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Hopkins does things his way, and it finally pays off

| Friday, Sept. 17, 2004, 12:00 p.m.

LAS VEGAS -- For the fight of his life, Bernard Hopkins chose some ring music to say something about his life.

When he enters the ring Saturday night to face Oscar De La Hoya, it won't be to pulsating rap. Instead, Frank Sinatra will be crooning "My Way."

"I'm coming out with old blue eyes," Hopkins said. "It's going to be a heck of a statement."

The choice of music is fitting. If any boxer has done things his way, it's Hopkins.

He has spent his career battling promoters, managers, agents and anyone else he suspects might have it out for him. His talent is unquestioned, but it seemed Hopkins was destined to squander his opportunity to make really big money.

Then De La Hoya came calling, and changed everything. And now Hopkins believes he has a right to feel vindicated.

"I said a long time ago that I would be patient, but nobody could understand my vision," the 39-year-old fighter said. "I have no regrets. Who thought I'd be where I'm at anyway?"

Where Hopkins is at is on the verge of a payday that dwarfs anything he has made in his remarkable career. Fighting for only $300,000 just a few months ago, he could make as much as $15 million Saturday night against De La Hoya.

Not bad for a Philadelphia fighter who came out of prison to lose his first fight and who promoter Don King once said "won the lottery but threw away the ticket" after beating Felix Trinidad.

"I've come a long way from sitting in a 5-by-5 cell with no gold medal, no big sponsor contract, no big promoter," Hopkins said. "I'm the hungriest fighter in the world right now."

Hopkins will be defending his middleweight titles for the 19th time, but never on this kind of stage. His fight with De La Hoya will be the richest boxing event of the year, and could set records for a nonheavyweight pay-per-view telecast.

Hopkins, who hasn't lost in 11 years, is so good that De La Hoya will be an underdog for the first time. But for all his talent, it took an unexpected challenge from De La Hoya to finally make him the kind of money he believes he deserved all along.

"This fight here shuts my critics up by saying Bernard Hopkins can't deliver a big fight because he out prices himself and is hard to deal with," Hopkins said. "This fight generates the money I truly deserve and am worth."

It was only a few months ago that Hopkins was bemoaning the fact De La Hoya and none of the other top fighters wanted to fight him. His big knockout win over Trinidad -- which paid him $2.85 million -- was fading in memory, and it seemed as if he would never get the big payday he deserved.

Then came a call from promoter Bob Arum with a surprising offer. De La Hoya, frustrated with trying to get rematches with Trinidad and Shane Mosley was willing to fight him at a contract weight of 158 pounds if the two camps could agree on terms.

"My first reaction was that it was a joke, and that somebody was playing games," Hopkins said. "The next week we're on a plane heading for Vegas to sign the contract."

Unlike Mosley, whose demands for more money than De La Hoya cost him a big money match, Hopkins didn't even ask what De La Hoya was making. He signed for a guaranteed $10 million plus a percentage of the pay-per-view revenues that could bring his total purse to $15 million.

Hopkins, who acts as his own manager, negotiated the contract himself along with his attorney.

"It went so smoothly and I'm so used to the opposite happening that I got paranoid," Hopkins said. "Then it was, let's just get it on paper quick."

Arum said Hopkins not only didn't live up to his reputation of being unreasonable in negotiations, he has also done everything possible to hold up his end of promoting the fight.

"You ask him to do one thing and he'll do five others in addition to that," Arum said.

Still, Hopkins can be a challenge to any promoter. He almost scuttled his biggest payday when he threatened to pull out of his doubleheader tuneup with De La Hoya in June because he thought the referee, Joe Cortez, might be biased against him.

That was resolved at the last minute with no apparent ill will. But De La Hoya then nearly derailed the big fight himself by coming in out of shape and almost losing to Felix Sturm.

Arum said the focus of the promotion since has been to convince people that De La Hoya has a chance to win the fight against the 2-1 favorite Hopkins.

"There are questions Oscar has to answer," Arum said. "This is a winnable fight for Oscar but that doesn't mean he'll win. Bernard is a very determined fighter."

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