"I know I won the first one and that's why I'm going back to Canada. I could have told Richard Schafer that I want to go to Vegas. Richard has power and Golden Boy won the purse bid, so we can go to wherever we want to go, but I said, 'Let's go back to Canada.' The thing is this, as far as I'm concerned, they can take a fight from me, they can take a car from me, they can take being in the Hall of Fame from me and they can take away my pound-for-pound ranking and every fighter's ranking for whatever reason they think they should take it. That's fine. They have their own reasons why. But at the end of the day, they can't take my legacy, they can't take my status, they can't take my principle; they can't take things that is important to me," stated future Hall of Famer Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins as he talked about his upcoming rematch WBC light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal. You don't want to miss what he had to say as Hopkins gets deeper than the ocean with his thoughts on his career, his life, and much more. Check it out!
PC: I know they forgave you years ago when you apologized, but you recently went back to Puerto Rico. What was it like for you over there?
BH: Man, I was just doing an interview with a guy just now from San Juan and his question was similar to the way you just asked it. I had a hat on and a pair of prescription glasses that become sunglasses when you walk outside, so I really had some dark glasses on and my hat pulled down and they still knew who I was. People stopped in cars, they stopped me at the airport, they stopped me where I was staying at the hotel with Michael Perez from Golden Boy. Man, it was love, man. It was love. They had a whole car full of guys pulled up. They were Spanish and they had the music loud. I walked across the street because I had some down time. The beach was across the street and they pulled over and I said, "Up," I told my guy Arnold Joseph, my attorney who represents Perez; we were walking just trying to kill a couple of hours and I said, "Up, here we go." The next thing I know, they came out like, "Yo, BHop, Executioner, yo man, will you take a picture." That's how it was when I got there and that's how it was when I left. They were taking pictures with me, man, and these guys were between 19-25 years of age. I'm thinking that age range, you know they are going to say something negative, but they didn't. I think that comes from respect. Time had passed and these were guys that were probably 10-15 years old when I fought Tito.
I think a lot of it had to do...and I was telling a guy this earlier because he asked me why do I think they were like that with me. I told him, "Fighting to the side, when I came back to Puerto Rico with Paco [Valcarcel, the WBO President], because he invited me back there; he had heard me say on TV after I beat Tito that I wanted to go back and apologize to the Spanish people. Not through TV, not through the internet, not through a letter, and not through some spokesman or publicist. I wanted to go back to where they chased me out of and apologize and go different places, visit the prisons, and talk to the poor people there. I went to see Wilfred Benetiz, who was in a nursing home. I remember this like it was yesterday and it's been almost 10 years. You know what I really think? Even though it was a thing that I felt like I needed to do, going back without an entourage, going back without security, and going back without...I was told by people in camp, the Bouie Fisher family, everybody found an excuse of why they couldn't go that night, and I'm being serious. And guess what? Arnold Joseph went. He was the last person who I thought would go, but he went. I got a call it like it is man. But I went because it was my name on the line because I said that I would go back. It was riding on me. They didn't throw the flag down; I threw the flag down. I went back and I believe today that that was the best thing that I did. That was the best thing that I did. Now, that doesn't mean that somebody ain't gonna ride by, which they did, and honk the horn and yell, "Tito," but it was 1 out of every 20 people that did that. The other 19 were saying, "Can you take a picture with my son? Can you hold my baby?" People don't do that if they hate you. I'm here talking to you from Philadelphia right now, so obviously I lived and I got out of there without running. I believe going back there and apologizing sincerely, that to me showed Bernard Hopkins' character and credibility because at the end of the day, how many people go from getting chased out, hit with sticks, chased from Roberto Coliseum to the airport with dignitaries, motorcycles and fans riding on the side of us throwing bricks at the car and turning over the car that we came in, which was a limo...the dude with the jet said he was not going to take us on his jet because he didn't want them to turn his jet over and kill him. Tito was scared and he's Puerto Rican. So I say to you, man, I'm "The Executioner" and I know how to be tough when it's time to be tough, but at the end of the day, I didn't want the Spanish community, which is big in Philadelphia and around the world, to believe some who would try to say that I'm racist and that I didn't like Spanish people. I wanted to go back and tell them that it ain't that deep, but it was nasty and I will tell you why I did it. Whether it comes across as an excuse or not, I'm just telling you what I think needed to be done for me and it set a stage mentally with Trinidad. It made the pressure so extreme that not only did he want to win, but he wanted to kill me and that took him off of his game plan. You win first and you knockout second, and that's what a lot of fighters don't understand. I can beat these guys all day with the mind just by knowing that they haven't learned their lesson. And any fighter or any person, sports or not sports, learn the value of mental toughness; not tough when you have to be humble and not humble when you have to be tough. But the mental is what keeps you alive and what keeps you in the race. The physical must be at its peak and it will deprive you as long as you go through this thing called life.
PC: You spoke about your character and I think your character was further enhanced being that you won the fight hands down and you stopped their guy and still wanted to go make things right over there. If you had lost, it's easy to say, "Oh, and by the way, their guy won and I want to apologize to the Puerto Ricans." But for you to win in the manner in which you did and still not use that to brag and say, "I told them so," in my eyes shows how sincere you truly were.
BH: And I was and I knew that there was a force out there that was gonna try to take that victory and put a cloud over that victory against Tito Trinidad by me throwing the flag down. I saw the politics trying to stir up a hurricane to blindside what I done, which is perceived to be one of the greatest fights of my career, to say that I was a racist and that's why I threw the flag down. They tried to overshadow what I done on September 29th because of the flag incident. They tried to take that away. I had to play the publicist. Ain't no publicist tell me, "Bernard, you gotta play it this way." And I'm not trying to take all of the credit, but something in my soul and something in my heart said that I have to show these people that not only am I not afraid to go back to San Juan, Puerto Rico, but that I'm sincere. This is only the fight business and in the fight business, things happen that need to happen and there is no explaining beforehand. It always has to be explained afterwards because beforehand, it's premeditated and after, it had to happen because this is the way it went down and this is why I did it and that's why it had to happen. Tito Trinidad didn't want to win the fight, he wanted to kill me, and when a guy gets off of his game plan, he cannot win. To stand up for his people is a lot of pressure on one man. That's a lot of pressure on one man that trained in San Juan his whole life and got to run and go to the store and go to the gym and talk to the media and get phone calls saying, "You gotta get him Tito. He threw our flag down Papi. You gotta do this and you gotta do that." Can you imagine his 9 weeks of camp? It's been hell! He was punching the bag so hard every day that he didn't have a day to rest. He didn't have a day to say, "Let me work on technique." He worked on killing me. I outsmarted him and that's when I beat him.
PC: You now have the rematch with Jean Pascal coming in May on the 21st. Is it tough for you, knowing that you and everyone else thought you won the first fight, to go to the gym and say, "Okay, maybe I need to change this or that." Do you feel you need to make any adjustments being that you thought you won the first fight?
BH: No, I know I won the first one and that's why I'm going back to Canada. I could have told Richard Schafer that I want to go to Vegas. Richard has power and Golden Boy won the purse bid, so we can go to wherever we want to go, but I said, "Let's go back to Canada." The thing is this, as far as I'm concerned, they can take a fight from me, they can take a car from me, they can take being in the Hall of Fame from me and they can take away my pound-for-pound ranking and every fighter's ranking for whatever reason they think they should take it. That's fine. They have their own reasons why. But at the end of the day, they can't take my legacy, they can't take my status, they can't take my principle; they can't take things that is important to me. Man can take anything that they feel is God to them, but you can't take nothing from me that can discourage me as a person because my life has been a bonus to me after coming home from the penitentiary 24 years ago. How you gonna discourage a guy that was told to my face that I would be dead and that I would never be nothing? I turned out to be just the opposite. It didn't start off that way, but it did end that way. It started off so early in life when I had no knowledge of today. Then I say to them this is peanuts, this is kid's play, because if you know me like you say you know me, then you will look at my history and where I came from and say, "You know what? We're fighting a losing battle because we're not fighting strength, we're not fighting physics, but we're fighting a guy so mentally tough that we have to experience something like that to even compete with him mentally." And then spiritually, it's not even a match. You will never break me to the point where I feel like I have to prove something that I already know that I've already did.
PC: I have followed your entire career and I was shocked when you said it's been 24 years since you walked out of Graterford State Prison. Looking at where you are today and what you stand for today, what is it like to say, "I walked out of prison 24 years ago and never looked back"?
BH: 24 years ago, man, and I met with some movie people out in LA during All-Star weekend. I can say this because it's not confidential. I got a $12 million backing for my movie that is going to probably be produced in another 4 to 5 years. You know it takes a long time to do those movies. Two of the movies they did were "Brooklyn's Finest", you remember that one, and the other one was "Training Day". It is a really young producer out there that is really excited about my life story, more or less, than the boxing story, which is one thing. But he's really interested in what was my thinking, what was my drive and my motivation. They had done their homework before they met me out there for All-Star weekend and they said to me, "When you lost your first fight in 1988, we see that you didn't do nothing in '89. We see that you didn't do nothing in '90. What was those 2 years like after coming home and losing your first fight?" They said, "Unbelievable!" And I ain't gonna put it out there now, but it wasn't good. It was a struggle between back to what I used to be about or try again in the boxing world and just roll the dice and never look back. And from that time on, if you notice, when I signed with Butch Lewis, I went on and ran off 23 straight wins and then I fought Roy Jones Jr. in RFK Stadium in Washington DC in 1993. I lost a decision to Roy Jones Jr. and then I went on 10+ years holding the middleweight championship, breaking records and shattering records. You know what that producer said to me?
PC: What's that X?
BH: "You don't like losing do you?" He looked at my resume and my behavior; he didn't hear me talk. By looking at my history, he said, "You like proving people wrong, don't you?" I said, "Yeah!" The warden said to me, and it's well documented, let me know if you heard it, I said, "I'm going to be champ one day" and he said, "You will be back in 6 months." You remember that?
PC: Yup, I have definitely heard that before.
BH: His name was Buddy Rush. I will never forget it. He was a hillbilly way out there in Graterford, 45 minutes from the city. Everybody in that county that is employed are prison guards to watch convicted criminals, so I looked at it as a business and I wasn't going to be in that business anymore. But that's easier said than done for a guy that couldn't stay out of jail for 3 days when I was a juvenile. So I understood it was a good bet. Listen, by statistics, I'm not mad at him. I hugged him. He came to my fights. If you go in the archives, you can see that Buddy Rush came to my fights early on at the Blue Horizon and in Atlantic City, and I told everybody who he was. He came on stage and hugged me and told everybody how I was at the gym early and left late and was back early. It was recreation to me that became fun again. Boxing became fun again. In the streets, I was boxing for trophies and everybody had cars, money, and new clothes and I had nothing, so I got caught up in the stereotype that I needed to have things in my pocket and I got tired of fighting for trophies. Everybody in my neighborhood that was drug dealers and number writers had money. I wanted money, so I started robbing without a gun with my hands and intimidating drug dealers and convicted crooks on the street. I built up a reputation where they were eventually going to kill me or I was going to be down with the big man on the street and I would have gotten 100 years in the penitentiary. God spared me, but didn't spare my younger brother, who was a year under me. He would be 45 if he was living and I'm 46. He went to the graveyard and I went to Graterford. Why wasn't it the other way around? It wasn't meant that way. So this movie is gonna be...hey, listen man, when this thing comes out, it ain't gonna be a boxing movie, trust me. Boxing is going to be something that saved my life as far as what I had to come out to. I came home 24 years old with a GED from the prison with 30 convictions and 9 years parole. You think I'm supposed to wind up the way I am?
PC: That's a lot of time to back up.
BH: And you mean to tell me people in boxing didn't think this story was something to be told even if it's just to save their own son?
[ Follow Percy Crawford on Twitter @MrLouis1ana ]