Hopkins is all about business

Updated: June 2, 2004, 2:15 PM ET
By Thomas Gerbasi | MaxBoxing.com

A year ago, Bernard Hopkins was one of the worst businessmen in boxing. Today, he's Bill Gates.

The middleweight champion of the world is three months away from making the biggest payday of his more than 15-year career in a megafight with Oscar De La Hoya -- provided both win this Saturday night in bouts against Robert Allen and Felix Sturm, respectively.

Yet for Hopkins, it's got to be about more than the money. For someone who has made a career of thumbing his nose at the boxing industry, what better "screw you" can be hoisted at it than to beat the fighter who has carried the business for years, "The Golden Boy" himself?

You could not have scripted it better.

And that's Hopkins in a nutshell -- calculating, scheming, and never making a move without examining its repercussions. And when a plan does backfire, he doesn't back off with his tail between his legs; he defiantly struts off and cuts off whatever perceived weak link caused the plan's failure -- never taking blame, never showing regret.

He's all about the bottom line, he's all about what is right for him, and he's all about his own principle, no matter how warped those principles may seem to the outside world.

That's burned a lot of people in boxing, from promoters to managers, from the media to his own trainer, Bouie Fisher.

But that's business. And business is not about friendship, loyalty, or always doing the right thing by those who have done right by you. It's about the finished product, whether you end up in the black or in the red. In boxing, black means winning, red means blood, aka losing.

Bernard Hopkins is all about the bottom line. And that scares people who don't expect such behavior from a pro athlete. It bothers people that Hopkins reads every line of every contract, fights over the most miniscule detail, and will walk away from millions over a principle. It annoys them that Hopkins is not about the bling bling, but the cha-ching of the cash register, yet only when it makes sense to him and only him.

And to most of us, it didn't make sense. It didn't calculate when Hopkins dumped Fisher, his longtime trainer, over a money issue (Bouie and Hopkins have since reconciled), or dumped and libeled Lou DiBella, who got him into the middleweight tournament that made his career in terms of mainstream acceptance, or shunned media members who relayed his every word to the public when no one wanted to hear the rantings of a champion of a division with no marketable stars.

It wasn't personal to Hopkins. They served their purpose and were let go. He travels light. You're either with him or against him. There is no room for dissent or questions.

So what must be re-examined, as Hopkins enters the twilight of his career, are not his accomplishments inside the ring, which are indisputable, but his life outside the ring, which has changed dramatically since his days in Graterford State Penitentiary.

Is he the evil, ungrateful lout who has burned every bridge he has crossed, or is he simply a tough man in a tough racket, doing what he needs to do to survive -- a maverick in a sea of followers?

Depends who you're talking to. If you're one of those tossed aside by Hopkins, you'll go with the former. If you're a fighter, or an observer who can put aside the pre-conceived notions of what an athlete should act like, you'll believe the latter is true. But if you're an outsider, not a follower of boxing or it's outside-the-ring machinations, you simply don't know and/or don't care. You don't know who Bernard Hopkins is.

You will in September. If Hopkins meets and beats De La Hoya in the fall, the world won't be able to ignore him anymore. For him, that may be even more important than the money. To have a worldwide forum, to be on top of boxing's food chain, to have everyone listen when he talks, that would be Nirvana for Hopkins. It will silence all the snide remarks and knowing chuckles behind closed doors; it will erase the reams of copy denigrating his business acumen or lack thereof, and most people will have to just swallow their pride and say, "He knew what he was doing all along."

As it appears for Hopkins, knowing he's right is more important than actually being right. In September he can be both.

And no, he's not Jim Brown, who left football on top not only to make movies, but more importantly to try and bring about social change.

He's not Satchel Paige, who spent his prime years unable to compete against his major league baseball peers, only getting the chance when he was 42 years old.

And he's not Muhammad Ali, who lost three years of his prime while taking a stand on the Vietnam War.

He's Bernard Hopkins, businessman.