Commentary

Twenty questions with Bernard Hopkins

Originally Published: June 1, 2011
By Brian Campbell | ESPN Mobile

As improbable as Bernard Hopkins' run to the light heavyweight title at age 46 has been, his reinvention from tactical boxer to exciting fighter has been just as unpredictable.

Hopkins' stock -- or as he calls it, his "brand" -- has never been hotter. The ageless wonder outboxed and outhustled light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal on May 21 to break George Foreman's record as the oldest fighter to win a world championship in history.

Not only does he appear to have been aging in reverse during the past decade, Hopkins has clearly evolved and improved with age. But one thing that has never been in question concerning the future Hall of Famer's career has been his ability to provide interesting (albeit sometimes controversial) quotes.

Hopkins stopped by the ESPN campus less than a week after his record-setting victory over Pascal to talk about his life, career and future -- both his and boxing's.

What is it about fighting at 175 pounds that has somehow added years to your career?
I think with everything other than my talent, the longevity comes from my lifestyle. That has bought me these months and these years and these fights. Without that lifestyle, even as good as I think I might have been, it would have shortened my career. So because of my lifestyle, the candle is burning twice instead of burning once. But I do feel quicker at light heavyweight than I even did at middleweight. My lead right hand is one of my favorite punches that I have thrown more over the last two fights with Pascal. It comes off like a jab, and it's not even set up. I don't have to set and hit you, because too much time goes by. They never see [the lead right], and it just snaps back.

You said before the Pascal rematch that you'll only continue to fight as long as history is in front of you. We know you are contractually obligated to face Chad Dawson next, but what kind of history remains after that?
Good question. There is history to surpass, what 'Jersey' Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles did when they won a championship at 46 and defended it two or three times. [Walcott was actually 37 when he won the world heavyweight title from Charles in 1951. He made one title defense before losing to Rocky Marciano.] I would have to create something in my own mind to motivate me to continue as long as history is legitimately there. That is one of the reasons I would continue to fight at least one or two more times before retiring.

Where should your record as the oldest boxer to win a world title rank among the greatest achievements in sports history by an athlete over 40?
I fall a little short under Jack Nicklaus [who won the Masters at age 46], but I think that I rate somewhere in the top five. Anywhere in the top five is great amongst the best achievements in all of sports in the world. I'll settle for five, but wherever Jack Nicklaus is at, I can make a strong argument that I am right behind him.

What was the most important thing you learned about yourself during your time in prison that has helped you succeed today?
That I had extreme courage to not give up.

You walked to the ring before the second Pascal fight to a personalized version of the song "My Way," which was a great way to sum up your career as an individual and nonconformist. But professionally, do you have any specific regrets when you look back?
The regrets of my career are based on actually not knowing things earlier in my life that I know now about the business of boxing. In one way, I wish I would have known what I know now, to [avoid] the early pain that eventually helped me [gain] knowledge. But I know I can't have my cake and eat it, too.

If you can win a world title at 46, then what do you need to do in order to coax 40-year-old Joe Calzaghe out of retirement for a rematch of your 2008 split-decision loss?
I'll have to fly out there to England and knock on his door. Then after he calls the cops and I make bail, we fight. That's the fight I think about like it is tomorrow. I would love to fight him anywhere, just to know that I can right the wrong like I did against Pascal. But I don't think Joe will ever come out of retirement. It would be a great story, and I would love to fight him again.

You are going to be a father again soon, at an age when most people are becoming grandparents. You're really going all the way with this whole youth-movement thing. But when you wake up for a normal day around the house, how old do you feel?
I don't feel like I'm 46, but I don't feel like I'm 26, either. To be honest, in the morning -- and I have good days and bad days -- I feel like I am about 36. So I feel like I am 10 years ahead of the game, and that's fantastic.

What do you think the real reason is that the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao fight hasn't happened and doesn't appear to be anytime soon?
I think some of it is ego and some of it is suspicion of what we can't prove. And I think it has a lot to do with the uncertainty for Floyd Mayweather that he's waiting for a decline for Pacquiao, which we have not seen. I mean, just look at [Pacquiao's] last fight. But eventually I think the people are just going to fade out in memory of even having that fight and not even care. I think we are in the danger zone right now of losing interest, period, whether they say they are fighting or not because people have been hearing this for so many years.

If Pacquiao-Mayweather never happens, what do you think the second-biggest fight is that can be made?
I think the second-biggest fight in the world comes from fights happening with the unification of sanity to the heavyweight division. I think if David Haye can do his thing and create a buzz in that division [against the Klitschkos], that a lot of people will come back to boxing. I think no matter how great things have been for the smaller divisions over the years -- which kept boxing at least looked at -- the heavyweight division is the head of the body and has always been the division that brought people that would never have come to boxing. That's because it's bigger, stronger and slower guys, and people want to see the knockouts and drag-out fights. The heavyweight division has to come back to a level that is respectful, where people know there is more than one or two big fights in the division, and that would be a big shot in the arm for boxing.

It has been said, affectionately, that not only do you still have the first dollar you earned in boxing, you may actually have all of them. What's one thing you're willing to splurge on that most people would be surprised about?
Vacation or my house. I don't even considering it splurging with my daughter because she just takes my money. She is 11 and is a Justin Bieber fanatic, so it's all Justin Bieber throughout my house.

You lost your pro debut in 1988 by a four-round majority decision to Clinton Mitchell [who retired in 1998 with a record of 3-1-1.] What do you remember about that fight, and have you ever seen Mitchell again?
Clinton is from New York, and he unfortunately passed away about two years ago. He was telling everyone he beat me throughout the years. That was his glory to fame. I never got a chance to meet him after that. Can you imagine that footage of me and Clinton, talking to the first guy to ever beat Bernard Hopkins? I learned a lot from that fight. I learned to get my butt in shape. I was young, turned professional and thought it was easy. I was fighting at light heavyweight and ran out of gas. I finished that fight, but by the third round it felt like I did 10. My heart and my ability kept me in the fight, but it wasn't a close decision. I was eating cheesesteaks and cheese fries. I was eating the worst food ever.

[+] EnlargeBernard Hopkins
Rogerio Barbosa/AFP/Getty ImagesBernard Hopkins took more risks and frequently pressed the action in the second Jean Pascal fight -- a drastic (and successful) departure from his approach in recent years.

In your marquee losses to Roy Jones Jr., Jermain Taylor [twice] and Calzaghe, what should you have done differently that would have changed the outcome?
Against Roy, [press more] and throw my hands more. With Taylor, it was the same thing: be aggressive and be the way I was when I fought Jean Pascal in the first and second fight. That same mentality: Come forward and be willing to risk but also be smart and take it to the guy because I have power and a great chin. I can always bank on that. Just make him fight me and press him. Instead of being a guy to counter and wait for him to come in. I played that style very well for many years, and that's part of the art of boxing. But I should have pressured the guy to wear him down. That is what I am best at and I got away from that for many years. Against Joe Calzaghe, I think it was his craftsmanship of throwing that he perfected for many years. The pitter-patter is a skill and is a style. He stole some fights and left knowing the gig was up and that people caught up to him.

You have developed quite a following in Canada, thanks to the Pascal fights. But which city has the best fans to fight in front of?
I would say Canada, and [specifically] Montreal. Quebec City wasn't bad, either, but Montreal was a town that I would go out to eat in the restaurants without bodyguards or anything, and the fans all wanted to take pictures. And this is before I won. After the fight, they were still embracing me. They like hockey, obviously, and they like good professional fighting and guys that work hard. That's where I want to do my next fight, with Chad Dawson, if I can.

With your reputation for nutrition and fitness, it has gotten to the point where most assume you stay in fighting shape the entire year. But what is the weight that you typically walk around at?
I walk around -- and it's no secret and I don't mind telling nobody -- at, like, 185 pounds. That's 10 pounds extra, and as hard as I work, I really need 15. I'm a guy that likes to work in the spa and get on the elliptical. I like to do things that are noncombat- or boxing-related. So I jump rope a lot and then I run a lot. I'm a health-awareness guy, and all of that includes how I eat, how much I rest and how I keep my skin good. Any kind of maintenance that I would do on a car, I do on myself.

How much weight would you be able to cut at your age for a marquee fight against the likes of Sergio Martinez or others?
It would be real hard, but I would know what my body can do. If it's something that is meaningful and something that I want to reach for history, I always can work with a pound or two. But anything like five or more, I can't do. If you said I could fight Pacquiao at 168 pounds, I would say, 'Give me about a month' and I'd call back and say that I can't do it. But I would at least try to see where I'm at. It's still a danger zone, but it all depends on the circumstance and what the benefits are.

In your opinion, who is on the Mount Rushmore of the all-time great Philadelphia sports icons? Do you believe you've reached that level?
In boxing, yes. But overall, my personal opinion is that it's guys like Julius Erving, Wilt Chamberlain and Joe Frazier. I'm Philly-born, and at the end of the day, I think that I'm up there in the top 10, easy. But I think in boxing that Joe and I are up there neck-and-neck. If there's an edge, it's because of things I've done extra to give me that edge. But Joe was a small man fighting in the heavyweight division back then, and he was going 15 rounds. I'm adding all that stuff into it. I analyzed his era and mine, and he really held his own.

What is the origin of the "Executioner" nickname and the masks that you have worn to the ring throughout the years?

That all came from intimidation. I came up with my own gimmick because I needed something that was scary because I wanted to come across as intimidating. If you notice, in every fight, I always have something to get into their head. But that was something I didn't even catch on to in the beginning; I just knew that I needed to have something dark and scary. I didn't want to have a fancy name. I wanted something like the "Executioner." I mean, who would name their kid that? I wanted this to be something where people would think that I must be a badass.

Speaking of, you proclaimed yourself the "king of head games" following your victory over Pascal. Be honest: Did you purposely come in overweight on your first try at the weigh-in as one final attempt to get inside Pascal's head?
Yes, I wanted him to think I was overweight and that I overtrained. Because I never did that before. It was only about four ounces. I could spit three times and [lose that much weight]. And then we went in the back room and were all laughing.

What are three things that would drastically improve the sport of boxing?
First, I would get a union for boxing. I would have one commission. And I would eliminate some of the in-between belts to not have five or six champions in one division.

Finally, what will Bernard Hopkins be doing four years from now at the age of 50? Hopefully in Miami, lying on the beach with a fat stomach. That would be history.

Brian Campbell is a contributor to ESPN Mobile.

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