The last time Bernard Hopkins registered a knockout in the ring was on Sept. 18, 2004, when he landed a left hook to the liver that put Oscar De La Hoya, gasping for breath, down and out on the canvas in the ninth round of their middleweight unification showdown at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand.
A decade later, is Hopkins prepared to again knock out the “Golden Boy,” only this time in a business sense?
Although he insists nothing is etched in stone at this point, Hopkins, who shortly after that watershed victory a decade ago became a limited partner in De La Hoya’s company, Golden Boy Promotions, is dropping broad hints as to where his loyalties lie in the aftermath of Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer’s announcement on Monday that he had resigned that position, effective immediately.
“It’s got to be run by somebody,” Hopkins said of Golden Boy Promotions’ now murky future. “But it’s going to be very, very difficult for Golden Boy to keep the credibility of the brand without Richard Schaefer.
“A guy like Richard – and let me say that we don’t always agree on everything – really can’t be replaced. I’ll reiterate: Richard Schaefer cannot be replaced. Things will continue to be run (at GBP), but they won’t – can’t – be the same. Richard is a man who is stern when he needs to be stern, and fair when he needs to be fair. It’s hard to find people like that in boxing. He’s one of the biggest and most respected players there is. Even the people who don’t care for him too much on a personal level have got to respect him when it comes to the way he does his job.
“Think about it. Who really ran Golden Boy? I’m not talking about popping up in the office once or twice a year. Who was there, doing the deals, on a day-to-day basis?”
If that sounds like a veiled shot at De La Hoya, the occasional visitor to his own company whose relationship with his onetime close friend Schaefer has grown increasingly chilly, draw your own conclusions.
“Oscar’s been talking to certain people,” Hopkins said, a pointed reference to the olive branch extended by De La Hoya to his former promoter and more recent adversary, Top Rank founder Bob Arum, with whom Schaefer has adamantly refused to do business. “He’s been tweeting. He showed up at Canelo’s (Alvarez) camp. OK, he’s rededicated, he’s gotten himself together, he’s burying the hatchet (with Arum). Great. But with him doing all that, is anybody really surprised that this thing with Richard happened? The only thing that’s a shock is that it took this long to go down.”
The ramifications of the De La Hoya/Schaefer split are significant. It was Schaefer who has a close personal and working relationship with boxing’s most bankable fighter, FloydMayweather Jr., as well as with Mayweather’s influential adviser, Al Haymon, whose deep roster of fighters regularly appeared on Golden Boy cards but all of whom were not under contract to GBP. Schaefer’s resignation was quickly followed by an announcement from Leonard Ellerbee, chief executive of Mayweather Promotions, that Mayweather and, most likely, Haymon’s other A-list fighters were also severing relations with GBP. That leaves De La Hoya’s depleted stable with a new lead pony, Alvarez (43-1-1, 31 KOs), who takes on Erislandy Lara (19-1-2, 12 KOs) on July 12 at the MGM Grand.
Although it is widely presumed that Schaefer, a Swiss-born banker who had no background in boxing until he became De La Hoya’s business manager and then GBP’s CEO, will now partner up with Mayweather, Haymon and Ellerbe, there are legal issues that must be ironed out. For one thing, Schaefer – who signed a contract extension with GBP in April 2012 that Hopkins said “runs until, I think, 2017 or 2018” – remains a shareholder in the company, which could make it difficult for him to join Mayweather Promotions or some other promotional entity until the expiration of that arrangement. In a prepared statement, Schaefer indicated that he will “look forward to the next opportunity,” and that he hopes that opportunity is in boxing, but he also noted that he also is “proud to remain a shareholder, so I have a strong interest in the continued success of the company.”
For his part, Ellerbe said, “Richard will have a tremendous impact on whatever he decides to do and wherever he goes. We always welcome smart leaders, but I don’t know what his future is.”
Hopkins has spent his share of time in courtrooms, having engaged in bitter and ultimately litigated disputes with several of his past promoters, managers, trainers and advisers, including Butch Lewis, Don King, Bouie Fisher and Lou DiBella. He has an idea of where all this is headed.
“You know it’s funny,” he said. “When I joined Golden Boy, people were actually betting that somehow I would find a way to screw it up. But I’m still here.”
Yeah, but for how long? At 49, Hopkins (55-6-2, 32 KOs), the IBF and WBA light heavyweight champion, is looking forward to another unification matchup, with WBC 175-pound titlist Adonis Stevenson (24-1, 20 KOs). Whether that bout, if it comes off, is under the Golden Boy banner has yet to be determined.
“I’m not under contract to Golden Boy,” stressed Hopkins, who added that he has spoken recently to both De La Hoya and Schaefer. “No one has asked me to come here or to stay there. I got my own team, a separate team. When all is said and done, I’m going to evaluate everything and decide to do what’s best for Bernard Hopkins. I’m going to try to be fair to everybody, but I got to look out for me first. It’s crucial for me to make the right move, whether it’s with Richard or with Oscar. I worked too hard to get here to do anything else.
“No matter what, though, what’s going on now between them won’t affect me from getting in the ring and winning another title. I want to continue to unify the light heavyweight division, and with two titles I’m in better position to do that now, regardless of the shakeup. I could even promote my next fight myself. It won’t be an emotional decision. I’m going to align myself with the best, with the smartest, and with whoever can do the most for me at this stage of my career.”
Hopkins was asked if the timing of Schaefer’s resignation could be interpreted as an attempt to somehow diminish De La Hoya’s induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on Sunday. He said he didn’t think so, although Schaefer will not be in Canastota, N.Y., for the ceremony, which also would seem to say a lot.
“That’s one way to look at it,” he said of the perception some have that Schaefer is intentionally trying to detract from De La Hoya’s Hall of Fame moment. “It’s the easy way to look at it. But let’s keep it real. The last 30 or 40 days, and maybe longer, this thing has been massaged every which way. Is anybody surprised that this thing with Richard happened?
“But I don’t think too much should be read into the timing. Fights need to be negotiated, deals need to get done, whether it’s Hall of Fame weekend or not. Look, we all have to do what we think is best. I think Richard got to the point where he just couldn’t wait another week to do what he did. He probably felt he couldn’t wait another day.”
Hopkins also said the Showtime/HBO, Golden Boy/Top Rank “Cold War” was “foolish from the beginning. A lot of fans got hurt, and are still getting hurt to this day. They’re missing out on a lot of big fights. But it is what it is.”
There was one more potential surprise offered by Hopkins, who professed admiration for Haymon, who could become part of whatever remains of his twilight as an active fighter. That statement further suggests that boxing’s ageless wonder could soon be parting ways with Golden Boy.
“I have great respect for him, and he has great respect for me, going back to the day when he came into boxing with one fighter, my friend, Vernon Forrest, `The Viper,’” Hopkins said of Haymon, the Boxing Writers Association of America’s 2013 Manager of the Year. “I was on the other side from him when Al was representing Jermain Taylor.
“I don’t have a contract with Al Haymon, but I wouldn’t mind having one because he knows the business and he knows how to make the moves to get you where you need to be.”