Bernard Hopkins is one of the last of a dying breed. As a boxing master, he uses techniques from the sport’s golden era that are lost on many modern practitioners. But it’s not just Bernard’s boxing acumen that’s kept him a top pound for pound fighter even into his mid 40s, but also a strong, defiant belief in himself created from a turbulent history. Recently, the future Hall of Famer took some time to let loose his thoughts on a variety of topics, ranging from boxing, to racial stereotypes, to the connection between sports and African-Americans. Love him or hate him, Bernard Hopkins is a self-made man. Delve into the mind of one of the sport’s true throwbacks.
On the Klitschko’s Heavyweight Dominance
They’ve come up in a time where the heavyweight division is non-important. So they [promoters] try to create these guys and trick people into thinking there’s something special happening as far as fights go and there is not. This is something I’m not proud of. I’m a promoter in the boxing business. It ain’t about the Recession unless you want to b####### yourself. It could be clear and if the heavyweight division is like it is today, who cares? We need that excitement. But if that excitement is gonna come, I don’t know.
A promoter’s only hope with the Klitschko’s is that maybe they’re underestimating a guy, the dark horse. Like Buster Douglas and Mike Tyson. They got to create a reality to make something happen. You got nothing to make soup; you still try to make something out of nothing, even if it’s hot water and some salt.
Why Boxing Doesn’t Have the Next Generation Talent Pool of Other Sports
The community that I come from, the luring of the streets and the lack of patience, discipline needed to be a champion is not there. Gyms are not producing a deep pool of talent. The NBA can look at high school or college players right now as we speak and already know who the next Jordan is, the next LeBron. Right now they can say “boy if you think LeBron was something out of high school, wait until you see this kid.” It got so deep in the NBA you can’t come out of high school anymore. Let’s look at us. Who’s going to be the next Roy Jones, Bernard Hopkins, Manny Pacquiao, or Floyd Mayweather? There’s no deep pool of fighters yet. Yeah, we get one every now and then like Andre Ward, Olympic gold medal winner, but no deep pool.
I’ve been asked why kids aren’t having the discipline to go into Philly gyms that I came from like the Power Clubs and Philadelphia Police Clubs where you had the talent being groomed to become fighters. The problems are the streets, crack cocaine, and videos they see so everyone thinks they can become a rapper. So you have the choice of starting off at the Blue Horizon like I did for $400 with the hopes of being a champion later on. That’s too much hope for some people! They’re like wait a minute; I can go in the gym and box for $400 and it still may not happen? Or I can get a ki of cocaine and be driving a Bentley in 6 months if I don’t get caught? Now weigh the options between patience, investing in your life by fighting local fights for small money or seeing your friend on the corner make 10 grand in an hour. And I gotta get a trainer, too?
We have the knowledge that it’s wrong [to sell drugs]. But that’s too much thinking and trying to figure it out for someone in the hood. It’s gonna get worse. We’re in a microwave society. It ain’t about the family sitting at home anymore for over 50% of this country. Everybody has to work, pay taxes, etc. There’s no time to sit home like grandma used to do and cook food from scratch. That sacred process is gone. Now you hit 3 buttons and you got a full course Thanksgiving meal in seconds.
Now translate that mentality to boxing. Fighters are getting exposed so early because they didn’t get a chance to blossom and become that sweet peach. If you pick it before it’s ready it becomes hard. When you bite into it, it has no sweetness. Now look at boxing. As soon as a guy gets so many wins they snatch the money. When a fighter gets pushed into that microwave mentality by greedy, thieving promoters and some managers, then they don’t care about the future. They care about their quick hit. Because their biggest thing is nothing is guaranteed. When you got that mentality, you’ll guide a fighter through safely, and as soon as a dollar becomes more than the future, that’s where boxing becomes dead.
How He’s Survived and Thrived in Boxing
How was I able to come up with a mentality to counteract the b#######? You have to be around it but not become of it. Keep your immune system always up. I’m going to be judged by being different and rare. You can say I lost my first fight and pulled myself up by my boot straps. But I had a history and really a hard lesson before life in boxing ever hit me.
I did 5 years in the penitentiary. I walked off 9 years of parole. I got 30 felonies. They said I was going to be a statistic and come back. I said why? And let me prove it to you that I’m not. From that never give up attitude, I had it in me and used it in boxing. Now I’m using that defense, that immune system that’s already been built from my life.
So here’s a fight challenge. A fighter looks me in the eye and he says “I’m gonna win.” I say no, I’m fighting for a cause and reason. My upbringing, struggle, and lessons of life prepared me for this. That’s why I can look Death in the eyes, because I’ve walked up and down the cell block and seen guys that when you turned your head, you’re raped. You had to realize that this guy here got 30 years and you got 5, what does he have to lose compared to me? So when you survive that type of fear, when you’re 17, people have to understand this [boxing] is a piece of cake. There’s stress yeah, but I’m a survivor and I took that mentality into boxing.
I survived the promoters and the bad press. When they said I can’t, I did. I don’t care what the odds are. I don’t have a rabbit’s foot in my pocket, I don’t believe in luck. They can’t come to grips that I have more going for me just rolling the dice. For me the war is never over because life is still going. I’m going to deal with other challenges, whether here, educational, or business-wise. Unfortunately, we are judged by what others do because we are fighters. And so I’m constantly a magnet attracting people who might not know the history of Bernard Hopkins.
The N##### Mentality
So when you got a Floyd Mayweather telling everyone he’s a silverback gorilla? Doesn’t he know the significance in white folks using that name? See n##### is not the only name that was used. N##### to me means ignorant, and I still don’t use it because to me it didn’t mean a color even though it was used like that.
But when I see high-profile athletes who have the power to guide young fighters watching, who feel they need the Bentleys and to throw money, it’s what I have to deal with to show I’m not ignorant. And that’s whether I’m with Ross Greenburg [HBO] or other business, I’m no silverback gorilla. To some that’s funny. Some think its good TV. But my mom always said there’s people that laugh with you, and those that laugh at you. My opinion? They laughing at you, dog.
A silverback gorilla is a powerful animal. You’re a n#### with money. And you’re crazy, but a silverback is dominant. So when you say silverback gorilla p###, dog you think that’s kosher? But it is that mentality. Floyd just don’t know his history. He’s blinded by the business thinking that makes you a man. My 17,000 square foot, 6 acre house in Delaware doesn’t make me. That’s not my God. I’m glad to have it, yes. But I don’t worship my cars, watch, clothes, or anything. When you get caught up in that it’s very hard to reprogram it back.
Part 2 Coming Soon, with more on Floyd Mayweather, Mike Tyson, Building Wealth, and the Naiveté of Black Athletes