Money Talks: Q&A with boxing champ Bernard Hopkins

World light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins would rather take a right to the jaw than a left to his portfolio.

At 46, the Philadelphia native became the oldest boxer to win a world title with a 12-round decision over Jean Pascal last spring. Nicknamed "The Executioner," Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 knockouts) successfully defended his world middleweight title a record 20 times and is rated the 10th best pound-for-pound boxer in the world by Ring Magazine.

Outside the ring, Hopkins displays equal prowess as a savvy businessman. He manages his own career, invests conservatively in real estate and government bonds, and owns a minority share of Golden Boy Promotions, started a decade ago by world champ Oscar De La Hoya, who invited Hopkins to join him two months after the Executioner KO'd him in 2004. sparred with Hopkins about boxing and money during his New York announcement of his upcoming bout with 29-year-old Chad Dawson on Oct. 15.

Characteristically, Hopkins had one eye on the stock ticker. You're speaking from New York on the dreaded Monday after the U.S. credit rating downgrade.

Bernard Hopkins: We're having trouble now out there. I love to talk about this stuff! What's your take on the downgrade?

Hopkins: I don't think it's going to be 100 percent disaster; a lot of people are going to be hurt by it, a lot of people are not going to be hurt by it. This is going to actually wipe some people out. We're not told everything from A to Z. I don't think the government or powers that be are going to really let us know the real deal until they can't hide it no more, they can't politically slide it here or there or put a spin on it. This is really going to test the smartest financial person, whether you owe money or manage others' money. This is definitely going to separate the haves and the have-nots. That's my philosophy. I don't know if that sounds like I've been punched in the head too much. Most professional boxers are blindsided by the sudden wealth that comes with success. Why weren't you?

Hopkins: Because I've seen a lot of broke people who had wealth around me and I paid attention. I know where I came from. I know where my six siblings came from. I know how my mother struggled. It's easy to forget those things when you've been successful for a long time. But I was skillful enough and smart enough to remind myself from where I came. That's the reality check that should keep anybody motivated. We choose which way we go. Why does money seem to knock out most professional boxers?

Hopkins: First, lack of education. Boxers don't come from a university of any kind, so they come already handicapped. The talent might make you rich, but it doesn't make you smart. You have to move in the financial ring like you move in the boxing ring to put together a portfolio so you can live off the interest and not your principal for the rest of your life.

Second, most athletes -- football players, basketball players and boxers -- we trust everybody because trust is sold to every client that needs a management company or an accountant. You have to trust them to be involved with them, but athletes give that trust too soon. I think trust is something that you have to earn; it takes time to trust somebody. Until that happens, everybody should be under a microscope, everybody is suspect. Is it tougher for boxers because there's no intercollegiate step?

Hopkins: Boxing is the only sport that I know of that you can come out of Brownsville, New York, projects like Mike Tyson and blow $300 million. Now obviously, there ain't that many cars to buy for $300 million, so the accumulation of not knowing the value of tomorrow, the next five years, the next 10 years, we're all doomed by that mentality. Do you have any heroes in the boxing world who managed their money wisely?

Hopkins: You know what? I should be able to tell you the answer to that question right there, but it's not a big list, man. The only guy that I know who really comes close to that is the great "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler, who I saw last year and he hugged me for breaking his record in the middleweight division. He moved to Italy over 20 years ago, and he seems to be doing well. You don't hear about him pimping himself around to sign blood for a living.

George Foreman, he was flat broke even though he was helping people in a different way because he built the church, and he came back because the church needed money and you know what he did with his second career.

For every one guy who thinks like me, there are hundreds that are in terrible position: Iran Barkley, James Toney... I ain't even gotta mention people outside of Philadelphia! Meldrick Taylor in the '80s grossed $20 million, $30 million, and you're an unlicensed hack on the corner?! You kidding me?!

This frightens me and it keeps me in check -- yes, the Executioner gets frightened -- because I know how it is for a mother to struggle to pay a $250 mortgage on a row home in Philadelphia. I know how it is to see a parent struggle every week, every month to keep a roof over our head. Credit card debt has been a plague on the inner city. What's your take on it?

Hopkins: As soon as a teenager gets out of high school, the system, which I'm not totally blaming, sets it up for them to be in debt as soon as they're eligible to be in debt. In the African-American community, when they learn they're eligible to get $200 or $300 or $500 on a credit card, they're excited. So they get these things without realizing the psychological trickery of having a credit card in your hand that doesn't look like money but it is money and they swipe and sign.

But it ain't cash. One thing about cash, you've got to feel it, you've got to exchange it, and every time you give somebody a dollar out of your pocket, your pocket gets lighter. But with a credit card, it's like free money. Then the interest knocks it out of the ballpark, and before they know it, they've got a $1,500 bill and it's over. How do you handle credit cards?

Hopkins: I have credit cards that I use based on expenses that I need, and it keeps everything together for books and taxes. You know where everything is at. For me as a businessperson, credit cards are great. I can't walk around with $10,000 in my pocket, what?! But cash is king. Cash is needed for different things, and credit is needed for different things.

CreditCards: Where do you like to invest your money?

Hopkins: I'm into real estate real big. I've got over 50 properties -- good properties -- complexes, duplexes and houses, too. When you add all of that together, that's an income coming in. Once I do that, I can live off the interest and live off the rental. I have a condo down in Philly that's $700 a month; well, one of my rentals pays for that. It never really comes directly out of my pocket. Somebody is paying for me to live in this. You're known as a conservative investor.

Hopkins: Eighty percent of my portfolio is in U.S. government bonds. I moved to Delaware not because of the farmland; I moved to Delaware because they have no sales taxes and there's a low city wage tax compared to Philadelphia, like three points versus seven. Go figure. Did your early life as a hoodlum, a street guy and a convict who served a five-year prison term teach you anything about handling money?

Hopkins: Yeah, because you've got to be all those things to deal with these sharks! You got that right! You're the oldest titleholder in boxing, but you can't fight forever. Where do you hope to be 10 years from now?

Hopkins: Ten years from now, I want to be the Magic Johnson of boxing. That's a compliment to Magic Johnson, how he went from a basketball player to promoting Starbucks and other avenues. I've talked to him in L.A., he's a good friend of Oscar's. When boxing is over, why not take everything that molded me into who I am and use that in corporate America? I've still got my senses, I've still got my brains, I've still got my vocabulary to come through with the passion and the hard-nosed lesson to live within your means, not outside of your means. Sounds like good material for a reality TV show.

Hopkins: Do you see yourself as a money mentor for young boxers?

Hopkins: There's a few, man, but I'm telling you, I'd be on Thorazine. You can't teach them. They want rims, Rolls Royces, change and a leather jacket. I can't do it. I'm so hard-core, hard-nosed. I'm throwback. I've still got my Costco card in my wallet. Here's a multimillionaire, I'm sitting on $30 million after taxes, I'm demanding $4 million or $5 million every time I fight, and here's a man that don't need a damn Costco card.

Here's a man that don't need to be talking about saving money to the point that he ain't wasting money. Here's a man that would rather go down Damascus Street in New York City and buy a phony AP [Audemars Piguet] watch instead of spending to buy a $10,000 watch.

Here's a man that likes nice things, who has nice things, but does he have too much? Does he have what he needs or does he have what he wants? How many more fights do you think you have in you?

Hopkins: I'll let you know after the next one.

More Money Talks interviews:

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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