LAS VEGAS (AP) - Bernard Hopkins is the undisputed middleweight champion of the world, a fighter so good that he hasn't lost in 11 years.
When it comes to putting fans in the seats, though, he understands who is the real champ.
"Oscar De La Hoya is the undisputed cash cow," Hopkins said. "Period, end of story."
Because Hopkins came to that realization when Felix Trinidad and Shane Mosley wouldn't, he's fighting on Saturday on the same card as De La Hoya with
a chance for some really serious money for the first time in his 16-year professional career.
For a fighter often accused of mismanaging his own career, it's an odd turn of events. And Hopkins is about to have the last laugh.
Assuming he and De La Hoya both win on Saturday, they meet in September with De La Hoya looking to make some $30 million. Hopkins will make only half
of that, but for a fighter who made less than $300,000 in his last fight, that's fine with him.
"I've called Oscar a punk and other things for ducking me, but I have no disrespect for him as a businessman," Hopkins said. "He knows how to bring in
Hopkins defends his middleweight titles against Robert Allen at the MGM Grand hotel, while De La Hoya moves up in weight to challenge Germany's Felix
Sturm for the lightly regarded WBO version of the 72-kilogram (160-pound) belt.
Both are prohibitive favorites to win, setting up a Sept. 18 middleweight title fight that could be the richest non-heavyweight fight ever.
"He got this fight because he's very, very smart," promoter Bob Arum said. "At the end of the day on Sept. 18, Bernard is going to make more money
than any opponent Oscar has ever faced."
That's not bad for a 39-year-old, whose battles with managers and promoters have cost him lucrative fights before.
Hopkins won the biggest fight of his career when he beat Trinidad to unify the title in 2001, but since then has fought only three times, for a few
hundred thousand dollars a fight.
"Bernard Hopkins," promoter Don King said before Hopkins' last fight, "is like someone who won the lottery and then lost the ticket."
If so, it didn't take Hopkins long to find it. He finished his obligation to King in December when he destroyed William Joppy to retain his titles,
then declared himself a free agent open to all offers.
Surprisingly enough, one came from De La Hoya, the one fighter Hopkins knew he could make a bundle from.
"A lot of people didn't see my vision, they called me crazy and an old fool," Hopkins said. "I waited them out when they threw everything at me and
I've persevered. Now, there's no other way to go but through the door of Bernard Hopkins."
Hopkins wasn't De La Hoya's first choice, or even his second. He wanted a rematch with Trinidad, who beat him in 1999, but Arum said Trinidad's father
made such exorbitant demands that no real serious negotiations ever took place.
De La Hoya then turned to Mosley, who beat him last September and wasn't going to work for short money again. That turned out to be a mistake for
Mosley, who might have made $15 million for a third fight with De La Hoya, but ended up losing his 69-kilogram (154-pound) title to Winky Wright in
March for a $2 million purse.
That left Hopkins, and Arum wasn't sure what reaction he would get from a fighter who has been convinced all his career that everyone was stealing
money from him.
Arum called in the afternoon. By the evening, the deal was done.
"Bernard's point was that if he got more money than he ever dreamed of, what does he care what Oscar makes," Arum said. "Oscar's the guy who generates
the money, and Bernard took a businessman's view of this thing."
Hopkins is guaranteed just short of $2 million to fight Allen, and will make more if the pay-per-view does well. If he and De La Hoya meet, he will be
guaranteed $10 million, with an upside if the fight sells as expected.
He says he doesn't feel vindicated, but he sure sounds like he does.
"You've heard it many times, I've done it my way," Hopkins said. "You know that old gut feeling that your mom and grandma tell you that your instincts
are best? Well, my instincts were best and I went with them."
[Edited on 4-6-2004 by Ocelot]