“I’m going to get what I still feel is mine…”
An aged fighter overcomes the odds and defeats a young, prime boxer. How many times have we seen this scenario with “The Executioner” Bernard Hopkins? From Felix Trinidad in 2001, through Kelly Pavlik in 2008, B-Hop has made many a boxing and armchair critic look foolish in the way he’s dismantled young fighters. There has been disputed losses along the way (Taylor, Calzaghe), but Hopkins now has an opportunity to win his second light-heavyweight championship. For further incentive, the 45-year-old Hopkins is fighting for the distinction of becoming the oldest champion at boxing history, eclipsing the record George Foreman established in 1994 by knocking out Michael Moorer.
Standing in his way will be Canadian Jean Pascal, who took out the man some say Hopkins was reluctant to face, Chad Dawson. In addition, Hopkins will be going to enemy territory by facing Pascal in his home country of Canada in Quebec City. Will Saturday night (December 18) add another notch in the legacy of Bernard Hopkins, or be the execution of another legend who hung around too long?
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Before we look ahead, let’s talk about what happened with Golden Boy right after the Roy Jones fight. You had your own friction going on with CEO Richard Schaefer. How was everything smoothed over?
Bernard Hopkins: I wouldn’t say it was a lot of friction. People in the boxing industry felt aroused because of the Roy Jones fight, [and Schaefer stating] I should be buried in the same grave that Roy Jones, Jr. is in. Richard Schaefer apologized for making that statement to the media. A win is a win. I understand people look out and care for me. But you talk about timing, and I don’t think the Roy Jones is a blueprint to state Bernard Hopkins doesn’t have anything to contribute to his legacy, or the sport of boxing anymore.
I don’t think anyone should dictate to people whether they should or shouldn’t. I think a lot of people should retire. Matter of fact, I think business people, those who can’t pull the trigger on big deals anymore, should retire. When you hear a statement like that, emotionally, people have to understand no one else can make that decision. I’ve been doing this professionally for 23 years, and since I was nine years old. To me, I looked at it as no one has the right to speak for me but me.
I think it was an honest mistake, and one where you’ll learn from. I made one statement that settled it all. For the sixth round to the 12th, I fought [Roy Jones] damn near blind. That’s no drama, it is what it is. It took Oscar six months after the Pacquiao fight to say he’s retired. You and everyone waited to see what he’d do. Boxing is full of surprises. It’s only right since I’ve put my work in that I get the same, if not more respect.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Last time we talked, you mentioned to me that Chad Dawson was a “failed stock” that HBO had brought into. That was before Pascal beat him. There was no hesitation in you signing to fight Pascal. What makes Jean Pascal such an attractive fight for you?
Hopkins: Well, Chad Dawson did my work for me, by proving he wasn’t the guy HBO was promoting who could fight. I’m not one to use the word “great” often when I’m talking about another athlete. I think great is earned through time and achievement. Boxing is so looser than any other sport, that guys who sit on their asses will give a fighter that stamp of approval before they’ve earned it. A lot of great fighters are turning in their graves when they hear those statements. Things get missing and underrated when you evaluate while they’re still active, as opposed to when you sit back after they’ve retired. When it’s over, that’s when you’re really analyzed. It’s only a few people that were great and active: Michael Jordan, Bernard Hopkins, and a few others. I don’t want to call myself great even though I did, they gave me that title. I think I’ll become greater when I retire and my report card is analyzed.
Chad Dawson, they invested a lot of stock, and a lot of promotional conversation behind that product. If that product in boxing doesn’t deliver like Jermain Taylor, Kelly Pavlik, and a few other names I can run off to you, no one can save you in that ring. It’s just you against another guy’s skill, and you can’t fool the people. TV can be good or bad for you. When people see the truth not being promoted, they basically jump off the bandwagon. Pascal did my dirty work, and settled that conversation about Chad Dawson. I kept telling them if I destroyed another young fighter, what does it do for me if I can’t make a substantial amount of money doing it, or no other tangibles? The RING belt and other titles are very important to me, even at this stage of my career. I’m going back to get what I feel is still mine, going back to the Joe Calzaghe fight.
This shows you how things come full circle. I’m on Showtime for this fight. I won my first title in 1995 against Segundo Mercado on Showtime. I made about 5-6 of my 21 defenses on Showtime, a record that I think will never be broken in my lifetime. Here I’m back. Not necessarily at the end, but not the beginning. How profound is that when, not if, I become the oldest champion in history, beating out George Foreman? That’s enough motivation. If I have to be out of character [to win], I’ll be out of character.
This fight with Pascal, what haven’t I seen in boxing? I respect his swagger to call me out, I’ll give him that. That raised some eyebrows. I have to train on that note itself and be ready; he thinks he can beat me.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You mentioned this isn’t the end. Are you still considering a heavyweight run? I know you wanted David Haye, and he retained his title last month.
Hopkins: It would have been an option now, but Golden Boy didn’t see that fight as being realistic. I thought people would’ve understood it because of historical fights like Michael Spinks-Larry Holmes and Roy Jones-John Ruiz, and David Haye coming from cruiserweight. I’m a fan of David Haye and he’s a fan of mine. We hung out some years ago in Miami. Business is business and not personal, but there has been an agenda to get Bernard Hopkins out of boxing. You remember that night when I beat Kelly Pavlik. I stood on the ring apron and faced the media, [and not] jumping up and down like a buffoon and hollering. I just stared at the media, because I understood the forces wanted me to just go away. I’m not going until I want to.
You remember when I came out with a 75-year-old billionaire named Artie Rabin, who owns have of the clothing industry that every rapper and actress has a label on, with [Frank Sinatra’s] “My Way?” Things get lost in little sound bites of history with media. I do things subtle, and then very bold, which may cost me a fight or two. That was the reason the Kelly Pavlik fight was a devastating blow to HBO, the youth of boxing, and a lot of people. I showed I still had a lot left. I handled that boy every round.
It reminded me of when Dr. King made his final speech, and was dead less than 10 days later. It was someone knowing things might be over, but delivering on his promise. That’s what that stare was about. It didn’t need screaming, I said nothing. It’ll be shown 10-20 years from now. When you analyze the other greats like Ali, Joe Frazier, Satchel Paige, George Foreman etc, I guarantee you that footage will be in there. Larry Merchant said I should have got on the turnbuckle and said “I shocked the world!”
They don’t understand me and never will, because they are not my God. It’s about who I believe protects me. It ain’t Golden Boy. It ain’t any person. There’s nobody who breathes this air that I fear. I’m covered by a higher being, and if my blessing doesn’t come on Monday, that doesn’t mean I get discouraged. I meet so many people around the country that say “Bernard Hopkins, you inspire me. As a man, I changed my ways.” That feels good to me; not doing 24/7’s throwing money in the air, and having 10 cars drive with me to one spot. If I have to act like an idiot to get my just due, I don’t want it. I’m too old for that, I’m 45 years old [laughs]. That same footage, as my brother Mike Tyson says, all the big houses, Versaces etc, next thing you know they’ll be using that in a documentary on you 20 years from now. They don’t get rid of that stuff.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: As someone who’s worked with Showtime and HBO, what’s the difference between their mentalities?
Hopkins: One is trying to gain an audience of being the top network. HBO has been the 400-500 pound gorilla for the last 20-30 years. I personally think the tides are changing just based on the Super Six. I’m a businessman, nothing personal. I think there is people at HBO that need to retire; I said that to Greg Leon over at boxingtalk.com. I think they’ve overstayed their welcome. If boxers can be punch drunk, why not businessman, especially these CEOs of big corporate America, and banks? We all live to die, and don’t have the wit from when we were younger. Do you retire because of your age, or because you can’t do it anymore?
You asked a great question, and I got a lot of ammunition for you, facts! The Super Six was a brilliant idea. You took the best of the 168 pounders, man. And now you got my protégé, Glen Johnson, who’s a live dog, and Andre Ward, who I love. He and the late Vernon Forrest are like my brothers, we have history. When you come and be creative, and can go out with that bank book; it’s a fine line to becoming drunk with that power. We’ve seen preachers and priests become drunk with that power. We’ve seen politicians get caught up in all types of indiscretions. Everyone can’t handle that, sometimes you get lazy.
It’s like a fighter after they’ve won the championship. Instead of getting up at 5 AM to run, they get up at 10 AM. It’s not that they’re a bad person, some become bad, and it’s that power of comfort. It makes some egos not as aggressive, and become part of the industry. We know who used to pay the most, and that might not even be the case anymore after this year. As far as the viewership on TV right now, I’d love to see the ratings between Showtime and HBO. This year is in the books already in corporate America. I’d really like to see the comparison between HBO and Showtime Championship Boxing. You could definitely write about that. I could be wrong. Now that Showtime is doing other weight divisions with tournaments, they’re tying up top fighters. I think a couple people over there [HBO] might need to reconsider their job. Ya lost a step, buddy!
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Everyone is familiar with your middleweight reign. Last time, I asked you how you would do against fellow greats like Hagler and Monzon. But you’ve been a light-heavyweight for some years now. When you look at the greats at 175 like Archie Moore and Ezzard Charles, who do you think would be your biggest challenge?
Hopkins: I would have to say Matthew Saad Muhammad.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Would that be because of his brawling ability and recuperative powers?
Hopkins: Exactly. It would be a bloodbath. Put it this way, we’d probably end up in ICU with straws in our mouths asking we did we do this to each other.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Excellent conversation as always, Bernard. Any closing thoughts?
Hopkins: December 18, I will make history and inspire every 40 plus year old person. Whatever they aspire to do in their hearts and minds, they can achieve it. December 18 will be history.
Bernard Hopkins vs. Jean Pascal will be for the linear and RING Magazine light-heavyweight title. The fight airs live from Quebec City, Canada this Saturday (December 18) on Showtime Championship Boxing at 10 PM ET.