Bernard Hopkins is synonymous with Philadelphia boxing. Throughout his career, the man once known as “The Executioner” has been at the top of the list as a crowd favorite in the City of Brotherly Love. Hopkins’ style and persona has endeared him to the people of Philadelphia like few other fighters, as he truly is one of their own.
Hopkins interviews have always been crowd-pleasers as some of his best and most entertaining work has been in front of the microphone. For example: “If you don’t know your value, somebody will tell you your value and it’ll be less than you’re worth.” Or how about this quote, which speaks to the challenges Hopkins faced in years past: “You’ve got to be willing to look at a guy’s face and say, ‘I will kill you if I have to.’ Prison is a thing where talking gets you killed. The guy that you fear is a guy that says nothing.”
The story of Bernard Hopkins is one of redemption, a true rags-to-riches tale worthy of the big screen. He grew up in the projects of North Philadelphia, surrounded by crime and poverty, where by the age of 11 he was involved in criminal activity and was stabbed three times by the time he was 14. At 17 he was sentenced to 18 years in prison for strong-arm robbery and served five years of his sentence.
In prison Hopkins witnessed men being raped, brutalized, and even murdered. The future seven-time champion also had to deal with the shooting death of his own brother, Michael, an event that occurred while he was incarcerated. But prison also introduced him to boxing and he quickly developed a passion for the sport. When released, he vowed he would never return and would instead try to make a positive difference on the outside.
Hopkins is one of boxing’s all-time great champions, as evidenced by his record-setting 20 consecutive middleweight title defenses. He is also the oldest boxer to win a world title, a record he set in 2011 when he defeated Jean Pascal at the age of 46, and which he then twice broke when he outboxed Tavoris Cloud in 2013 and Beibut Shumenov in 2014. His reputation for being one of the cleverest and most tenacious of boxers was evident when many experts picked him to defeat Sergey Kovalev in November of 2014. “The Alien” dropped a one-sided decision to the powerful Russian and has not fought since.
However, Hopkins, now 51, is entertaining the possibility of one more match to finally bring his career to a close, though his options appear limited. He expressed interest in dropping down in weight to take on middleweight king Gennady Golovkin but that proposition was scuttled when GGG signed to face Dominic Wade. The name Arthur Abraham was also floated as a possible opponent but that was before he agreed to defend his title against Gilberto Ramirez on the Pacquiao vs Bradley undercard. Otherwise, Hopkins knows that given his ties to Golden Boy Promotions and HBO, securing a match with an Al Haymon boxer is unlikely, which excludes James DeGale and Adonis Stevenson. Hopkins also acknowledges that Father Time is not on his side.
Putting aside all this speculation regarding a possible farewell fight, the future first-ballot Hall of Famer recently sat down with me to offer his thoughts on a wide range of topics.
On what it takes to be a real champion: “Think about the logic of a date. You finally get the date with that girl you’re after, but then you forget to brush your teeth. You’re blue, see? You have to prepare. Anybody can take you there, but you gotta stay there. You can get there with one fight, but you gotta stay there with preparation.”
On being disciplined during a fight: “If you got a gallon of water and have to survive off that water for a week, what would you do? At some point, you’re gonna drink all the water right away because you can’t take it anymore. But as a fighter, you have to stay focused and be disciplined. That’s how you are successful.”
On overcoming adversity to achieve greatness: “You get the opportunity to work your butt off, to get yourself in position to win. But then you don’t win, or you don’t perform, or you’re involved in controversy. Those are the moments that you have to seize. If you can handle that, then you can become a dynasty and become the face of the sport. It is about how you set yourself apart to set yourself up in history. In Philly, that’s how you become a J-ROCK (Julian Willams) or Danny Garcia. Even the setbacks become opportunities.”
On how a top fighter can separate himself from all the other title-holders: “Having a world title is secondary now with so many belts around. If you’re a champion, you can be in second place because there are multiple champions, four or five in each division. There’s a big debate in the barber shop about who is best. Then it becomes about defenses, longevity. Being successful will separate you from the pack.”
On taking pride in his work as an HBO commentator: “Calling the fights for me is natural. I don’t look at myself as being critical; I look at myself as educating the people at home. I want to do something different than any analyst is doing, which is teaching. Teaching you not only why a guy is throwing a right hand, but why he ain’t throwing a left hook. When he gets that one punch in, he’s not on balance which is why he can’t land the left hook since he’s not ready to throw it. Now, I’m educating you. I’m teaching you about The Sweet Science.”
On the upcoming middleweight title fight between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Amir Khan: “It’s gonna be closer than people think. Khan is smart and he really knows how to box. He’s not the hardest puncher. I think he’s more of a guy that isn’t flashy, but has such a deep pedigree. Khan has been trying to get this shot for two or three years.”
But Hopkins believes Canelo’s size, style and history may prove challenging for Khan. “Canelo is a rough and tough, ‘nuts and bolts’ guy. He’s the bigger, meatier guy, younger, stronger, fresher. Because of the Mayweather fight, where he probably didn’t win a round, he has that experience, the bad taste of losing at that level. Psychologically, Canelo has been there before.”
Whether or not Hopkins laces up the gloves again, remains to be seen. But what was clear during our talk is that he is embracing his role as a mentor and an educator to boxers and fight fans alike. And Bernard knows, unlike a fighter’s career, this is a vocation with no time limit. — Thad Moore