By Mitch Abramson
Bernard Hopkins likes to talk trash. We know this. He also likes to get inside his opponent’s psyche and smack it like a plastic doll. This, we also know. Why else would someone snatch a Puerto Rican flag out of the hands of Felix Trinidad and throw it to the ground- in Puerto Rico no less- risking his life?
So when Hopkins took the stage for a press conference in January and expressed his wish to put promoter Don King out of business, it seemed at first like just another Hopkins’ rant against an opponent, which in this case was Tavoris Cloud. But this seemed a little more personal and harsh. Hopkins even named rank-and-file employees of King’s company by name, saying he would write them recommendations if they ever needed them once he closed down their operation by beating Cloud.
Even Hopkins’ promoter, Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy Promotions shook his head and admitted that Hopkins’ comments were unnecessarily cruel.
“Yeah it’s a harsh thing to say,” Schaefer said at Wednesday’s press conference before Saturday’s showdown at the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn. “I’m sure certain people want to put me out of business. But that’s boxing. Everyone’s trying to put everyone out of business.”
At the same time, Schaefer conceded that maybe Hopkins had a point: Maybe the reign of Don King, the promoter who coined the phrase “Only in America” and presided over such big bouts as the “Thrilla in Manila” and “The Rumble in the Jungle” was coming to an unceremonious end.
“Don King has had a terrific career,” said Schaefer. “He’s one of the all-time great promoters. He’s promoted some of the biggest, legendary fights. He had his time and I think you don’t need to rub it in. But now it’s our time.”
Schaefer didn’t stop there. Surrounded by several reporters, Schaefer had a little good-natured fun, poking fun at the King persona, which in recent years, as his business operations has shrunk, has taken on cartoon-like proportions. (He spent the better part of Wednesday’s press conference yelling “Viva Puerto Rico” and “Rosie! Rosie! Rosie!” after the former dancer and actress Rosie Perez who was on hand.)
“I don’t know if it’s true but someone told me that he let all of his staff go so he’s clearly down-sizing,” Schaefer said in response to a question of whether King is nearing the end of his legendary career. “Which is great. I think if you’ve been doing something for 40 or 50 years I think there should be a time where you slow down a bit and enjoy life. But I guess he enjoys what he’s doing- walking around in his jean jacket and the flags and yelling “Puerto Rico”- he doesn’t even have a Puerto Rican fighter anymore but still living in the past, which is great. This is what it’s about. It’s about the memories and he has a lot of memories, and he’s always a fun guy to talk to.”
At the age of 81, King is nearing the end of a magnificent and improbable career with mega-fights starring the likes of Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, and even Hopkins, who fought for King for a brief spell. But King’s celebrity and cache within in the sports has gone down in recent years. He has trimmed his company from 100 employees in the glory years to just 25 who work on his shows, according to his longtime publicist, Alan Hopper.
While King used to promote some of the biggest names in the sport, today his top fighter is Cloud, the undefeated IBF light heavyweight champion, whose restrained yet friendly personality and sometimes inconsistent fighting style doesn’t exactly remind people of Trinidad, a fighter King once promoted to great fame. Hopkins (56-6-2, 32 knockouts) will try to break his own record as the oldest fighter to ever win a world title when he takes on Cloud (24-0, 19 knockouts) this Saturday at the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn to be aired on HBO. It’s Hopkins’ 29th world championship bout.
Hopkins, 48, didn’t address the media during the final press conference on Wednesday, exiting before the session ended. (He wore a black hood, sun glasses and some sort of wrap covering his mouth, leading some to jokingly wonder if it wasn’t even Hopkins under all that clothing but someone else.) But Hopkins expressed his wishes in an earlier conference call, telling reporters he hoped to beat the 30-year-old Cloud, so he could basically put King out of business and “put the last nail [in the] coffin.”
“Loyalty wouldn’t be something that he really values- except to himself,” Hopper said of Hopkins, whom he described as always friendly whenever they've crossed paths. “It didn’t really surprise me when he started calling me out, saying he’d write me a recommendation when he put me out of work. These are all the types of things that we’ve [heard from him] in the past.”
Cloud also made light of Hopkins’ comments, saying that King had gotten inside of his head and that Hopkins seemed distracted about facing him.
“He’s talking trash to Don King,” Cloud said. “He’s not thinking of the task of hand. Don King got inside his head during his first press conference in here. He needs to get his priorities in order.”
Cloud also dismissed Hopkins comments out of hand as just typical outlandish stuff that the veteran fighter typically says before a fight.
“Bernard Hopkins is a talker,” Cloud said. “I don’t care what he’s sayin’. It’s not bothering me, whether he’s going to put Don King out of business and all this stuff and [King] is going to open up a Fried Chicken restaurant and all that. Bernard Hopkin doesn’t bother me.”
King smiled when reminded of Hopkins’ boast. At first he tried to downplay the snub, also dismissing Hopkins’ claim as nothing more than Hopkins’ rhetoric.
“It’s Hopkins, man,” King said. “I don’t pay no attention to that. Hopkins is my friend and I love the guy and I got him a lot of wins in promoting him. I love Cloud. It would affect me [if he lost on Saturday] and would affect my business- whatever that would be.”
But when pressed, King took a defiant stance, seemingly putting anyone in their place who had challenged him and his business acumen.
“Everybody in here is trying to do what I’ve already done,” King said with a smile. “He don’t have to worry about me. My business is done. Ain’t nobody can touch me here. Not in this life time. They’re going to have to come in another [life to equal what I’ve done]. So I’m not even concerned about that. In responding to anything like that- it’s poppycock, its child’s play. So I’m teaching him what to do.”
As a sign that King isn’t exactly shying away from his usual behavior, Schaefer referenced a story of how the morning of the press conference on Wednesday he got a call from King with an interesting request.
“So what is Don King doing the morning of the press conference, calling me?” Schaefer said. “Well guess what? Asking for more money. Typical Don King. It just put a smile on my face. That’s Don.”
Asked who he was trying to get more money for, Schaefer smiled again and with a comedian’s flourish said with a laugh: “I think [he was trying to get more money] for him.”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.