Photo Credit: Hogan Photos
The last time we saw Bernard Hopkins in a boxing ring, we saw an aged legend fighting valiantly against a younger, stronger beast in then light-heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev. The winner wasn’t in doubt. The question was could Hopkins make it to the final bell after being dropped earlier and back-pedaling from a murderous puncher. Hopkins would not only survive, but get in a few counter shots to remind Kovalev that things might have been different 10 years ago.
The brave stand could have been a fitting way for Bernard Hopkins to end a near 70-fight career that started when George Bush Sr. was president in 1988. But if fans have learned anything from Bernard Hopkins, it’s that he does things his way, and the future Hall of Famer felt it was fitting to head into the ring one last time on Saturday December 17 against Joe Smith Jr. (22-1, 18 KOs).
Smith is not an easy farewell fight on paper. He’s 27 years old to Hopkins’ 51, and coming off one of the year’s biggest upsets when he knocked-out the previously durable Andrzej Fonfara in one round.
BeatBoxingMayhem: You had a brave showing last year going the distance against Sergey Kovalev. What made you want to come back for a final bout?
Hopkins: First, Joe Smith Jr. is a hungry, young contender coming up in the division. That right there is a shoo-in for me. Second, [I wanted] to go out not the way people think I should because they feel I’ve done enough. I need to be me and do things not in an arrogant way, but my way. This is the way I’ve always been. I have to be satisfied and be content with myself to know when it’s done.
This approach has helped me a lot in my sports and personal life. Here I am approaching December 17 getting ready to close that historic book of discipline and sticking to what you believe in. Certain things in life you don’t compromise. What a way to go out.
BeatsBoxingMayhem: The way boxing politics are now, is it still possible to have a career like yours? These days fighters seem to have to choose between money or legacy.
Hopkins: Hey, listen — if Donald Trump can be president, it’s possible for anyone in this world to do anything!
BeatsBoxingMayhem: As a fighter, talk about the process of wealth-building. Especially considering your on the promoter side as well with Golden Boy.
Hopkins: First, you have to arm yourself with education no matter what occupation you’re a part of. I don’t care if it’s sports or corporate America. Whether you’re the CEO or employee, you need education to elevate yourself and take someone’s position. The competition is fierce; everyone that is in a prominent position took that spot from someone else.
Nobody’s job is safe. They have a saying called “You fell off,” and you know what that means. At law firms if you don’t bring in a certain amount of money per year, that means you’ve fallen off and you’ll be called into a little room to talk about your numbers. And if you don’t pull your weight, then another lawyer will be brought in to take your place. I took a page from that reality and I put it into my life and thinking.
I educated myself on the business of boxing. A lot of it was forced upon me, but I embraced it. Sometimes it was with tears and questioning myself on if I was making the right decision. My thing was “How can I be different and survive this thing? And what would that do for other fighters to have inspiration and a blueprint to go by?”
I hope I accomplished that, by only time will tell.
BeatsBoxingMayhem: We’ve all heard the famous Marvin Hagler quote of how hard it is to get up for road work when you’re sleeping in silk sheets. How hard was it to resurrect “The Executioner” mindset for this fight?
Hopkins: It’s not difficult at all for me because I’ve been operating like that. There are people in my family I can’t take care of. I have a big family with third and fourth cousins, and they have mothers. I know there is always a class in this world that will remind us, the ones that made it out, that we can always end up back where we started. That’s not always good, especially in sports.
I kept that close to me. I needed that hunger to face all types of adversity: court battles, sick relatives and opponents in the ring. Even if you’re not there physically, you mentally have to go back to where you started, where you had nothing and got through it. I know how to prepare for a fight and still open a refrigerator that’s full but look at it like it’s empty. That takes a hell of a lot of strength and discipline.
Those who’ve been paying attention like yourself and others, not a lot, see that in me. They see that in me.
Hopkins vs. Smith airs live on HBO World Championship Boxing this Saturday (December 17) at 10 p.m.