The shade came swiftly and vociferously.
"Common man!" Bernard Hopkins yelled at Joe Smith Jr., his left index finger just inches away from mushing his younger opponent's face, during a press conference earlier this week.
"Special man!" Hopkins barked, poking his own chest with his right index finger. "Which one you want!?"
The 51-year-old boxing legend will look to reinforce that statement for the last time, stepping between the ropes to face up-and-coming Smith Jr. (22-1, 18 knockouts), at the Forum in Los Angeles on Saturday night (December 17) at 10 p.m. live on HBO.
The bout is being billed as the "Final One," as Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 KOs) vows to retire afterward, wrapping up his iconic professional boxing career that has spanned nearly three decades with him erected as a pillar of the Sweet Science.
(Check out some of his greatest hits below).
Whether it was a failure of early recognition or more a case of being a late bloomer, Hopkins did it his way, repeatedly defeating boxers younger than him and permanently changing the trajectory of their careers while further cementing his legacy.
While other boxers hit training camp to prepare for an upcoming fight, Hopkins's camp runs 365 days a year as a lifestyle — something that's evidenced when "The Executioner" removes his shirt and reveals his chiseled body, which could pass for a boxer half his age.
BET.com caught up with B Hop, as he spoke about the "Final One," what he wants to do after retiring, the possibility of 50 Cent portraying him in a biopic, and whether he's there for a Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor mega bout.
The "Final One" is fitting for a true 1-of-1 like Bernard Hopkins.
From a Felix Trinidad to a Kelly Pavlik and Tavoris Cloud, you not only beat these younger fighters convincingly, but you altered their boxing careers to the point where they were never the same again. Did those lines of thinking have anything to do with you selecting a young lion like Joe Smith as your final opponent?
I would have selected someone my age, but they’re not around boxing any more [laughs]. You know me from a long time ago and it’s about credibility when I step in that ring. Some people would say, the credibility comes with how much you get paid when you fight, some people would say it’s who you fight and others would say it’s your longevity. Obviously, anybody wants to get compensated for it and I’m not denying that. But I also understand that credibility comes into effect that lasts longer than any other thing that I just mentioned out of the three because credibility brings debate about where you’re at in history. A very small percentage can be counted in that pool. That’s an accomplishment and then to go above and beyond that … hey, man.
I picked Joe Smith because he’s dangerous. I picked Joe Smith because he’s young like a Pavlik at the time, like a Trinidad at the time. I picked Joe Smith because if the numbers are right — which they are — he could be my son and I could be not only his father, probably his grandfather.
So, I’m looking at it from a perspective of showing it can be done, but not often. And I’m going to be the first one in the history of sports, boxing and humanity that started it. If you’re playing with this [sport], then you should never try it. You should be sincere, you should live right, and you should also duck more than you take punches.
So, absolutely, I picked a dangerous guy in a light heavyweight who’s hungry, who’s chomping at the bit. Come on, this is an opportunity where he won’t be what he was his last fight. He’s going to be better. It’s going to bring the best out of Bernard Hopkins, The Executioner. And that’s what I need. I need that challenge. Without that challenge, it’d just be a walk in the park. I will not be a sideshow, I will not be a circus act, I will not be something degrading that I wasn’t my whole career, so why go out that way? I cannot. I will not.
You’ve done it all in your boxing career. We know you’re busy working for Golden Boy Promotions, but what else would you like to do with your life after this fight?
What I’d like to do is give people a blueprint on how to live longer, and that has nothing to do with boxing. It has to do with lifestyle. Part of my success comes from how I take care of myself. People are surprised when they see you two years after your last fight and they’re like, ‘Man, you look like you’re in fight week.' And I’m kind of shocked about that. How am I supposed to look? 300, 200 pounds? Why would I do that to myself?
Why wouldn’t I take the best investment on earth — which is me — and not invest like there’s only one of me? It doesn’t make sense. With no degree from any sort of school, I’m trying to figure out how did I become smart, and everybody else with these things somehow missed the basics of common sense? I want to be able to do that through a lot of venues and doors that are opening for me. One way is seeing me spit on HBO during my expert color commentating with my colleagues Jim Lampley and Max Kellerman [on HBO]. Then you see me with Golden Boy, finding talent, nurturing talent, teaching them to be different in and out the ring, and giving them a little bit of the DNA that me and Oscar De La Hoya had and still continue to have. We have life after boxing. You still have to be on point. You still have to think like that fighter in a suit, but not be the fighter in the ring. That’s the goal.
A couple of years back, you told us that a biopic is in your future and that you’d like for 50 Cent to portray you. Since then, we’ve seen you and Fif in photos together. Is there any update on that?
No, nothing came up. We talked, we talked with friends. He got madd respect for me and he said it’s not because I’m a fighter or boxer, but more because how I represent in my business as he represents in his business.
There’s very few of us who took the page of the Jay Z books, the Russell Simmons, the 50 Cent Curtis Jacksons, and we stand out. I look at Ice-T, Steve Harvey and Michael Strahan, who’s a personal friend of mine. So, when you start looking at guys who I rub elbows with and speak to frequently, you got to understand what it does for me.
It helps me be conscious of my vocabulary, it helps me be conscious of how my presence looks in front of people. When you see me down the street, you would recognize me as a fighter, but when we dialog and articulate, you’d say I’m something else when I leave.
When I leave a profound effect of not just trying to impress, but showing that there’s very few — hopefully more in the future — that’s able to represent like a De La Hoya or myself that can stand out and give a different look on how athletes are perceived to be.
You retiring from boxing definitely leaves a hole in the sport. What would a possible Floyd Mayweather Jr. return to boxing to fight Conor McGregor do for the Sweet Science? Would it do anything for you?
No, it wouldn’t.
When I leave, there’ll be an opening for Golden Boy’s young talent to be able to patch that hole up very soon and Canelo [Alvarez]. Canelo right now is Canelo — his own identity — but he’s Oscar De La Hoya of this era. If you don’t believe me, look at the women who show up for his fights.
Even in an urban city in Philadelphia — they don’t have the last name Pedro or Mexico or anything like that — but they are African American women and they love Canelo. They understand that we have talent and we have it in a big way. So, the hole will always be filled for generations to come.
Editor’s Note: Bernard declined to answer a question about doling OG advice to fellow Philadelphia natives Beanie Sigel and Meek Mill over their rap beef within the city.
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