And why wouldn’t he? Hopkins has been having fun ever since he went from an inmate at Graterford Prison to one of the greatest boxers of all time.
Released from prison in 1988 and taunted by the warden that “I’ll see when you get back here,’’ Hopkins, who grew up in the Raymond Rosen projects of Philadelphia, vowed never to return.
And he didn’t.
Instead, he turned around his life and put together an incredible 28-year boxing career that saw him become the undisputed middleweight champion, a crown he defended a record 20 times. And also become the oldest boxer to ever hold a title at 49 years old.
“The Executioner’’ put on the gloves and stepped into the ring for the last time on December 17, 2016, just 28 days shy of his 52nd birthday. His career record was 55-8-2 with 32 of those 55 wins by knockout.
“Lifestyle and discipline,’’ Hopkins says when asked what kept him in the ring and kept him winning for 28 years. “And, I have to give credit where credit is due, that discipline came from being in jail. There were a whole bunch of things I saw. And a whole bunch of things I avoided. I could have been one of those inmates and it would have been justified. But I learned how to be who I became when I got the love back.’’
What’s come next? What hasn’t?
This past May Hopkins was given an honorary degree from Temple University where he was the final speaker at the school’s commencement.
“They saved the best for last,’’ he says with a laugh. “That was quite an honor. One of my bigger honors, but my biggest honor was letting my mom, Shirley, know she would never have to go up to visit me in prison anymore. That she could call by my name again, Bernard Hopkins, the name she gave me, and not as a number. That’s a drop the mic for me.
“But yeah speaking at the Temple graduation, imagine that. That was the first time I ever had a cap and gown on, but it wasn’t the first time I was in front of a guy with a gown on. Like I told all the graduates and trustees, the last time I was in front of someone with a gown, or a robe, they were sending me to prison.’’
Hopkins wowed the crowd at Temple that day as he often does when he speaks. Throughout his boxing career, he was never afraid to say what he thought, whether it was talking about his sport or other sports. The gist of his speech to the Temple Class of 2019 was, “The world is their buffet, choose wisely,’’ he said.
Hopkins lost his first-ever pro fight to a guy named Clinton Mitchell (remember that for trivia night somewhere) on Oct. 11, 1988, at Resorts Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. He then won his next 21 fights, 16 by knockout.
“Do you believe in full circle?’’ Hopkins asks, not needing an answer. “I can’t write this script. My first fight was in Atlantic City and now I’m being inducted into the Hall of Fame there some 30 years later. How great is that?
“The fire in my belly right now, even though I’m retired, is I’m not working harder, I’m working smarter. And the second half of my life…is to outdo myself. You must use a motivational tool, whatever or whoever that is. Don’t become stagnant. It’s always been hard to hit a moving target.”
Hopkins, whose boxing career included wins over the likes of Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya, Antonio Tarver, Winky Wright and Roy Jones Jr., five fighters with a combined record of 231-30, is always on the move. When he’s not giving speeches at graduations or being inducted into Hall of Fames, he’s at his full-time job.
Eighteen years ago, when he was still in the ring, Hopkins partnered with De La Hoya in Golden Boy Promotions. Now that takes up a lot of his time, looking not just for fighters, but the right fighters. Ones that might remind him of himself or his partner. Twenty-eight years in the ring helps in that cause.
“You got that right,’’ he says. “There’s a few Mohicans out there who come in genuine, but there are a lot of prostitutes out there who are fighters. And they accepted that role of being in that business. And that’s OK, too. It’s just not who we want.’’
It’s not often that two former opponents become partners, especially boxers. George Foreman didn’t share the grill with Muhammad Ali, or Joe Frazier.
Hopkins and De La Hoya fought a classic bout at the Las Vegas MGM in 2004 for the undisputed middleweight crown. Hopkins knocked him out in the ninth round to raise his record to 44-2-1 at that point.
“Oscar and I were competitors, for sure’’ Hopkins says. “He fought me to try to take away my undisputed crown. I knocked him out in the ninth round. That same year I was nominated at the ESPYs for Boxer of the Year. So, I’m in L.A. and Oscar was there, I went up to him and thanked him for giving me an opportunity. And he said to me if I wasn’t signed, he would like to have me on his team. That’s how it all started. And here in 2019, it’s as strong as ever.’’
Golden Boy, based in Los Angeles, is becoming, if it hasn’t already become, one of boxing’s premier promotion groups. Hopkins wouldn’t have it any other way.
“At one time there were three names: Don King, Bob Arum and Main Event,’’ Hopkins said of the fight game promoters. “You know where I’m going, right?’’
Golden Boy is now on par with all of them, if not ahead of them, is the answer.
“Hello,’’ Hopkins says. “The credibility of having two fighters, who not only fought each other, but are Hall of Famers, and have now teamed up as businessmen. You tell me, when have you seen that happen?’’
Hopkins says he gets his motivation from another great athlete turned entrepreneur, NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson.
“I’m motivated by men like Magic Johnson, the entrepreneurs and there aren’t many,’’ he says. “The philanthropists of the Hall of Famers. There are not too many of us in any sport that are doing it the way Oscar and I are doing it, and especially being in competition at one time with each other. It’s amazing.’’
Amazing is the perfect word to describe almost everything about Hopkins’ life in and out of the ring. He never did go back to Graterford, proving the warden wrong. But he took life lessons from his five years of incarceration.
“The type of business we’re in,’’ Hopkins begins. “I go back to Graterford prison, the streets, all the juvenile facilities. If I didn’t have those lessons, that street knowledge, you know game recognizes game, I would get chewed up, spit out and stepped over in this business. The mindset that you have to be in, the personalities, the hustlers, the movers and shakers, the executives, it’s a whole bunch of BS.
“I always say it’s not who we are, it’s what we know. Who you are, that carries some weight, but what you know that goes all the way back.’’
Hopkins is 54 now and looks and sounds as if he could still cause some damage in the ring. It’s not going to happen and that’s fine with the champ.
“I don’t miss it,’’ he says. “I really don’t. I miss the checks, though. I mean I grew up in the projects. You get that first check for $100,000, I’m not even talking about the bigger ones. But that first one for $100,000 there’s nothing like it.’’
“This is going to be a great movie, isn’t it?’’
“It will be an inspiration movie, not a boxing movie.’’
Bernard Hopkins Top 10 memorable fights
Philadelphia native Bernard Hopkins fought from 1988-2016, winning 55 of 65 fights and drawing twice. He knocked out 32 opponents and was never counted out himself.
“The Executioner’’ was the undisputed middleweight champ, unified the title, defended it a record 20 times and was the oldest fighter to ever hold a title at 49 years old.
He lost his first-ever fight, won 22 straight, lost to Roy Jones Jr. and then didn’t lose again for 12 years.
Feb. 22, 1990: Greg Paige, Unanimous decision, Blue Horizon, Philadelphia
Dec. 4, 1992: Wayne Powell, TKO, Resorts Casino, Atlantic City
May 22, 1993: Roy Jones Jr., L UD, RFK Stadium Washington D.C.
Sept. 29, 2001: Felix Trinidad, TKO, Madison Square Garden, NY
Sept. 18, 2004: Oscar De La Hoya, KO, MGM, Las Vegas
June 10, 2006: Antonio Tarver, UD, Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City
July 21, 2007: Winky Wright, UD, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas
April 3, 2010: Roy Jones Jr., UD, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas
May 21, 2011: Jean Pascal, UD, Bell Centre, Montreal, Canada
April 14, 2014: Beibut Shumenov, DC Armory, Washington D.C.