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
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.