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Bernard Hopkins: Portrait of the Champion

I collected these memories and anecdotes from boxing insiders about Bernard Hopkins in the mid 2000s. Combined together they create like a special portrait of Bernard Hopkins, composed of not colors or paints from an artist, but words and actions of his peers…
Hasim Rahman: “Obviously I feel like
he’s a man, he did it his way. And at the end, he was smarter than a lot
of people. Everybody always talked about what he walked away from, but he
held his own, he stood firm, he stood his ground and I think he wound up
on top. So I gotta take my hat off to him.”
Wladimir Klitschko: “I think Bernard
Hopkins is something unusual. And he gets so much success, especially
after the de la Hoya fight. And he’s really on the top of everything. And
he really shows that if you’re focused, focused – and you want to get a
goal – you’ll get it. It doesn’t matter how difficult it is. (He’s 40 and
the best, what makes him so good?) Yes, that’s unbelievable. He’s ancient.
He did it. I think the will to survive – because in boxing you have to
survive. You have to keep winning. Otherwise you’re out. But he’s focused
on his boxing life. That’s what he wants to do.”
Andrew Golota: “Hopkins surprised me (in de la Hoya
fight). He didn’t rush, he stayed in his gameplan. He was unbelievable,
like a professor. He fought like a professor. I like his way he fought. He
stuck with his gameplan. It was easy, step by step. He threw his punches
one at a time. He didn’t try to take big steps, just little steps. One
step at a time, de la Hoya just gave it up. I didn’t think the punch was
involved in the quitting. He just quit. He wasn’t punched out, he just
quit. (You met Hopkins ringside at the Trinidad-Mayorga fight?) Yes. He’s
a good guy, you know. He gave me advice for the (Ruiz) fight. He told me
to, Stay focused.”
Vivian Harris: “That’s a fighter with a
lot of brains and intelligence, and has respect for his opponents. Bernard
Hopkins never underestimates nobody. As a top fighter, I think you should
always be on your game. Bernard Hopkins is always on his game. And you
should always be smart when you’re fighting. And you should always try to
break a fighter down and you should always try to win the fight with
intelligence. Oscar de la Hoya disappointed me (against Felix Sturm). He
fought like he didn’t have any brains. Because that stuff Oscar put out
there – as a top fighter – that was totally stupid. Throwing a lot of body
punches like that – it wasn’t even solid body shots – (Oscar) wasn’t
setting no punches up. He just threw punches. And he looked fat. What? You
don’t have respect for an opponent? And you call yourself a
pound-for-pound fighter? You’re a great fighter? Great fighters never
looked bad like that. Bernard Hopkins fought Robert Allen two times
already and in the third fight he came out boxing perfectly in the first
round. He used his head. Great fighters don’t underestimate nobody.
Bernard Hopkins is a great fighter.”
Robbie Peden: “He’s a true
professional. Beautiful. He changes his style every fight. He looks after
his body. He stands on principle. Sometimes he doesn’t make the right
decision monetarily but you can’t blame him. He’s the one walkin’ down the
street…unless we walk in his shoes, down his street, we can’t determine
what he should do. (Did you ever meet him?) I met him a few times. We
actually fought on the same card – when he fought Antwun Echols in Miami.
We talked. He got WBC Fighter of the Year one year, I got NABF Fighter of
the Year in Miami, big convention. That Bernard – he can talk! We talked
basically about his upcoming fight. I asked him if he’s ready? He said,
I’m always ready [smiles]. Which is the truth.”
Angelo Dundee: “I really enjoyed Bernard Hopkins. I
met him for the first time last year in Miami when he was training for
William Joppy. He sparred with my youngster David Estrada. A guy like
Bernard Hopkins is a blessing for a young kid, ’cause he’s like a teacher.
Luis Rodriguez (former Welterweight champ) was something like that. He
could spar with anybody, he never hurt nobody. And these kids learn. David
loved him. Loved the idea of working with him. Bernard works real nice in
the gym. I love him. Beautiful smoothness, footwork, heckuva jab. They
went four or five rounds. It was terrific. Watching it was like something
you watch when you go to school. He’s what you call a perfect fighting
machine. In the gym he’s steady, steady, steady. He doesn’t look to take
advantage. Because he knows he’s superior. Some of these guys want to be
king of the gym. Bernard Hopkins is not like that. It’s good to see that.
Boxing needs more people like that. What I like about Bernard Hopkins is
he has a smile on his face. It’s nice to be that way. His people around
him are nice people too.”
Kermit Cintron: “He treated me great. I mean, he’s a great guy. A lot of people
think he might be ignorant, but he’s not, he’s really a great guy. I
learned a lot from him. Learned how to, and when not to punch, when to
punch. His craftiness, his speed, his reflexes – I was surprised. For the
age of 40 he’s a true champion. Afterwards, his trainers would tell me
what I did wrong and things I do right. (Did he say anything that really
inspired you?) On the last day of sparring he just said that I got it. I
mean, that was it, that I ‘got it.’ I have the heart, I’m hungry. I got
it, just keep with it.’”
Andrew Council: “Hopkins
is one of the best conditioned guys in the world. He don’t eat no red
meat, no junk. His condition – that’s why he’s able to fight at this age.
Because a lot of the younger guys really can’t fight, and he knows how to
fight. (What was different about fighting Hopkins?) Just his conditioning,
he doesn’t get tired, keeps coming and wears you down. (What’s his best
punch?) He’s not a big puncher. It’s his conditioning, his mentality of
Keep coming forward. Not really a big puncher. He seems to get stronger
later in the fight.”
Lou Del Valle: “That’s one guy you
can say he’s always ready to work, he’s clean, he lives a good life, he
helps the fighters, he talks up what the promoters do and what the
managers do, and he’s been getting robbed and jerked for the money. But
he’s a great fighter, a great ambassador for boxing. (Do you know him at
all?) Yeah, he’s my boy! He always tells me that he’s gonna take me to
Florida, then bring me to Philadelphia to get my act together [smiles]!”
Iran Barkley:
”You gotta respect Bernard Hopkins. He’s doin’ it his way. Technical-wise,
he’s a good fighter. He’s rulin’ what he’s doin’. I believe he’s holdin’
his crowns as well as he can do it. I know him as a person. Me and him
have a lot of respect for each other. I’m glad he’s accomplished what he’s
done. There’s times I wish I could have been able to control my situation.
I could control it but at the time my life was in other people’s hands. I
had to – at the time – it’s not like now where they callin’ their own
shots. I had to – if I didn’t do what the promoter said – which is the
powers-that-be like Arum – I wouldn’t have had my titles. I would have
just had to be in the back of the line or something.
As a person, Bernard is a good, nice person. I haven’t spent much time
around him. But the time that I have, I respect him as a person. I
remember one time, it was in Philly (at the press conference for the
Hakkar fight), he said, There’s another champion here, Iran Barkley. I
remember the things he was doing and I gotta secure the money for my
family. And I can’t let nobody make decisions for me. I have to do it my
way, because if I don’t – here’s another example of a great champion that
people directed to do what they wanted him to do and he had a bad
experience with ‘em. So I kinda respected when Bernard did that.”
Monte Barrett: “Well, I respect Bernard a great
deal. I always see B, he says, Hello, what’s up. One day, when Trinidad
fought Mayorga, he pulled me to the side, and he’s like, What’s goin’ on?
Where you at? So I said, Well, you know how politcs is. He pulled me to
the side, he’s like, I don’t like you even talkin’ like that. And I
appreciate him takin’ the time out to express himself to me saying,
Listen, you better than that. Politics can only do two things – it can
make you or break you. So next time someone asks you how you’re doing, you
say you’re focused, you’re ready to go. But you don’t sound motivated. So
he’s like, Don’t let politics get to you in this game. He said, Believe
me, I’m the king of this controversy thing. So I know. So I took it like
that. Everything helps in this world. In this boxing game, everything
helps. Sometimes you get sidetracked. We all human. It only takes one word
or one sentence from people for you to say, Oh okay, I’m back on track. So
I have a great deal of respect for him. And I wish him all the success in
his career that he didn’t have already.”
Lamon Brewster: “Bernard Hopkins is a pioneer.
When you talk about a fighter taking control of his own career. And he’s a
warrior as well. I tend to – this is the only time I tend to get upset
with the critics – because this is a man who didn’t duck anybody. He
fought everybody. But (some of the media) got something to say negative
about this man. And now that he’s finally got to where he feels content,
everybody wants to ride on his coattails. I don’t think that’s right. This
man is a warrior. Whether he looks good or not, he still won. A win is a
win. I just think it’s not fair, people always lookin’ for that knockout.
But knockin’ a man out all the time, you don’t learn. In order to grow in
any business, you have to go the distance sometime. That’s what I feel
like about Bernard Hopkins. He definitely led the way, set a guideline for
me and for other fighters who want to take control. Instead of just
leavin’ it in the hands of your managers and being at their fate.”
Joe Byrd: “I got a lot
of respect for Hopkins. One reason is he taught us age is just a number.
And he’s a helluva nice guy when you meet him, personally in person. He
spent that time in prison, he’s still a young man, some guys are younger
but they live crazy lives. Bernard lives a clean life. I met him, he’s a
nice guy. You meet him in person – you can’t ever meet a better guy. When
I first met him we were at the convention out in Phoenix in ’98 or ’99.
And he walk up, Mr. Byrd. He just start talkin’, and he just
down-to-earth. He ain’t all cocky, like some fighters, I’m the world
champion, the top pound-for-pound, the best in the world…he just
Hopkins. He just down-to-earth, nice guy.”
Zab Judah: “He the king. He the
grandfather of boxing right now. You know what I’m sayin’, he’s the big
boy, the Big Kahuna right now. He the head honcho. You gotta take your hat
off to him. (Do you get along okay with him?) B-Hop – that’s my boy. From
Philly to New York baby, we got it on a lot. We got a great deal of
respect for each other. And I love him like a brother and all that. I
mean, he’s a good dude, that’s all you can really say.”
Mike McCallum: “Bernard Hopkins is a great fighter and a true legend. And a throwback to the old times. He’s the last of the Mohicans as far as I’m concerned. Bernard’s a great fighter and a great champion and he’s gonna beat all those guys for a long time, you see…The fighters today don’t fight. They don’t take the fight game serious. These guys like Bernard, myself, we train diligently, all the time. We’re like gym rats, we live in the gym. We love the gym. We eat the gym. We don’t do this as a job, we love doing this. These guys (today)…how much money am I making? But we used to fight for no money! We loved to fight and that’s the difference. Bernard Hopkins is a beautiful guy. A nice guy. Loves his job, fighting hard. (What about how people criticized some of the things he did?) In the end he came out on top, so what can you say? He won. And did it his way. And it’s his career.”
Tim Witherspoon: “I knew Bernard when he first came out of prison. We were actually training together. I used to hang with his uncle (Artie McCloud). We were taught by the same guy – Slim Jim (Robinson) and we trained a bit. I might’ve boxed him one time. I knew he was a hard worker. And we saw him for a small period, then all of a sudden he was gone. He was somewhere, training hard. He used to ask me questions about boxing. At that time I was going through the thing with Don King. He was asking me questions about different things in boxing. I used to talk to him about. Then eventually I saw him helping other people out in boxing. Me and his uncle were real good friends. Artie McCloud was a middleweight, real exciting – just like Bernard Hopkins. Good defense. Real good. Just didn’t excel. But he was an excellent fighter. A lot of guys knew about him. (Why did Bernard become such a great?) I don’t know. I don’t know what could’ve made him the way he was. Maybe all the trials and tribulations and doing the things where we come from in Philadelphia. I think that was some of the things that maybe pushed him to want to get the greatness. And be one of the greats. All the great middleweights out of Philly might have done it too. (Is Bernard misunderstood?) I think a lot of people understand him…now. Maybe in the beginning he was misunderstood. But now they understand him more. I guess you got to understand the struggle – of fighting against something. The struggle in your life. If you understand that then you might understand what Bernard is talkin’ about.”
Kelly Swanson (boxing publicist):
“Working with him on the last two shows,
I really got to know him and got closer to him. From my perspective,
Bernard is a PR person’s dream. Because he’s willing to do almost anything
you ask him to do. He loves to talk with the media. If it fits in his
schedule, he’ll do it. Even for the biggest fight of his life with Oscar
de la Hoya, he never said no…He’s so funny, he’s really funny. I mean,
he had me cracking up all the time. Sometimes he’d be really goofy, making
facial expressions or mimic somebody. I remember this: In Las Vegas, they
were at the press conference. Most fighters are like, I’m out of here, let
me go eat. But Bernard stayed and was sitting in a corral-type situation.
And they started talking about Oscar’s looks, and how handsome he was and
everything. And one of the media guys was like, Oh, does Kelly tell you
that? That you look so handsome? And he was like, no, she just reminds me
to put in my teeth! So, like that engagement, it was so funny. He is not
vain. I think he’s a good-looking guy. It’s just that he’s so
matter-of-fact about everything, with this quirkiness. And that’s what
makes him so real. He’s so matter-of-fact, there’s no real bull****. What
you see is what you get. He’ll tell you honestly how he feels. Which, from
a professional standpoint, I love that. (How about a memory or anecdote of Bernard?) Every day we’d leave the MGM, he’d come down the back way and get into the car – to take him to the press conference, or take him to the gym. Just wherever he had to go, he
was always going through the back way. And there were always construction
workers outside. And they became his regulars. And by the time the week
went by, all of them hats were signed. He never once just brushed by them
and got in the car. He was just real nice. And I know it wasn’t just this,
Hey, how you doin’ guy? But by the end of the week, when the next day –
because he stayed till Monday – And so Monday there’s one of the guys was
this huuuge boxing fan. He was a Vegas dude, really nice guy, white guy
with long hair. He knew boxing really well. But he knew Bernard really
well, his background and everything. And he had his money on him, he had
his money on him every fight he fought. And he said all his buddies were
saying Trinidad was gonna beat Bernard. And this guy’s always – full court
press Bernard Hopkins. By Monday you could just tell this guy was – that
week probably made his life. And I know it made Bernard’s life, to have
this guy out there every day, knowing how much he really believed in him.”
Teddy Blackburn, photographer: “Hopkins deserves his props. This is a nice way to go with your story – other fighters’ ideas rather than writers. Besides yourself, most writers put there ego sometimes ahead of the fighters. Hopkins is more intense than any fighter I ever captured through my lens…except Tommy Hearns, who the X-Man looks up to. Hopkins pysched out both Tito and Oscar in the parks of New York City – Bryant Park for Tito – when he threw down the Puerto Rican flag the fight was over. When he made a few comments at Tavern on the Green at Oscar, then looked right into Oscar’s eyes…Oscar had to be “talked” into looking into the X-Man’s eyes by the photographers. He didn’t do it naturally. You could have gone to the sports book window after the photo op. The fight was over in Central Park. I remember when I did some portraits of the X-Man in Philly. He had all his belts ready, on-time, and ready to work. Being on-time is rare for boxing. The only time that day that he broke out of his fight eyes was when his lovely daughter (Latrice) came into the pictures – he had a family smile on his mug. When Hop met Gerald McClellan for the first time since the G-Man went blind and braindamaged after the Benn fight in ’95, X Man was emotionally touched. Hopkins is the real deal. A tribute to boxing.”

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