Bernard Hopkins is like the white rabbit in Alice and Wonderland. You try to follow him into a different world but you can’t keep up.
He goes from philosopher to fighter to ex-con to world champion to preacher in the time it takes to answer a simple question. He’s 85 minutes of a 90-minute conference call, an undisputed world champion about to make history if everything goes as planned.
Ask him something and his answer comes at you in a long, steady stream of thought that has a tendency to stray off into the distance. Give him a minute and he’ll make it twenty, offering you a little philosophy, a little preaching, a little history and a little home cooking.
That’s because Hopkins doesn’t answer questions as much as he surrounds them and teases them before going for the kill. When he‘s done with the fight game, he should consider making a move into talk radio, preaching, the lecture circuit or politics.
But that’s what makes him a great interview. The guy doesn’t have to be poked in the ribs to give an honest, candid answer.
On a telephone conference call Thursday to discuss his upcoming fight with Howard Eastman (40-1, 34 KOs) set for February 19 at Staples Center in Los Angeles (HBO), Hopkins (45-2-1, 32 KOs) talked about an assortment of things, including growing old as a fighter, the 1986 fight between John “The Beast” Mugabi and Marvin Hagler, the Philadelphia Eagles, Michael Jordan, joining Oscar De La Hoya in Golden Boy Promotions, growing up poor in a rough part of Philadelphia, the Blue Horizon, his future, his past, his time in prison, Felix Trinidad, Glen Johnson, Donovan McNabb, being 40-years-old, and recently being named “manager of the year” by the Boxing Writers Association of America.
Oh yeah. He also mentioned Eastman.
“He‘s a sleeper,” Hopkins said, trying to get the trivial stuff out of the way. “He’s a tall, rangy fighter. He’s a b-minus fighter. He predicted he’d stop me in five rounds, but that’s just the hype talking. You’ve got to be able to back it up. I’m not going to run from him. I’ll be right there. If he knocks me out, he’ll be the baddest man on the planet.”
So much for the bold prediction of the Battersea Bomber.
But if Hopkins didn’t talk much about who he’s fighting, he did take the time to talk about why. He’s thinking about history and what it means and how he expects to make it on the night of February 19.
On his list of “things I want to do before I quit this game,” Hopkins has Eastman’s name written in ink at the No. 20 spot.
This will be the 20th defense of his middleweight title and that’s what Hopkins wants to talk about, not the guy who wants to break the string.
“This is special because history can never be erased or forgotten,” he said about successfully defending his title 20 times. “History will follow me to my grave.”
Hopkins said he wants “to promote how extraordinary it is to be at the Jerry Rice level in boxing. I want people to pay attention to that. I want people to watch this ageless fighter come February 19. When I leave here, we don‘t know when another Bernard Hopkins is going to come around.”
We hope it’s soon.
Hopkins doesn’t expect his particular piece of personal history to end with the fight against Eastman. He said he’d still like to fight light heavyweight champ Gen Johnson, former world champion Felix Trinidad and up-and-coming contender Jermain Taylor, who will be fighting on the undercard of the Hopkins fight.
“That’s my game plan after the 19th,” Hopkins said. “That‘s what keeps me motivated.”
Calling himself a throwback fighter, Hopkins said he’s always in shape, he always fights at the same weight, and he’s always mentally prepared no matter who he’s fighting.
“Against Eastman, I’m going to do what Bernard Hopkins does for all his fights,” he said. “I’m going to fight as though it’s my last fight and I have to make a statement.”
Don’t expect it to be a short one.