Bernard Hopkins: Lunch with the Middleweight King: Part 2
Part 2 of 2| Interview by Alex Pierpaoli (March 15, 2005) Part 1 
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The mystic and the lunatic dwell in the same waters of the mind. The lunatic is adrift in those tides, a startled soul in a churning boil of water, struggling not to sink. The mystic exists in that same foamy chop and roll of water. The difference is that the mystic can swim.

Some see Hopkins as crazy, a paranoid who has made choices against his own best interest out of hubris. Others see Hopkins as a sort of guru, a man who has improved with age in a sport that makes young men get old too quickly. His training ethics are emulated and his words are repeated like mantras by so many of today’s fighters. Nate Campbell and Tarvis Simms, to name two, both credited Hopkins with opening their eyes to how to improve their training methods after recent wins.

For writers, Hopkins is someone who keeps you scribbling. He is easy to quote, his adeptness at conversation as pronounced as the effectiveness of the chopping uppercuts he lands when in close with an opponent. It’s only natural to ask Hopkins for his opinion of upcoming fights, especially when he has an interest in the outcome and a potential date with the victor.

“Tito late,” says Hopkins, when asked to tab the winner of the upcoming Felix Trinidad versus Winky Wright showdown. “Winky’s gonna put up a good scrap though…I think that Winky will give him problems…being a southpaw, but I think Winky will be too brave for his own good. Winky will stay there and try to trade with him and it’ll be exciting but Trinidad will get him. At the end Trinidad will get him; overpower him. I think with Winky, being too brave is gonna get him.”

If Hopkins is right, Trinidad’s victory over Wright would clear a path for the rematch that for awhile at least, looked as if it might never happen. I ask if Hopkins thinks Trinidad wants to fight him again.

“I think Tito and his father want to fight me but I think Don knows that he can’t beat me…But at the end of the day Trinidad and his father, they call the shots. At this stage of their career they’ve got Don over a barrel.”

Hopkins spoke briefly during lunch about his deal with His Royal Hairness and how it was necessary in order to enter the Middleweight Tournament that culminated in September of 2001 when Hopkins became the first undisputed middleweight champ since Marvin Hagler by beating Trinidad.

Don King had commissioned an artist to craft a trophy for the victor of his Middleweight Tournament. The trophy was shaped in the likeness of the greatest middleweight, and arguably greatest fighter of all time, Sugar Ray Robinson.

Hopkins describes the piece. “Ray Robinson like this,” he poses, his guard up a-la-Ray Robinson. “Looks just like him; the eyes are just,“ Hopkins traces his own eye with two fingertips to denote the statue’s detail. “Oh, it’s crazy! Oh this is a collector’s piece.”

I ask Hopkins if there is truth to the stories about the Sugar Ray Robinson trophy being engraved with Trinidad’s name even before the fight occurred. Hopkins describes that yes, there was no trophy for him on the night he beat Trinidad and he suggests he may know where the one with Trinidad’s name on it resides.

“I go into Don King’s house in Fort Lauderdale…I’m in his office about two summers ago, or last summer…there’s a statue in Don’s house. Yo, you’re getting this on tape ain’t you? Yo, man, I said [to myself] this is the Ray Robinson trophy over there! I’m sure that that’s the Tito trophy…I didn’t look at it. [But]I mean…you can’t give the trophy to Tito because he didn’t win.”

Perhaps Don kept it as a trophy to remind him there are few sure-things in boxing.

“You didn’t get the award?” Promoter Rich Cappiello asks, having just joined the conversation.

“I got it,” says Hopkins. “I got it a week later…We had a press conference, when they got it fixed and ready, at Gallagher’s steak house with 8 media people. But there was 2 and three hundred the night of the climax.”

“Let me tell you something, the night of the Super Bowl the players are not looking for the rings right now, they know that they’ll get the rings. You don’t hear no players saying where’s my check? They’re running around with that Lombardi trophy and if that’s what they only got right then and there that was better than their ring and their check that moment. Because that moment you can never erase. They robbed me of the moment. They robbed me of my moment. So, how do you take that negative energy and let it work for you instead of against you? I haven’t forgot it, I use it to put forward. And that’s what’s got me here and that’s what’s gonna get me through this next year.”

This year is likely all we have left to enjoy watching this middleweight legend ply his trade in the squared circle. It was a promise to his mother to retire at forty and he’s stretched it a bit to forty-one which he turns in January 2006. After that he’ll need to find new dragons to slay and with his knowledge and interest in so many aspects of the sport it is doubtful he’ll stray very far from the ring.

Already this past January, Hopkins, Senator Jon McCain, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and several others requested a Presidential pardon be issued for former World Heavyweight Champion Jack Johnson. Johnson was convicted under the Mann Act for transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes; charges that were pressed in order to bring down the first black Heavyweight Champion. I ask Hopkins about the effort behind the request for the pardon and what it means to him.

“It’s a redemption of the injustice at the time. No matter if you’ve been dead fifty years, twenty or thirty years, I think when it comes to your name, that’s important. That lives longer than you. Your name and your credibility...I think no matter what religion or color or anything…when things is done wrong to you it could be fifty years or a hundred years and someone stands up, politically or non-politically, and fights for that cause…You know in the hood they got a saying, that’s gangsta. You know the slang? That’s gangsta. And that’s good…That means it’s bold. That means that somebody stuck his neck out for it and then they pounded the drums for it.”

Jack Johnson, like Hopkins, was never interested in pleasing folks or appealing to the sensibilities of the status quo. Hopkins admires that self-confidence and depth of character in Johnson.

“He didn’t care…As I am today I can’t say I would be like that back then. We’re talking nineteen fifteen…I mean it was straight up red-necks…He was flamboyant. He’d rub it in their face. Big hat! Jack Johnson was that type of character. From what I read and understand…Jack Johnson wasn’t no geek...He wasn’t shy. And you could say that he shared his ding-a-ling.”

Everyone within earshot breaks into laughter and by now I feel I am taking up too much of his time. I read the body language of his entourage and sense that perhaps the champ should get a move on. He has spoken for an hour at least, through much of lunch, through a videotaped interview and now with me. I imagine he has talked enough, if that is even possible for this man with so much to say and still so much greatness left in him to prove.

I thank the Middleweight Champion for his time and for signing a couple photos. We shake hands and of course, Hopkins gets the last word. And of course it’s quotable, like any writer would hope.

“I wanna see that on Doghouse,” says Hopkins. He turns to a member of his entourage, smiles and nods in my direction. “And he’s gonna have ding-a-ling on the website.”

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