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Unlike Mike

Sept. 20, 2004
Sept. 20, 2004

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Sept. 20, 2004

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Unlike Mike

On Saturday, Bernard Hopkins tries to cement his status as an alltime great. But one legacy is secure: He's the most penny-pinching pugilist around

Boxers are many things: valorous and gallant and often more than a little bit nuts. They tend not, however, to be financially savvy. Perhaps when you risk life and limb every time go you to work, it's hard to delay your gratification, to appreciate the benefits of tax-deferred annuities and compound interest. As a rule, boxers make Caligula's existence look monastic.

This is an article from the Sept. 20, 2004 issue Original Layout

Mike Tyson's excess was so wretched--$412,000 on pigeon and lion care, a monthly jewelry allowance of $95,000--that he managed to squander an estimated $300 million dollars before declaring bankruptcy. The sad spectacle that is his career persists mostly because of his outstanding debt to Uncle Sam. And Tyson is not alone in his "pugilistic profligacy," as a certain pontificating promoter might put it. From Joe Louis to Roberto Duran, the list of boxers who made millions only to finish their careers in dire economic straits is lamentably long.

Against that bleak relief, Bernard Hopkins can safely claim to be boxing's undisputed champ of fiscal responsibility. Depending on pay-per-view buys, Hopkins will earn between $10 million and $15 million for Saturday night's middleweight fight against Oscar De La Hoya, Hopkins's 19th title defense. Yet he lives with his wife, Jeanette, and daughter, Latrice, in an apartment in Philadelphia and a modest house in Delaware ("Property taxes are pretty good there," he says) and is sufficiently frugal that a reporter seeking a prefight interview was kindly instructed to call the cellphone of Hopkins's training camp coordinator, James Fisher. "Bernard," Fisher explained, "doesn't like his [wireless] minutes getting eaten up."

Hopkins's financial philosophy is a simple one: Don't spend what you don't have and save what you do. This wisdom was hard-won. As a teenager Hopkins was a common thug, raising hell on the streets of Philadelphia until he was busted for robbery at age 18 and served nearly five years at a correctional facility. He came out with a G.E.D., the ability to box and the determination to make his money the old-fashioned way. Even when he was fighting for as little as $100 a round, he managed to minimize expenses and bank a fraction of his purse. Though Hopkins hasn't lost a fight since 1993, he has generally spurned big-time promoters--"Bloodsuckers," he calls them--and has thus only recently started fighting for big money. Nevertheless, he claims to have amassed an ostrich-sized nest egg. Herewith, his financial fight plan:

• Bulk up. "Costco, Sam's Club, those places are great. You know how much money you save when you shop there? Take ketchup. You can buy a little bottle at the grocery store for $3 or you can buy a huge bottle at Costco for $4. It's ketchup, man. It doesn't go bad. You know you're going to use it up, so why wouldn't you buy the big bottle?"

• Construct a family tree. "You start winning some fights, making a name for yourself and getting a little money, and you never knew you had so many third and fourth cousins. Everyone comes out of the woodwork, wanting something. 'Don't you remember me? Our aunts are cousins!' You take out that family tree and say, 'Prove it.'"

• Beware of hidden costs. "When I'm at the gym, guys tell me they got a new place and the mortgage is so-and-so. I say, 'Did you factor in property taxes? Upkeep? Utilities?' That's like a second mortgage right there. They usually come back at me with blank looks."

• Go easy on the bling. "I have a Timex. You have a Rolex. You think they tell different times? These guys that spend all this money on jewelry and cars and say, 'I'm going to live large now, and my next paycheck, that's the one I'll save'-- that's a recipe for trouble."

Hopkins, who turns 40 in January, claims his long-term financial goal is generational wealth. "There's a difference between rich and wealthy," he says. "Rich means you drive a nice car. Wealthy means your kids' kids will drive nice cars. That's what I wanted. If that makes me a penny-pincher, man, so be it."

And to think, Hopkins's opponent on Saturday is the one they call the Golden Boy.

"There hasn't been a Lost Generation like Team USA since the '20s." --WORLD-CLASS SEND-OFF, PAGE 26

COLOR ILLUSTRATIONILLUSTRATION BY STEVE BRODNER