing.on a logic stand point is that Bernard Hopkins today is boxing.and this is my opinion but it’s a good one.he has been in the sport a long time.and has a true resume.that is good enough to call some shots in boxing.he has never come up with any excuses.never dodge any opponent.he is well rounded and deserves to be able to draw a fight with any opponent he chooses.he is a legacy right now in the sport of boxing.he doesn’t put other boxers through all of these difficult task for a bout.he is just straight up about his game and will box anybody.and this why he is the best to me.before I could give Mayweather this type of props and respect.i say Mayweather has to sign a fight with Bernard Hopkins.if he really wants to cement his legacy.and at last Pacquiao I mean come man do it right.

  2. kid vegas 08:26pm, 01/28/2014

    nicely DONE Mr Marcus

  3. Eric 02:20pm, 01/28/2014

    Fighting Floyd Mayweather for his welterweight and super welterweight titles? How is Hopkins going to make 147-154lbs at 49-50 years old? He would be weak as a kitten.

  4. Ted Spoon 06:51am, 01/28/2014

    Writing to savour. Nicely done, Norman.

  5. Patricia McMahon 05:57am, 01/28/2014

    I enjoyed reading every word of this article. Norm, you created an excellent portrait of this awesome boxer. He is a Philly treasure.

  6. Matt McGrain 02:04am, 01/28/2014

    Great.

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