INTERVIEW WITH BERNARD HOPKINS
By Aladdin Freeman: As I sat at ringside on the night of February 2nd of 2002 getting ready to do a post-fight interview with Bernard Hopkins and Bouie Fischer for ESPN's "Friday Night Fights," I thought to myself that I was very lucky to be witnessing history in the making.
Article posted on 23.11.2003
The history that had just occurred was Bernard Hopkins having broken the late, great Carlos Monzon's record of title defenses. I was also happy for Bouie Fischer, a man who had been in the fight game since Sugar Ray Robinson was a welterweight, and who was finally getting his due. About a month later I started to hear rumors that Hopkins and Fisher were parting ways. What was hard for me to understand was how two men who had a "handshake agreement" for their whole fighting relationship all of a sudden were headed to lawyers' offices and getting a lot of press but not the "positive boxing" kind that they were supposed to be getting. The other thing that was hard for me to understand was how Bernard Hopkins and James Fisher, who had been Hopkins' right hand man for as long as Hopkins had been a prizefighter were now at odds with each other.
Today I got a chance to sit down and talk with Bernard Hopkins and here is what he had to say about the relationship, the rift and the future.
FREEMAN: What happened? How did the rift start because when I last saw you everything seemed fine.
HOPKINS: Well, I think a lot of it was just misunderstandings and what didn't help was other people before the lawyers got involved were making statements and it just got worse from there. Nobody at the time had enough sense to sit down for an hour or two or even a day and just iron everything out. That may have been my fault or may have been their fault and from there it just went haywire. Then when you get middle people involved it now becomes "this person said that and that person said this," and everyone wants to defend their names and their claims ...and then the next thing you know the lawsuits are flying and money is been spent. All of a sudden, you're in a courtroom thinking should I even be here? and then it becomes a snowball effect and basically that's my view of things and how it happened.
FREEMAN: Well I always have said you're a "man's man in a man's sport." You and the Fishers had done everything like men for your whole career, why didn't you all just sit down and talk like men?
HOPKINS: You know it's a very good question, it's not a mystery, it has a lot to do with outsiders but I'm not going to sit here and say it was all everyone else' fault. I blame both sides but I blame myself first but I also blame the other side as well because for the first time in about 13 or so years of working together we couldn't sit down. All we needed was one hour for one day to just talk out or problems and I think both sides missed that, and that was something that we always did. Trust me when I say, having been together for 13 years you know for a fact that there was plenty of disagreements. I mean it's impossible for me to tell you that for that in 13 years, me and Mr. Bouie Fisher and his family and mine didn't have disagreements. However, we always had a way of not letting the disagreements get out into the mainstream world. In fairness to both sides what magnified it even more was it happened just after a historic event being the Trinidad fight. A lot of people needed something negative which we helped out with, believe me we had plenty of bullets to give them the ammunition and when a third party got wind of what was going on it escalated from there and had a snowball effect.
Hey, the thing that was hard for me to take was the timing of it all, I has just come off the Trinidad victory and then the Daniels fight and all the good publicity, the time of the man's man, the I did it my way type of style with a lot -I mean a lot of people- eating crow and then this happened. Now though we are all ready to reap the benefits of what we started, but I'll tell you the real winners of this whole thing are the lawyers.
FREEMAN: The lawyers always win every time you go to court and it doesn't have to do with a traffic violation. Has an apology been issued to James and Andre? Was it done behind closed doors since you've all been a team for so long or will there be a public statement?
HOPKINS: We all apologized on both sides; we just all hugged and made up. Let me tell you something, it's hard to avoid anyone of any status or non-status who's in Philadelphia. Bouie and I know the same people; we eat at the same restaurants and travel the same routes, so it was hard not to hear about him. Everyday I heard his name and everyday he heard mine. Unless I moved way down here in the south and he moved somewhere else it wouldn't have been any different. Another hard thing was that we have many of the same friends and some may have sided on his side and some may have sided with me, but the majority of them were neutral. Trust me, the other side heard the same thing but what was important for all of us was the fact that everyone in the community wanted us to get back together. From Imam of the Muslim community to the pastor of the church community, that's how big it was in Philadelphia.
In the boxing world it's one thing, oh this guy is having problems with this other guy, he didn't fulfill his obligations, it's all legal mumbo jumbo but when it comes to the community... all they know is that Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Fisher who have been working together for a long time and never got their due through the boxing world now aren't working together anymore. I had to hear about it everyday and I'm not going to lie, sometimes I got sick of hearing about it. It wasn't anything bad but it was just hard to hear about it and think about it everyday.
FREEMAN: It sounds just like a family fight, all families have fights, it's something that happens.
HOPKINS: Exactly, families have fights all the time.
FREEMAN: What was the main mending point to this whole situation, where you all just said let's end this and get on with everything that we had before?
HOPKINS: I can speak for myself. The main thing for me is that Bouie Fisher has been there 99% of my boxing career since 1988. I was 0-1, a loser without Bouie Fisher and he helped me recognize the talent that I had in myself. Professionally you could say I wasn't a winner without Bouie Fisher. I know this is not a one-man thing we both have put the time in and sacrificed a great deal to get here. Yes, I had to be in the gym, train as hard as I could, fill out the order, stick to a fight plan or make adjustments off of it, but Bouie was right there with me. I also understand that big things are going to happen for Bernard Hopkins within the next 12 months and that Bouie Fisher and his sons are a big part of that. I do think the mending part was through a mutual friend.
FREEMAN: Do you regret some of the statements that you said during the rift?
HOPKINS: Yes, but you have to understand what I said about missing Bouie if he were dead was not to disrespect him whatsoever but it was to show Sloan Harrison respect. I was with another trainer and it would have been a slap in his face to say yes I miss Bouie Fisher while I was working with Sloan. How would you feel if you were Sloan Harrison and I said that?
FREEMAN: Probably not good, depending on the context...
HOPKINS: I didn't want to disrespect him; also you have to understand if me and Bouie didn't mend our problems and something did happen to him his family might not have wanted me around. So let me fix it now, I'm not an animal, I knew he was healthy, like I said before I'd hear everyday Bouie was in the gym; he's working with this guy or another guy so I knew that I didn't really have much to miss at the time. I'll also say this, if I didn't get over missing Bouie Fisher something bad could have happened, you know boxing is a mental game, I might have gotten knocked out by maybe even Hakkar of all people, so I had to put that whole situation behind me. It wasn't easy but I had to do it, to focus on the upcoming fight.
FREEMAN: What has happened since the Trinidad and Daniels fight? It seems like you had the boxing world in you hands but you haven't been able to control it. What happened from 2002 until now?
HOPKINS: What happened from 2002 until now is you have to understand that... let's just look at Roy Jones' scenario from a couple of weeks ago. Roy Jones Jr. was saying that the weight loss put him in a situation where he almost got knocked out by losing all that weight. Well, let's look a little closer at the powers that be... (HBO Network) wanted me to fight at 190 pounds...
FREEMAN: That's crazy!
HOPKINS: Well, that's what more writers need to write.
FREEMAN: Well I already said that, there is no way you should have to move up 3 divisions to fight him when the challenge was issued on TV at 168 pounds. What happened to 168 pounds?
HOPKINS: I don't have a clue but you had to know Roy wanted to go to heavyweight and his mind was set. When most people heard the talks broke all I saw was writers and the boxing world saying "Bernard Hopkins lost another big fight", more writers should say what you just said "That's crazy." Roy Jones almost lost to Tarver and his excuse his well "I lost 25 pounds," but yet they want me to but on damn near 35 pounds to go up to 190 pounds and fight Superman. Hell, I haven't made 160 pounds in a while (1-31-1998 vs. Simon Brown was the last time) so for people to think that I could come in at 190 and be able to fight effectively at that weight would be crazy.
The worst thing that happened to me was that I beat Felix Trinidad and they (TV executives, commentators and promoters) needed a way to spank me because they knew after that fight it wasn't going to be done in the ring, not at 160 pounds. The situation with Bouie played into their hands and it was great timing and let's not forget the Lou DiBella situation because that didn't help me out either. Since my talent couldn't be attacked, they went about it another way, they tried to assassinate my character and hopefully people would get turned off of Bernard Hopkins. Well guess what? It's backfired on them, people do understand I'm a rebel with a cause and that I'm going to be a force in boxing even though I'm going up against a system in boxing that is so powerful that it has destroyed a lot of fighters before me. Fighters that didn't stay mentally or physically on top of their game for whatever reasons lost to the system but that won't happen with me. That is the key to Bernard Hopkins, they won't win my mind and they won't win my spirit. People might say I'm on a wild goose chase or just being stubborn but trust me behind closed doors I'm respected but also despised. They know I'm not a typical athlete and that I will deal with any adversity that comes my way. Do you know what is funny to me?
HOPKINS: People want to me to go up to 190 pounds to fight "superman" and be basically a sacrificial lamb but these same people will do their best to keep Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, and Ricardo Mayorga among a few, away from me. Why don't these people want those guys to fight me?
Case in point... I'm going to quote Larry Merchant, who's part of the system and he's nothing more than a puppet on a string, here's what he said... "Why are you calling out the little guys, I never heard of a middleweight calling out the little guys."
Well Merchant, why would they want me to fight a heavyweight? What is the problem with me calling out a fighter who's at 154 pounds? What is worse? Me fighting a guy that is 6 pounds away from me or me moving up to fight someone who is 30 pounds heavier than me. It's a crime for me to fight Jr. Middleweights but it's OK if I fight a heavyweight? Come on, be real and be objective! Also Larry Merchant says to me, "Well, you won't fight a guy like this on HBO again." Come on, here's an announcer calling out the shots, like he can make or break a fight, well I'm not going to say what he can't do but it was still a shame for him to even speak like that.
FREEMAN: Why didn't you just ask Larry when is the last time Oscar De La Hoya has been over 160 pounds on fight night?
HOPKINS: That's true but that debate would have taken too long on TV. The best compliment that I got from people of all walks of life was that I told Larry Merchant that he should "stop being ignorant." That was just as strong as wringing his neck. What he said out of his mouth during that whole interview knowing that Hakkar was a mandatory, was flat out ignorant. Did I put Hakkar as the number one contender?
HOPKINS: If I didn't fight him what would have happened?
FREEMAN: You would have been stripped of at least one belt. HOPKINS: Larry Merchant was being ignorant during that whole interview, what did he say to me, "Aren't you embarrassed Bernard that you had to fight this guy?" How am I going to be embarrassed? He was a mandatory, I didn't put the guy there, the ranking system did. If he wanted to ask someone that question maybe he should have talked to the sanctioning bodies and WBC President Jose Sulaiman. Let me ask you a question on Larry Merchant... How long has he been in the fight business?
FREEMAN: Since at the very least the Ali vs. Sonny Liston rematch where you can see his face in the famous picture of Ali yelling at Sonny to get up, so at least 40 years.
HOPKINS: Yes, probably longer... well in that time of being around the sport do you think Larry Merchant knows about a mandatory match?
FREEMAN: Yes, he should in that amount of time.
HOPKINS: For Larry Merchant to ask me aren't I embarrassed to fight a guy like Morrade Hakkar who the boxing industry made a number one contender... Is that an ignorant question or not?
FREEMAN: Yes, it's an ignorant question to any fighter who has at least one belt and wants to keep it.
HOPKINS: Bingo, Larry Merchant is part of the good old boy network and he was trying to make me look bad on TV and I Knocked him out by saying "Larry stop being ignorant!" They were trying to make me look bad, saying I fired Bouie, which is something that I never did and Bouie will tell that, so will James. All we did was stop talking. The whole build up for that fight was to show that Bernard Hopkins is a dirty, rotten, motherf&%$#r and then Larry gets me on TV and tries to fool the public into thinking that I picked a guy like Hakkar to fight, but the boxing public is much smarter than that. Larry Merchant should have said shame on Jose Sulaiman, the WBC president for having this guy ranked so high, not attack Bernard Hopkins.
How many reporters, radio and TV announcers had enough balls to stand up and say that Larry Merchant was in the wrong? It's fine if you don't like Bernard Hopkins, you don't have to like my hood, my business tactics but dammit I'm under ethic law of journalism, to not be biased on either side, but how many of them do that? They want the free vouchers and their fat assess want donuts, coffee, and then they want free tickets. I don't have to name names but most of them live in New York. Keep it real man, everyone is scared and dancing around and not saying what they want to say but you got to be a man in this business.
FREEMAN: Let's move on because I know you could talk about this for longer than I care to write about it. You have a match coming up vs. William Joppy, are you embarrassed by??... (Laughter bursts out from my side and his)...
Just kidding around, what are your thoughts on Joppy? There is something that I picked up with you lately... I think you've stopped four of the last five guys you've fought are you looking for the knockout more now by sitting down on your shots? It's that something you've been working on or does it come with the flow of the fight?
HOPKINS: It comes with the flow of the fight. I may not be regarded as a huge puncher but I have solid punches that I land when I pick my spots. I'm not trying to rush anything and I didn't know that I stopped 4 out or the last 5 guys that I've fought that's great because Bouie always told me the knockout will come, we won't get in the alley until we are ready. I fight when I want to fight without running, by dictating the pace with the jabs or if the situation calls for me to be on the inside. It's a little chess match but I had no idea that it was that high, I guess I've been hitting the right spots lately. For me with age comes seasoning and I guess that's what's been working for me lately.
FREEMAN: Watching William Joppy's last four fights and both of the Julio Caesar Green fights, do you see him holding that left hand down? And he doesn't do well with tremendous amounts of pressure, so do you plan on staying on him much in the same tactic you used with Keith Holmes or just boxing like you did with Felix Trinidad?
HOPKINS: To be completely honest with you, I want to punish William Joppy. I'd love for Joppy to think that I'm going to press forward but he knows and has known for years that I'm not a one dimensional fighter. My thing is Joppy has run his mouth for about a year and a half now, so I'm going to do what I did to Trinidad to Joppy. I'm going to punish him for a little bit then I'm going to knock him out but I promise it won't go 12 rounds and you already know what the wager is on that. I'm pumped up about this fight, I don't want it to be a 1st round knock out but I don't want Don King to be able to recycle him and keep him in the top 3 at middleweight after this fight. I can't believe he's still in the top three. He's lost so many times yet he always is in the top 2 of the division.
FREEMAN: What has it been like being back in the gym with Bouie? Bouie always tells me how good of shape you are in, that you walk around at fight weight 4 and 5 months before a fight. Has he had to pull you back or has he had to push you since he's come back?
HOPKINS: Right now he's pulling me back a little, I'm ready to go now and we have under 30 days before the fight. I'm just working the floor and working on movement, aerobic and speed training. I'm just honing my skills before I go to battle. We are working well together, when he tells me to work on something in regards to my technique, I listen to him. It's been an easy transition to get back with Bouie; it's only really been 9 months since we worked together and Sloan did a solid job and stepped aside with no hard feelings. He was very glad of the opportunity to work with me and he and Bouie are still friends.
FREEMAN: What are you going to have to do to get a big pay day, and we both know who I mean. He has said from the start of his career that he wants to be a champion in six divisions so knowing that, what do you do to get him in the ring? Do you honestly think that the powers that be will set that match up after beating Felix Trinidad?
HOPKINS: I'll do what I have to do to get Oscar in the ring, if I have to get under his skin I will do it. Put it like this, if it's politics I'm going to let the world see that it's politics and I have to come out of this game with something. I mean I'd rather have the fight and the millions that come with it, but Oscar's no dummy; he's a guy that wants to win six world titles in six different weight divisions, Bob Arum has also been on record saying his job is to do what Oscar says. From what I'm hearing Bob Arum wants to talk to me after January 24th when my contract with DKP expires. I'm also going to form my own EX promotions with Greg Sirb, the head of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission. This is a point I want to make with Bouie and me, it's family and then business. Oscar and Arum it's all business, Bob has been on record as saying he doesn't have to like a guy to do business with him. With Bouie and I, we started something special together and we have been family the whole time. I did think Oscar did beat Shane but I know the system and there's no way I could let that fight go the distance so if it did come to pass that we fight, then I'd push for the knockout no questions asked.
FREEMAN: Bernard thanks for the conversation and good luck in the near future. I hope everything works out with you and the Fishers.
HOPKINS: Thanks man, my pleasure.
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