Bernard Hopkins dons the executioner's mask again on Saturday night. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
This Saturday night on HBO from Atlantic City, Bernard Hopkins defends the light heavyweight world championship in a rematch against Chad Dawson, following their controversial and much-discussed October fight in Los Angeles. Below, Hopkins speaks to the media on a conference call about the fight, whether or not he has home field advantage, and, well, a lot of things. No one does a conference call quite like Bernard Hopkins.
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I’m here to answer some questions.
Talking to Dawson earlier he said that he would use his physical strength and kind of take control of the fight and that he really didn’t get much from the first fight, of course, because it was ended in two rounds. I was wondering are you going to approach this fight a little bit differently because you’re able to get into a fighter’s mind.
You’re able to kind of bully them around. You do clench, punch, make cute moves at times, but with Dawson being who he is with his quickness, we didn’t really see a lot of it on display in the first fight, how are you going to approach this fight? Are you going to approach it any differently from the first encounter?
I’m going to approach it the way I’ve been trained to approach it and the way I’ve been working and camping my strategy. But all that he said was what he’s going to do but let’s see your work. If he said he’s going to do what he’s going to do then I think the best thing to witness is come April 28th.
So I’m not going to get into a dog and cat fight and I ain’t the cat. I’m not going to go back and forth and say he’s going to do this and he’s going to do that.
At the end of the day, I really don’t have too much to say but this is protocol. You have to do things to bring people interest. So I understand that. But right now it’s too much for me to say. The only thing I want to do is this show. Whoever can make it, make it. Whoever don’t, don’t, but it will be on TV.
And Richard Schaefer did point out that you didn’t have to take this fight, although Gary Shaw pointed out that it was mandated by the WBC. Why did you take this fight? You know you don’t have to take any fight you don’t want to take, you had other fights out there on the horizon, why did you take this fight, this rematch?
Because I’m a legend.
Is this the type of fight here, of course you win, your legend gets even bigger, what do you look ahead of accomplishing? If you get this fight, do you want to unify the title? Do you want to move up? You talked about moving to heavyweight. What is there ahead of you if you win this fight?
Right now I want to beat Chad Dawson. Right now I want to beat Chad Dawson in one of the greatest places that I’ve started my career on the mat, and that’s Atlantic City.
Who knows what the future holds after I beat Chad Dawson, because if you remember when I beat Kelly Pavlik they blackballed and sat me down for 16 months after a hell of a performance that most of you all had me losing, not only by a decision, but by a knockout. So it isn’t up to me where I go when I win. Just watch what the establishment might do because there’s another person that will want to … a list of so many young fighters and we never saw them again. Some ran into the trees. Some tried to revamp their career. Some just fell off the planet earth, boxing wise.
So my plan is April 28th because I understand what I’m facing. I understand what I’m up against. And when you understand that for years and years and years of my career, I don’t think as far as you all do. I know where to think and I know where to cut it off. I know what a win would do and what a win won’t do for me, only me.
This is the only Bernard Hopkins’ rule they got for me. This isn’t anybody else’s rule in boxing, not Floyd Mayweather, not Amir Khan, not any other fighter the last 15-20 years. It’s the Bernard Hopkins rules that they made up.
So winning isn’t always a good thing in the politics of Bernard Hopkins. Trust me. Look at the track record. When you see come the 28th of April and you see me reenact what I did in October of 2008, even better performance, then I’ll think about what I’m going to do not what they want to do with me. That’s the difference.
Bernard, I think those might look at this match up and see you’re the underdog, as you’ve been other times, and it’s almost like it’s where you want to be; underdog against Tarver, underdog against Trinidad, underdog against Pavlik. You pulled the rabbit out of the hat and beat all three of those guys. You didn’t just beat them; you beat them decisively.
Are you basically in a spot where you want to be? Where you thrive the best when there are not a lot of people that give you the real legitimate chance to actually win the fight against a guy that’s so much younger than you are, almost 20 years younger than you?
Well that’s being kind of mild. I was born in 1965 and a great year for segregation. I was the underdog based on being black. So being the underdog in boxing or being the underdog when others have their opinion, this is kids play.
You’ve taken it a little too deep than what it is. To be the underdog, obviously you’re blessed not to have a sun tan like me, but trust me, people like me, and I say people like me, understand underdog as the sport – whether it’s sport, whether it’s play, whether it’s corporate America, whether it’s just being the situation you are. So am I comfortable being in this situation? Maybe. Maybe I got immune to it. Maybe it grew on me over the years.
But whatever it is, it doesn’t take away the talent of Bernard Hopkins in the last 20 plus years. It doesn’t take away what I do in the ring and what I’ve done out of the ring. At the end of the day, whether it’s the underdog because they say I should be the underdog, I can say I fight and I prove that and I’m going to continue to show that you might have opinions, whoever, but that don’t mean that you have to be right. And that’s my job to prove it come April 28th.
I know what I know and I start getting kind of old in boxing because to be honest with you, I don’t really have too much to say any more the last two or three years even though I try to push myself to give people something because it’s part of the game in boxing. You do a lot of talking. Then you do a lot of backing up. Some do and some don’t, but I think I am getting kind of old in my age where right now I get agitated even doing these interviews because it seems to be the same questions and nobody else has anything different to ask me.
It’s not that people are wrong for asking me, it’s that I’ve been around so long. 24 years if my math is right, 1988. If you take half of those 24 years, what else can you ask Bernard Hopkins? The news isn’t when I win. The news is if I lose. That becomes news to you all, and I understand that because I’ve built a track record. I’ve been right more than I’ve been wrong. You all have been wrong more than you have been right. It’s nothing personal.
I just want to lay the platform out there for everybody who’s on the air listening that I understand that you have to dig in the bag of tricks or a rabbit out of the hat, because it’s what else are you going to ask me? "Are you going to stay, Bernard?" You can’t ask me that or, "Are you mentally ready, Bernard?" You damn sure aren’t going to ask me that. So you got to find these things to create what, a conversation. I’d rather talk about something else, but this is part of the protocol game so let’s play the game.
April 28th is the only thing I want to say, the only thing I want to show, and you’re going to see it. You’re going to want to come up and shake my hand and tell me how great I am. And that’s when I’m going to say, "Thank you," and go home and sleep in my bed that I haven’t been in for nine weeks.
Bernard, with this fight, you’ve made a big deal about your age for a long time. 47 years old now going into this fight, do you think about it, win, lose, draw, whatever the case may be; do you see yourself with a future in boxing beyond this fight?
I just repeated something that happened in October of 2008. Now I’ll repeat it again. The rules are different for Bernard Hopkins. The rules should be different for Bernard Hopkins because I’ve made them that way, in the ring and out of the ring.
Winning doesn’t mean that you might see me fight HBO or Showtime again. You know why? Because if you remember, as Richard eloquently reminded ya’ll, that after the Pavlik fight, which any other fighter would become an instant, if he wasn’t a star, he would have been a triple star, instead I went fishing for 16 months. Do you think that was an accident?
No, what I’m saying is this. When you ask me questions like that, if I was any other fighter, from top to bottom, it would be already there before you know the next move. The next move would’ve not been even a question of where that person would go, where that fighter would go.
But see, I didn’t already establish a lot of things that you can’t really see things will be great and dandy after this fight because they’ll find an excuse to say, "Well Chad Dawson wasn’t." They’ll find a loophole, like in court, to say what Chad Dawson didn’t have all of a sudden, but they’re going to reserve that just in case they’re right about what they predicted. So I know what I’m dealing with here and they know I know what I’m dealing with and they know me. So let’s play the game and let’s see who can play it the best.
There’s one thing everybody on this line can understands and knows; I’ve been right more than I’ve been wrong. How many reporters can say they’ve been more right about their predictions than more wrong? How many are honest to say he was more right than wrong? But when it comes to me, I guess the predictors; they know what my track record is. They know what my track record is. I don’t have to repeat that. I don’t have to repeat that. I’ll just say we’re on the countdown right now, and any other sticky coat questions or scenarios or what’s going to happen, this better be shown April 28th, because at the end of that day that’s all that really matters.
You know you’re going to get a sound bite from him. You’re going to get a sound bite from me. But at the end of the day, what you care about is when you sit down there in the audience and is Bernard going to do what you said earlier, pull a rabbit out of a hat? I will see a rabbit out of a hat. I will say I’ll just continue to kick the naysayer’s ass in and out of the ring, because that’s the task that I’ve always been up against. And I don’t mind that. It’s not anger. It’s a challenge. You all have been by biggest motivator. Without that, it wouldn’t be me where I’ve been.
You fought here about 16 or 17 times now. Is there a comfort level that comes with fighting in Atlantic City, being that it’s been, especially lately, it’s been home to some of your biggest wins? Is there like a, I don’t know, like a hometown advantage do you think almost for you?
No. There’s no hometown advantage for me. My opponent, he’s from Connecticut, which is around the corner. I’m from Philadelphia, which is next door. There’s no hometown advantage.
A hometown advantage is when you’ve got the judges, the referee, and the politics on your side. That’s hometown advantage. That’s home court. Trust me. When you’re the basketball player and you got your cousin as a referee, he’ll blow the whistle every time. You don’t even have the ball and he blows the whistle. That’s the hometown advantage.
But with me, you have to remember you’re dealing with Bernard Hopkins. You’re dealing with Bernard Hopkins. There is no home court advantage for Bernard Hopkins. The rules are different for me, man. The rules are different.
The rules are different for certain athletes that come amongst us. The rules are different for Jim Brown. He made a way. The rules are different with Satchel Paige. He made a way. The rules are different with Muhammad Ali. He made a way. The rules are different with Gary Russell. He made a way.
The rules are different for anybody that’s stood up for what they believed in, whether they’ve cost them their career, their lives or their job. The rules are different for certain unique people that do these things. So it’s never a home court advantage.
They would never rock me to sleep. Matter of fact, as far as I’m concerned, I’m fighting in his backyard. As far as I’m concerned, I’m fighting on enemy territory because you won’t rock me to sleep and you can’t rock me to sleep, to think that anybody’s going to do Bernard Hopkins a damn favor.
Okay. I just thought the fact that you’ve fought there 17 times, he never has fought there, that you might have some sort of comfort level maybe.
No. That’s because 17 times I was right more than I was wrong. It just happened to be that way. Hey listen, it just happened to be that way. You can look at when I fought in L.A. the last fight. Golden Boy is based out of L.A. Oscar is from L.A. You see what they did to me and tried to do to me there if I didn’t stand over my lawyers and my promotional team?
Are you kidding me? This is in Los Angeles, California where Oscar is famous like a Magic Johnson who plays for the Lakers. Are you kidding me? This is where you fight even harder. Where it should be a little different because you are home and everybody’s catering to you.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, I’m too much of a veteran to go for that okie doke. That’s one of those moves when you’re a rookie you think that you home and everything’s good and most fighters lose at home because they so comfortable and they so relaxed and they so everything’s going to be catered to them and then the it’s the worst day of your life, the worst night of your life.
Well I was just curious why you call it one of the greatest places you’ve ever fought on the map earlier?
Because I’m biased because I live right up the road. I’m supposed to say that. I’m from Philadelphia.
Listen, I like this. This is all a game. It’s all a game. It’s a game of chess not checkers. It’s a game in the ring. There’s a game out of the ring. I hear the whispers. I hear the whispers. It’s all a game. And you know what? Right now I’m winning the game. I’m winning the game and April 28th that the physical part of the game, but the other game is vicious because you don’t see the part that’s coming.
Bernard, I’m going to ask the same question as I asked you in front of the art museum last summer. How is it that a lot of these younger fighters, strong, fast and all this other stuff, why do they have problems against you? Is it more a mental thing? Is it a physical thing? Is it a combination of both?
Well I’m not young so you can’t ask me that question. You have to ask them. I don’t know what‘s in their head. We all call ourselves fighters. We all call ourselves athletes. They’ve got great trainers or you could say good trainers or potential great trainers, some had, some don’t, but I think it’s the lame excuse to downplay who I am.
Because when you take away the person’s ability to make a person do what you want them to do and you say because it’s mental, like I did something to undermine it all, underhand or under the table, like it’s against the rules, you just flat out beat a guy because maybe I’m just better.
Did anybody ever thought or think that maybe I’m just better than the generation that’s here in the last five or ten years. Maybe I’m just better. Did anybody ever think maybe it isn’t the mind games? It isn’t that Bernard Hopkins has got that look that he can bully somebody before the punch is thrown.
I disagree that most people think that what I do is about a head game. Why do you think I’ve been quiet? Because to be quiet, until this media phone conference—because if I don’t say anything and I don’t do anything then they can’t accuse me and charge me, "Well you know, Bernard, witness here."
So I’m trying to eliminate a monster let the cat out of the bag since we kind of close. I was trying to eliminate the excuse for my performance and the excuse for my eye openers, since they don’t want to give me the money that I deserve and they don’t want to give me the prestige that I deserve, as Richard said, and they don’t want to give me credit for what I deserve. Then maybe, just maybe Bernard’s just better than this generation.
It’s not a crime. It’s very unique, I would say. It’s very strange in a good way, if strange can be mentioned in a good thing. So they rely on other excuses to downplay Bernard Hopkins’ uniqueness in the world of all these fighters that fight in the day past 30 years old or younger. They just don’t want to give me the credit.
But they don’t have to because I already won. I won ten years ago. I could’ve stopped and did them all a favor. I already won. But I’m on something else right now and that something else is even greater than what I’ve done in the last 10-15 years, believe it or not, and I’ve done a lot of great things. But April 28th is going to be something that you’re all gonna saying, "Man"—I’m gonna rewrite the book. I’m gonna rewrite the book.
Bernard, one of those fights that comes to mind where this very similar situation developed and the guy was a southpaw was the first fight with Robert Allen. And I remember even the commentator, was questioning you as is Dawson and his promoter whether or not you were really hurt. We know what the result of that second fight was a second round knockout, seventh round knockout.
Am I right about the similarities between that fight and this one? You getting pushed out of the ring and then questioned about whether or not you were hurt and then the way you came back in that fight and Robert questioning you as well?
Carbon copy, it’s like looking in the mirror. Fortunately and unfortunately in my career I’ve been in two situations, maybe three. I remember Antoine Echols I just remember that. He picked me up at the Venetian. He been frustrated I was dancing circles around his head and he picked me up and slammed me down. And I had a dislocated shoulder. I remember that fight on HBO.
Yes, but you won that fight that night. This one—
I understand I won that fight because I chose to get up and I chose to do what I had to do. I won it by a knockout in the 11th. But to answer the question about the Robert Allen second fight, it is a similarity. So close its not scary but it is very profound that I’m under the same situation and it’s going to be even stranger when the same result happens.
Because at the end of the day, I’m always at my best when by dignity, my pride and my name is the only thing that I have when I leave this earth. And even though I can’t stop everybody and anybody from saying what they think about me, I’m on something else. I’m fighting for something else more than just a … in this game that some of us can fall in love with.
So as I sit here and I do this interview and I’m looking at the gym right now, I know what I have to do. Whatever he said he’s going to do I believe he’s going to try, and that’s when everybody’s going to enjoy Bernard Hopkins in the … that I’ve always showed but they just wasn’t paying attention. They weren’t paying attention. They seriously weren’t paying attention.
I believe I’m the most underrated fighter that ever walked on the planet Earth that reached this level. When it comes to speed, when it comes to talent, when it comes to hit and not get hit without running, when it comes to the basic fundamentals of boxing, I believe that I’m the most underrated fighter that ever laced a pair of gloves on, that reached a level that I’ve reached in my 24 years. And that’s a motivation for me to keep pushing, to prove that I’ve been and who I am.
Bernard, are you also at—you talked about being at your best when your dignity and pride is at stake. Are you also at your best in terms of the fight itself when a guy feels brave enough to challenge you and feel like you’re not what he thought you were? Do they play into your hand similarly?
I don’t know. Well it wasn’t anything that played into my hand because it’s nothing I set up. It’s nothing I would use as a strategy. It’s nothing I’d use as a head game, some would say, when they want to make an excuse for their wrong and my right.
I believe that the older guys that happen to be around are very few has enough sense and have enough experience to know that they have to be more careful in any certain spots. That’s the veteran in some of the fighters that may be still around. But any entity or any person that’s young, they haven’t reached that level of patience and experience. So it’s nothing that they’ve done wrong. It’s just something they’ve got to live through.
Some will live through it and realize this year and some won’t. Some will fall victim to what you just mentioned. That they will play into our hand that really wasn’t leading out for them to play in to, but because of their thinking, because of what they feel, it could be dislike, it could be, "I’m better." It could be, "I’m jealous." It could be, "I envy." It could be, "I want his status. I want his life. I want his record. I want to be this. I want to be that."
A lot of us want to be a lot of things that we can’t be yet or never. That’s the game changer, and instead of six, five, four, three, two, one or even up to eight, nine, ten and 11, that’s the game changer sometime in the fight where you have to man up and nothing else matter, nothing else matter.
So you want him to come to you and try to take your head off is basically what you’re saying?
I want him to come to me and stick his chin out and let me hit him.
As long as he doesn’t lift your legs off.
Exactly. I mean he can come the way we want to come, but I don’t think a 29-year-old or a 30-year-old right now is going to dance away from a 47-year-old. Ya’ll would embarrass him. Ya’ll would kill him in your papers.
So any 27-year-old is told, already know the strategy, with an old guy or older guy what do you do? You make him fight harder than he wants to fight. Well, that’s one way if you’re dealing with an average 47 year old, but what happens where he matches the same energy and matches the same speed and he isn’t breathing?
Is he going to use the excuse that Pascal used and say I was on some kind of steroids? Is he going to use the excuse that I’m drinking some kind of jungle juice? Is he going to use the excuse that maybe sometime I might've seen some witch doctor? See, when they got a plan because their trainer and the people tell him this and they tell him that and it doesn’t work, that’s the fight. That’s when you sit back and you say, "Man we got him by another—"You all are going to call an upset. And you know what? You should, because I’m 47 right?
So look for the excuse when it’s all said and done. You’re going hear so much crazy stuff. It isn’t going be laughable to some media people because they went out gung ho and they want be right just like I want to be right. So a lot of them aren’t going be happy.
But just understand come April 28th, just watch. Tell your granddaughter, your grandson, your kids for the older guys, that you’re watching a person in this era like when Ray Robinson was in his. Ali was in his. Hagler was in his. Ray Leonard was in his, because in this is the legacy I leave. I’m telling you. You’ll miss, not me personality, because I don’t really care, but you’ll miss what you took for granted when time gone.
I want to take you back 24 years, also in Atlantic City, a 23-year-old named Bernard Hopkins making his pro debut against a guy named Clinton Mitchell. Can you tell me what you remember about that fight? I think it was before Bouie Fisher. I think it was at light heavyweight, whatever details you can remember. What you learned from that night, because obviously we all know what happened afterwards, as far as your career?
I know clearly like it was yesterday what happened. What happened that night was I had to tell myself whether I want to do this or go back on the streets of Philadelphia. And if you look at my record, from 1988-’89 to half of ’90, ’88-’89 and a half of ’90, I was inactive, if you look at my record.
I had to come to grips with whether I was going to live, think, eat, and dedicate myself to boxing. And I made that choice. I wasn’t a guy that was doing drugs or smoking or drinking, but my lifestyle of eating and being ignorant to the game, because I just came home not too long ago from the prison of Graterford State Penitentiary, and I didn’t have all the knowledge that I have now. So the discipline wasn’t as full blown as it is and has been for the two decades.
So when I made that decision, and it takes a strong mind and a strong discipline and a strong character to, even in good times, not to fall off the wagon. You can ask a lot of people in rehab. You can ask a lot of people that try to kick a habit that they can’t kick, whatever it is, whatever it is. And I told myself this is what I want to do. I don’t want to be in prison and don’t want to be visiting the graveyard. Well you can’t visit, don’t want to be permanent in the graveyard, if you’re dead. And I made that choice.
So I remember that real, real clear because if you look at, and you already know, what happened after that. I came back with a terror. I came back running all 20 straight wins, 17 maybe 18 by knockout and became number one in the IBF in 1993 as the number one contender in the IBS. He was number two. Lost that fight by decision, which was a learning step for me and from RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. in 1993 on HBO, I went on the runoff ten plus years as the undefeated, undisputed middleweight champion of the world, setting a record that not only Carlos Monzon but also the great Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
And then from there I wasn’t done. From there I went up two weight classes after the heist of the Jermaine Taylor two fights. I went up and then they said I’m going up to get a payday. I don’t sell my name, my soul, or my pride for a dollar. And I went up and did what Ray Robinson himself one round from doing Yankee Stadium and that was answering a 15-round because of the heat exhaustion at 125 degree weather at Yankee Stadium.
So I made history that no one else ever done, not even the great. So I remember that clear and I understand what came off of that, what rebounded off that. The legacy began when I made that choice between whether I going to dedicate my life and dedicate my lifestyle that having change got better from 1988 until 2012. How many people in the world, how many people that are successful can say they did it their way.
Not many, not many. I guess the one question I had is was it a matter of you sort of underestimating what it required to be a prize fighter, because obviously you look at the names of the few people that have beat you and obviously this guys doesn’t really fall in their class?
No. It’s based on ignorance. When you don’t know; you don’t know. See I don’t charge the guy for being ignorant and somehow he paid a price for being ignorant because he really didn’t know. But once you pay that price and you physically survived it, it doesn’t kill you. It doesn’t knock you out. Then you are charged if you do it again, as far as I’m concerned.
I’m talking about life. I’m not talking about a criminal act. You didn’t train. You didn’t run. You didn’t sacrifice. You didn’t put the time in. That’s why I’m so obsessed with staying in shape, whether I’m fighting or whether I’m not fighting, I put this in there as a—this is a lifestyle for me. Some people going to be toxic. They have got to stop drinking. They have got to stop doing whatever they’re doing, and then they have got to go to camp.
I’m not saying I’m better. There are people say better. I say different. They’re different in a lot of ways. I’m not a fool to think that I’m here because I’m just that good. Listen, I think there’s a lot of fighters out there that are as talented as me, that might be overly talented than me, but there’s one thing that I’ve had and that I got and that I will never lose even in my personal life is the discipline to stay the course.
And that is the biggest, biggest, biggest, biggest challenge that any human being that’s breathed the life of air that we breathe is the discipline to stay the course because good can make you comfortable. Achieving can make you soft. The hotter you keep that intensity and still reap the benefits of your labor.
That’s a very hard challenge. It’s not easy, but that’s a very a hard challenge and some people will succeed and some people will not. It doesn’t make them bad. It doesn’t make them good. It’s just the way it is. I understand that and that gives me the upper hand to understand the course. And that’s the course. Through good, through bad, through in between, stay the course and be willing to roll with the punches whether you here that day or go on the next. It is what it is.