Hopkins: "I frustrate my opponents"
The WBC light heavyweight champion has cleaned up his life
This story appears in the Dec. 12, 2011, "Interview Issue" of ESPN The Magazine.
HILL: Your house isn't what I'd expect from a boxer. Why are you always so neat?
HOPKINS: Boxing is what I do, but it's not who I am. I always try to make that one of my openings in any conversation when people say, "Tell me about you." I've always liked nice things. There was one time in my life when I went the wrong way getting those things, and I paid a price for it. I've been out of the penitentiary for 23 and a half years, half of my life, and have turned it around as a boxer and a businessman. [Ed.'s note: Hopkins was released from prison in 1988, having served four and a half years for armed robbery.]
When do you think you made the transition? When I realized I was fighting for a purse that I believe was a million dollars and I only got $85,000.
What fight was that? It was Roy Jones Jr., the first fight, RFK Stadium, 1993. And I remember that not only did that fight have me thinking about how that happened, I had no clue how the business worked. I realized that having knowledge of what you do, whether it's boxing or in life, whether it's your value as a woman, whether it's your value as a man, once you know your value, it's hard to be unappreciated.
You're a very candid person, especially about race. Why are you so forthright? I've been around a lot of candid people, but I've learned it's good to be certain things at certain times. Everybody doesn't know when to be candid and when not to be candid. It's a strategy, part of the Art of War that I use as a script for anything I do in the ring or out of the ring.
I'm sure you've heard the term $40 million slave. What does that term mean to you? Just because you got a contract for $40, $80, $90, $100, $200 million, no matter what you have or what you think you are, in this country, unfortunately, to most people, not all, you're still a n--. You just happen to be rich. They'll open the door for you. They'll carry your bag. They'll call you sir and they'll call you mister. They might even let you date their daughter -- because of what you have and what you represent, not because of who you are. I won't say everyone thinks this way, but I believe in my heart that the percentage is high. I can speak to the $40 million slave situation. But if you're LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Tiger Woods, that's pocket change. The stakes are higher now.
Is there any part of you that's worried that people will say, "He sounds like a racist"? No. When I say things, I say it out of what I experienced. I believe that before I try to help another race, why not see if there's something to be done in my hood? That's not saying I'm anti-white or anti-Chinese or anti-Puerto Rican. Many of my business partners are Jewish. And boy do they stick together. I want to bring my own people up to understand that let's learn from the Jewish people's business minds. Everybody can't dribble their way out of the hood. Let's try to book your way out. I only learned what I've learned from other cultures. I have some Italian friends. Everybody knows how Italians stick together. Go to South Philly. Go to New York. I'm not talking about the negative, but the wholesome Italian families with unity. The Irish. The other cultures. It's when you start saying I'm better than that other person, that's when it becomes something different.
Why do you think so many black athletes are so hesitant to talk about race? Because they are told not to.
Who's telling them? The system that pays them, the system that dictates how they speak, how they talk. Football players, basketball players, they don't talk about politics. It's modernized slavery. They're not allowed to talk about things that are sensitive and incorrect in the political world.
One person who isn't afraid to be politically incorrect is Floyd Mayweather. How do you think his image impacts how black athletes are perceived? I have a problem with it.
What do you have a problem with? The perception and the stereotype of how they view and judge us as athletes is a blueprint and a script from what Mayweather shows them all the time. You don't see Steve Jobs -- God rest his soul -- talking with a stack of money on the phone. He never showed his wealth because his wealth was who he was, not what he had.
I don't want to put words in your mouth, but it sounds like you're calling Floyd Mayweather a modern-day minstrel. No. I'm calling him a guy who's not conscious of the image he portrays to promote fights and the image he portrays to show who he is. But he happens to be the guy people are looking at in boxing as the man, other than Pacquiao. He has the power like Jim Brown had in his era. He has the power like the great Ray Leonard had. He has the power like Ali had, when he said, "Ain't no Vietcong ever called me n--." Everybody doesn't get this opportunity. I don't think Mayweather is a bad person, but his message is misleading.
You said previously that you thought Manny Pacquiao would have a problem fighting an African-American boxer. Do you still feel that way? Well, he beat Shane Mosley. Manny Pacquiao can flat-out fight, but he has fought mostly Mexican fighters, and their styles are different from the way we are taught to fight in our culture. Mayweather has a style to beat Pacquiao.
Your last fight against Chad Dawson raised a lot of eyebrows. Were you trying to jump on Dawson's back? No. I threw a right hand. I missed. It happens in boxing. Either you push him off with a shoulder or you do what's not done in boxing: You cuff a guy and push him. To jump on somebody's back, I think when he lifted up I would have been on the other side. The tape reflects what happened. One thing about video, it will set you free like DNA.
Were you shocked he retaliated by throwing you to the canvas? The physical part or the gangster stuff?
Well, both. I have a way of frustrating my opponents. I know how to say and do things that will make them react in a way that will backfire. I believe that Chad Dawson knew he couldn't do the things he thought he could do to a 46-year-old man. He promised to throw 80 or 90 punches a round. Dawson panicked because he couldn't do the things he wanted. Did he mean or try to hurt Bernard Hopkins? I say yes. It's a clear intent what he did. Look at the tape. Tell me where a TKO is warranted in this fight. And this is the 21st century, so why doesn't boxing have instant replay like every other sport? You're talking about looking at a monitor for five minutes or less.
You're 46 and still fighting. How have you beaten the clock? I ain't beat the clock. You can never beat the clock. The clock runs on all of us. What I learned is how to maintain myself as the clock ticks. I took away the clock with my lifestyle, the way I eat and the way I think. I meditate. I don't drink. I don't smoke. I have a deal with Father Time. I transformed coming out of the penitentiary. I learned a lesson. If I can transform my lifestyle, I will never be an inmate again. I lost my first fight in 1988, and I struggled between going back to jail and staying out for good. I chose to stay out for good. I ran off 20-something fights and then won a championship. You know the record from there. A legacy. I did everything as a middleweight. I use all my life experiences from the penitentiary -- the setbacks, the adversity -- I use all that to keep going forward and never give up. I might be 46, approaching 47, but inside, my blood is like a 25-year-old.
So will you be boxing at 50? I know how many fights I want to fight. That would be easier than telling you how many years.
Well, how many? At least two. I have a date in March. I don't know who yet. There are good names out there, championship names. I want to unify titles. That would be getting the WBA and IBF titles. I want to be the first light heavyweight to surpass the great Archie Moore, who defended his title four times as a light heavyweight at 40-plus. So again, I get a chance to make history. This will be fantastic.
Jemele Hill is a columnist for ESPN.com's Page 2 and a contributing writer for ESPN The Magazine. She interviewed Hopkins on Nov. 8, 2011. Follow ESPN The Magazine on Twitter, @ESPNmag, and like us on Facebook.
ESPN The Magazine: December 12, 2011