Toughness, paranoia drive Hopkins

Updated: September 18, 2004, 1:25 AM ET
By David A. Avila |

Forget that middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins spent time in a penitentiary. That's not the reason he's the champ.

Jail has never made anybody a tougher person. You're either tough before you go in or you're not. If anything, jail makes you paranoid, not tough.

Hopkins, 39, is definitely an uber-paranoid fighter, and the Philadelphia boxer may still show that when he fights East L.A.'s Oscar De La Hoya at the MGM Grand on Saturday. The fight will be shown on HBO pay-per-view.

Need examples?

Before his fight against Robert Allen last June, Hopkins refused to have Puerto Rican referee Joe Cortez in the ring. Fear of retaliation for stomping on the Puerto Rican flag before his fight with Felix Trinidad in 2001 caused that burst of paranoia.

Hopkins, for all of his bravado, is probably boxing's most paranoid representative.

"When you're running, you never look back cause in that split second you will get caught," Hopkins said (44-2-1, 31 KOs). "Coming in from the streets, you never look back."

For the last five months almost every single story harps on his jailhouse background as if De La Hoya will be facing Hopkins and members of cell block three. Forget about it.

Simply put, Hopkins is a darn good boxer who has cleaned out a weak division during the last 10 years after Roy Jones Jr. moved up to the light heavyweight ranks. But keeping a stranglehold on any weight division that long deserves serious props.

"Bernard Hopkins is a great fighter, don't get me wrong," said De La Hoya (37-3, 29 KOs). "But I am going to beat him."

After beating Allen last June, Hopkins took a little time off, then dove back into the gym in Miami. But with two hurricanes approaching his camp, the Executioner executed an immediate retreat. He never takes chances.

"Staying calm and not playing into emotions, that's what's important. When you watched me against Felix Trinidad, I never got caught up in the hype. You'll see in this fight I won't get caught up," Hopkins said on a telephone conference call.

The micromanaging world of Hopkins reared its Nurse Cratchet head when he admitted he had booted two helpers from his training camp for not taking it seriously enough.

"Two guys got sent home," said Hopkins about helpers at the camp. "You are here as a mission. You get one warning, a meeting in Philly."

Hopkins felt there was too much joking around and too many smiling teeth.

"Bouie (Fisher his trainer) don't have time to baby-sit. We had to do that. I run a tight military camp," Hopkins said.

Since capturing the IBF middleweight title in 1995 against Segundo Mercado, Hopkins has made 18 title defenses en route to capturing the WBC and WBA middleweight titles. He now seeks to add De La Hoya's WBO middleweight title. It's an astounding feat that no other middleweight has ever done before. He eclipsed both Marvin Hagler (12) and Carlos Monzon's (14) string of title defenses.

After beating Trinidad three years ago at Madison Square Garden, he visited Los Angeles to receive honors from the World Boxing Hall of Fame. While on the dais at the induction ceremonies, he leaned back and asked De La Hoya for a match. He admitted that he used the East L.A. fighter's plan to defeat the Puerto Rican slugger and wanted a chance to meet the Golden Boy in the ring. De La Hoya said to the crowd that he would meet Hopkins in the near future, but many thought it was just talk.

The talk is over.

"One thing you can't do is underestimate anybody," said Hopkins. "It's a rule on the street."

Hopkins may have spent years in jail, but that's not where he got his toughness.

"I will not underestimate Oscar De La Hoya," Hopkins said.