Bernard Hopkins: “This is war”
In the Gym with Gabriel Montoya (April 19, 2008) Doghouse Boxing  
There are a million things on my to-do list that I have yet to experience in the world of boxing. Last Thursday, at the Classic Kick-Boxing Gym in Pasadena, CA, I gladly scratched “Seeing Bernard Hopkins in the gym” off of it. At the media workout for Bernard Hopkins as he prepares for his upcoming showdown with Joe Calzaghe Saturday night, I witnessed one of our sport’s great ring generals prepare for battle.

Watching him prepare as most of his team (Freddie Roach, Nazim Richardson, and John David
Jackson were present on this day; conditioning guru Mackie Shilstone wasn’t) looked on or participated, I was reminded of an old saying: “You perform how you practice.” Hopkins prepares as few I have seen. Every detail thought out. Every angle explored and perfected. While some have questioned carrying such a large brain trust into the corner, Hopkins sees it only as an advantage.

“If you think you know it all in boxing, you’re done,” Hopkins told the assembled media. “The team is quality. And it has a relationship with me.

“I brought Mackie in because I heard [Calzaghe] throws 1000 punches a round. I figured, ‘Man, I’m in trouble. If he throws 1000 punches a round, I better be ready to hit him 1000 times a round, because he is going to be open that many times.’ I’m no fool by no means. Freddie is here because his work speaks for itself. I am still learning. For those that think you can’t learn anymore in the sport of boxing, they are soon to be doomed and defeated. John David Jackson been working with me for five fights now. A southpaw fighter who broke me into southpaw fighters almost ten years ago. And Nazim.
When you got all these type of minds--not egos--things run so smoothly. I think my opponent should be worried that I didn’t take this fight lightly.”

After shadowboxing for a spell to warm up, it’s right to the double-end bag. Everything is precision. Two quick, light jabs. Waiting. Bobbing, weaving and then another, more solid jab.

“I haven’t had a drink since I went in [to the penitentiary] at 17,” he says after his workout. “Even at my wedding. I had major temptations in boxing. ‘One ain’t going to hurt you.’ You know how many times I heard that? You know how many bottles I got? They got dust on them. I’m just collecting them.”

“He does,” confirms his publicist with a knowing laugh.

“Because they expensive bottles,” he explains. “Someone gives you a $1000 bottle of Dom Perignon . . .” he trails off with a smile and a shrug.

There is a fierce focus about Hopkins as he weaves and talks to the bag, sweeping it with hard rights and lefts. This man was born to fight.

The black Planet Hollywood shirt is the only thing that resembles “satin sheets,” but after hearing about the bottles along with an aside from his publicist about how Hopkins still has the first dollar he made, I get the idea that he is wearing it because 1) it matches his outfit, and 2) it was free. In his black cycling shorts and matching bandana, Hopkins is not the picture of a 43 year-old fighter looking for a big payday. Quite the opposite. It’s clear from his intensity, which is unlike any other fighter’s I have encountered. It’s in the way he waits for the right moment, and then with zero hesitation unleashes a tight left-hook, right-hand combo. If any of you out there have hit a double-end bag, you know that shit ain’t easy, but Hopkins makes it look that way. In the gym, Hopkins is economy of motion in action.

He really picks it up in the third round of the bag work. Harder shots in combination. “Pay attention to this,” he says as he lands a lead right. I ain’t even set for it.” Then another lead right, He starts talking to Calzaghe: “You don’t know how I did it. Snap your head back,” as he lands a right and an uppercut. Feints, ducks, jabs and that crashing right hand. Jab, forearm, right hand. All perfectly thrown. All hitting as intended.

In a recent conference call, Shilstone explained how he had run a battery of tests on Hopkins leading into training camp, and determined Hopkins “athletic age to be somewhere around 27 or 28.” Watching him now, I’m thinking “The man really is 28.”

says Hopkins, “The 40 of yesterday, is not the 40 of today,” The way you take care of yourself 10, 20 years ago reflects on how you live now. I’m the poster of what? That I am the new 30. Jay-Z is the one that started it, but Jay-Z don’t break a sweat because he’s a rapper. He don’t get in the ring and take punches. He might jog in the morning. But when it comes to the new 30, I think a guy that is physically exerting himself and putting himself out there can be a better guy. It was Jay-Z’s hook, but I’m the one that can say I am the new 33. Because this is such a taxing, physical sport. I have no mic in my hand. I’m training, I’m running, I’m hitting these pads. I’m jogging in the morning. I’m hitting the heavy bag, I’m eating the right foods, I’m sleeping. Over and over from Mondays to Saturdays for 7, 8 weeks. Leaving Philly and having 60% of training done to come here and finishing off. I am the new 33. But I don’t want it downplayed to take away from how unique it is. I’m a person of our time. In sports period. There was two of us on top of our game. The other one was Brett Favre. The last man standing is Bernard Hopkins.”

Next, Hopkins explains yet another move. “Step to the left to make Joe cover up,” he says, as he demonstrates and finishes with a left-right.

Now Jackson comes in with the pads, and again everything is tight, crisp, precise.

When asked afterwards about how this type of discipline was born, Hopkins, as expected, was not short on words. The passion with which he speaks of his journey is palpable.

“If you look at my resume,” he began, “I am a guy who has always fought against the powers that be. I’m not suicidal. I’m not a guy that doesn’t think about his actions. I paid five years for not thinking about my actions.
I got my discipline from a place that’s real dark. I had to be disciplined to make it through 56 months at 17 years old. People hollering at night. People trying to kill themselves the next night. People getting raped the next morning. That took patience not to cut my own wrists. It would have been the perfect excuse. 90% of them do, 17 to 20. I think everything has a reason. Nothing happens by accident.”

“Staying in shape is one thing but you got to understand,” he explains, “[my current condition] is on account of what I did in my twenties, what I did in my thirties. I come home from the penitentiary when I was 23 going on 24. From 24 to now, I lived a clean, positive life. From 13 to 17, I drank, I smoked. Not cigarettes. Marijuana. I did what most kids thought was the cool thing. Just following. But from 17 until I got released, I learned a lot about health and fitness. They don’t feed you the food that Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s feeds you. But you do learn how to make a decision about whether you want to eat that particular meal that day or sacrifice on peanut butter and bread. Which is high protein. It’s not a bad thing. Probably better than what’s on the menu. You learn how to survive. Mentally, physically, spiritually. Emotionally. You learn how to train. Learn how to run the yard. Learn how to be disciplined.”

“What goes on in the streets” continues Hopkins, “they have that in jail, too. They have drugs. They have dope. They have pills. Not a big quantity of it. But you can get involved if you want to. The temptation is definitely there. So being strong-minded and disciplined in there, I was one of the few around the world that transformed that learning experience and took it into this life. I took what I learned and transformed that into my lifestyle in society. And in doing that, I gave the state parole board nine years without a parking ticket. Without having a big-paying job. I scrubbed dishes, I worked on the roofing union. And I did landscaping. It was one of my details in prison. Hitting mulch, cutting the grass. So I learned a trade without knowing that’s what it was going to be. I could have done that the rest of my life.”

“When I go through any adversity of good and bad,” concludes Hopkins-- “death of a mom, death of a friend, death of someone I respect, I go back to what I survived. Seventeen and reckless, I didn’t go in and become a good old boy. Took me a year to adjust. It was a rough year. But I learned how to smell fear, and learned how to deal with a situation when you have 8000 men under one roof. You had a choice to be the lamb or be the wolf. Obviously I wasn’t the lamb. When you take that mentality out into the world in a positive way. I faced hell and survived. Seventeen and in that situation. I’m a survivor. I’ve overcame the biggest test that I could have gone through. I’d rather face ten young George Foremans without any headgear than face that situation. I have been conditioned to overcome any adversity. That’s my ace in the hole, and what unfortunately Joe doesn’t have. It’s something I had to have to be where I am today. It wasn’t all scripted or written somewhere. I just had to follow the path. Take that out of my life, and you would never know Bernard Hopkins.”

Back in the workout, the padwork session is more physical than I have seen. Hopkins and Jackson move and push, throw, block and counter. It looks more like a fight than anything. It is so instinctive, so reactive, that it appears as if Hopkins is simply throwing hard shots in combination while Jackson blocks, rather than merely holding up the pads in combination for Hopkins. This forces Bernard to not only work harder during the session but smarter, mixing up his attack constantly. After a round of this, Hopkins asks for the cameras to come off. “I’ll give you a little taste,” he says. “Plus, I’m tired. And I don’t want anyone to see.”

I think that last part was a joke, as he flurries faster than before and lands that shotgun jab. Jab. Right to the chest. A four-punch combo and a practice elbow. Feint left, jump right, and a left hook. “He ain’t going to see it,” he proclaims with a devilish grin. He flurries at the ten-second mark, and knocks Jackson’s gum at my feet. By the third round of the session, it is evident that Team Hopkins has prepared their man for a high-energy fight. Uppercut, left hook. A hard right followed by a jab and another right.

“Time,” yells Roach.

“Anybody got Geritol?” Hopkins asks the room.

Next comes the heavy bag, and Hopkins takes out whatever aggression he has left on it. Hell, he fakes out the heavy bag as he feints, fades, and wades in on the bag with hard lefts and rights.

“A little bit of Jersey Joe,” he says as he shoulder rolls, steps to his right, and unleashes an uppercut. “Is he going to take that?” he asks the room. The room doesn’t know. To finish, Hopkins worked the speed bag, jump rope, and a medicine ball abdominal workout that involved throwing a ten-pound medicine ball to a second as he rises up from the ball he was on. Brutal.

In the hype-up leading into the bout, Hopkins was criticized by the media, both boxing and mainstream, about his comment that “No white boy will ever beat me.” Hopkins explains where he was coming from:

“I don’t say things to get in people’s heads,” he explained. “I say what I mean. I say what I feel. And I have no apology for what I do or say to my opponents. This is war. At the end of the day, I am not the Bernard Hopkins everyone tries to write. Even my worse critics say, ‘It’s crazy to underestimate Bernard Hopkins.’ That’s from Larry Merchant. Coming from him, that’s high praise. He‘s come around to the idea that [I get] up for certain things.”

“Is this a fight between two ethnic groups?” he asks. “Yes it is. If Serena Williams goes up against a white tennis player, the ratings go up. That’s just the way it is. And if anybody that lives in this part of the world called America, and you’re trying to act like it don’t exist, then you are a fool. Because 90% of the people in this gym, and not wrongly so, wrote about when and where the next great white hope is going to be a champion in the heavyweight division. Why was it so important, ya’ll? Why was it so important, Europeans, that a champion had to be a Klitschko? He didn’t have to be from the States, so long as he was what? So why try to make me into something you’re already talking about? I slay ya’ll with your own bigot. You see, I give them something, I tested them and they ate it up. ‘We got him now. We got him now. He a racist.’ Then I throw history in their faces. A week later, Barack and Hillary. That Bernard is crazy as a fox. Bryant Gumbel called me on Real Sports five years ago: ‘Is Bernard as crazy as people think he is, or is he crazy as a fox?’ I like the fox part better.”

Hopkins cautioned us not to believe what he perceived as hype surrounding why Calzaghe came to the States:

“Joe Calzaghe expected to fight Winky Wright, Tarver or Jermain Taylor. I don’t need to tell you what happened to Taylor. His plans got derailed by Pavlik. Winky Wright was another opponent for Joe. That plan got messed up because the guy met Bernard Hopkins. Door Number three. You know who is behind Door Number three? HBO contract--third fight in the United States. Here I am. Don’t let him fool you. He ain’t doing me a favor. I’m doing him a favor. He’s coming here because he has to come here. Contractually. He’s here because he has to be here. I’m just the guy welcoming him here. I just happen to be the guy behind Door Number three waiting on him. Scary thing. I got a rocking chair that Tarver gave me. I got out of that when he called me out on TV. I said ‘Okay, let’s go.’ Third fight, United States. I could have waived it though, but for what?”

When asked to break down Calzaghe, Hopkins didn’t go into much depth but perhaps offered a glimpse into how he thought the fight might be judged:

“He brings an 0 and I’m going to take it.” 1000 punches a round means 1000 openings. I could stand in the corner and throw 1000 punches a round. Are we judging on thrown punches or connected punches? I only need to land twenty. I’m from the era where I hit you with punches that take something from you. 1000 punches a round, but how many connect? If they all land, the fight should be over. It’s part of the hype and the subterfuge of our society. If a guy throws 1000 punches a round and the other guy is still standing, then either a) he can’t punch, or b) the guy likes to get hit, and he won’t go down. Be aware of the bait and switch. 1000 punches a round. Look for the word ‘connect’. Effective punches. To me, that is more impressive.”

Gabriel at:

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