Pride Has A Price Middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins's career has stalled since he became his own manager

September 07, 2003

The joke goes something like this: A prizefighter enters heaven
and asks somebody what God is like. "Oh, he's all right," the
boxer is told, "only he thinks he's Bernard Hopkins." As ruthless
as a Third World dictator in the ring, Hopkins, the undisputed
middleweight champ, exudes an almighty assuredness out of the
ring. "I box the way I behave and behave the way I box," says the
38-year-old Hopkins, who calls himself the Executioner. "I run
the way I think and think the way I run. I talk the way I train
and train the way I talk."

Yet the combativeness and tenacity that has helped Hopkins
dominate the 160-pound division for the last eight years has
soured his dealings with promoters, handlers and TV executives.
Two years ago Hopkins knocked out Felix Trinidad to become the
undisputed champ. His take was $2.8 million, and the
possibilities seemed endless. "Bernard won the lottery," says
Trinidad's promoter, Don King, "but he lost the ticket." To get
that shot at Trinidad, however, Hopkins had had to sign an
exclusive three-year deal with King.

Hopkins insists that pride, principle and King are the reasons he
has since turned down more than $15 million in purses. A
potential fight with light heavyweight champ Roy Jones, who
outpointed Hopkins in a 1993 bout, blew up when the Executioner
balked at the $6 million he was offered. (He wanted $8 million.)
King reportedly would have pocketed $4 million for arranging the
fight.

Hopkins then refused a $5.5 million, three-fight deal with
Showtime (not enough money, plus he would have had to travel to
Wales for one bout) and a $3.3 million offer to face IBF
cruiserweight champ James Toney (King had promised him $4.3
million but couldn't deliver). Hopkins did have a rematch lined
up with Trinidad, but that fell through in July 2002 when
Trinidad retired. Even so, Hopkins was put off by what would have
been his take, $5 million. "Insulting!" he says. "Felix got eight
million for losing our first match."

Since beating Trinidad, Hopkins has faced and KO'd two nobodies,
one of whom--Morrade Hakkar--was so intimidated that he
backpedaled for all eight rounds. Next up is WBA mandatory
challenger William Joppy on Dec. 13 in Atlantic City. Hopkins
will fight for relative chump change: $375,000. Though that bout
looks like another walkover, Hopkins says, "At 38, there are no
walkovers. Any day I could get a stroke or arthritis."

Lately, Hopkins has spent much of his time giving depositions
instead of handing out drubbings. He's awaiting judgment in a
contract dispute with the promotion company America Presents.
He's appealing a $610,000 judgment he lost last year to former
adviser Lou DiBella. (A jury concluded that Hopkins had libeled
DiBella by implying in an interview that the onetime HBO boxing
czar had sought under-the-table payments to arrange pay-cable
bouts for him.) He also faces a breach-of-contract suit brought
by Bouie Fisher, his former trainer, who alleges that Hopkins
underpaid him by a total of $255,000 for three bouts. (Fisher is
demanding 10% of all future Hopkins purses.) "I'm my own boss and
calling my own shots," Hopkins says. "I'm willing to deal with
the outcome."

To his dismay, there are few fighters now who want to hook up
with Hopkins in the ring. "I'm on a raft in the ocean," he says.
"I'm just waiting for someone to rescue me." That someone could
be super welterweight champ Oscar De La Hoya. But nothing will
happen until at least January, after Hopkins's contract with King
ends.

"Frustrated?" Hopkins says. "Frustration happens to people who
don't know why. I know why: The system hasn't changed. That's why
I can take all this on the chin and not get knocked down."

COLOR PHOTO: CHRIS GARDNER/AP SHADOW BOXING After passing up bigger bouts, Hopkins (above, right; inset) has been fighting nobodies like Hakkar. COLOR PHOTO: GEORGE WIDMAN/AP (INSET) [See caption above]

The Great Defenders

With his next scheduled bout, against William Joppy on Dec. 13,
undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins will extend his
streak of consecutive title defenses to 17--a record for that
weight class. Here are the boxers in five weights who had the
most consecutive title defenses under the major sanctioning
bodies.

WEIGHT CLASS BOXER DEFENSES YEARS

Heavyweight Joe Louis 25 1937-48
Light heavyweight Bob Foster 14 1969-74
Middleweight Bernard Hopkins 16 1995-present
Welterweight Henry Armstrong 19 1938-40
Lightweight Roberto Duran 12 1972-78

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)