Legal KO of promoter frees Hopkins to focus on career Philadelphian is eager to return to his 'office'

November 17, 1997|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

Bernard Hopkins puts his International Boxing Federation title on the line against Andrew Council at The Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro tomorrow night.

But the Philadelphia boxer says he won his biggest battle this year by terminating his contract with longtime promoter Butch NTC Lewis.

"I feel like a free man in heart and spirit," said Hopkins after a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled he was free of fulfilling the remaining three years of his promotional deal with Lewis, best known for managing the careers of Leon and Michael Spinks.

Before the court's decision, Hopkins had defended his 160-pound crown four times in since winning the vacant title by knocking out Equador's Segundo Mercado at USAirways Arena in April 1995.

More troubling to Hopkins, who went from serving five years in prison for armed robbery to world champion, was the size of his purses under Lewis' guidance.

"When I went to court, with my new attorney, Allen Taylor, all these deals Butch had made for me came to light," he said.

"In May 1993, HBO paid $1.4 million for my fight with Roy Jones at RFK Stadium. By that, I figured I was due half, or $700,000, and even after my manager [Fareed Ahmed] took a 40-percent cut, I should have gotten $420,000. You know, I wound up with just $150,000."

The final straw with Lewis came after Hopkins scored a fourth-round knockout over Joe Lipsey in March 1966.

"That sensational win should have put me on another level, money-wise," he said. "But ABC offered me only $50,000 to fight Howard Davis and I turned it down. Then I got $50,000 to fight William James. I took it to stay busy, but it was embarrassing for someone everyone called the best middleweight in the world."

Hopkins, 31, recently signed a multi-bout deal with America Presents, which has ties with HBO. He can now focus on his career rather than contract squabbles.

"HBO will finally embrace a blue-collar worker," he said. "My thing is in the ring. It's my office, where I go to work. I'm not a lawyer or promoter. I'm a guy who was blessed with a talent to box. People have told me to keep quiet or it could cost me my title. Believe me, the only way I'll lose my title is in the ring."

An amateur boxer before he was arrested at 17, Hopkins spent his first few months in jail behaving like a hardened criminal.

"I was a kid acting like a grown man," he said. "I thought I was the same tough guy I'd been on the street, being hip. I didn't change until I saw all the fighting, corruption, raping and stabbing going on in that prison. I refused to get caught up in it. I knew there was a better life beyond my 4-foot-by-5-foot cell."

Hopkins turned to boxing as his route to respectability. Now he makes numerous appearances at Philadelphia schools, spreading his message of redemption.

"Yes, I've got nice clothes now, and a new car, but I'm not into Rolex watches or Rolls Royces," Hopkins said. "I know my roots. A lot of these kids I talk to don't respect themselves or authority. They're headed down the same path I was when I was their age. I've got to show them there's a better way."

Hopkins (32-2-1) has learned patience in pursuing his title goals.

"I could start trying to unify the middleweight title by fighting [WBC champion] Keith Holmes," he said. "But I know Holmes is promoted by Don King, and King won't let me fight any of his guys unless he can control me with options. I'm not going that route again."

Hopkins does dream of another bout with Jones, the current light-heavyweight king who took a 12-round decision over Hopkins.

"I gave Roy too much respect the last time. I tried to beat him at his own game, counterpunching," Hopkins said. "I should have fought him like a true Philadelphia warrior, going for the jugular. One day, maybe we'll get it on again."

Fight facts

Who: Bernard Hopkins (32-2-1, 25 KOs), Philadelphia, vs. Andrew Council (27-5-3, 19 KOs), Lanham

What: For Hopkins' International Boxing Federation middleweight title

Where: Show Place Arena, Upper Marlboro

When: Tomorrow night, first preliminary bout, 7 p.m.

TV: USA, 9 p.m.

Tickets: $60, $40 and $20. Call 410-481-SEAT.

Pub Date: 11/17/97

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