Joppy had an arena full of rabid Trinidad fans against him. What Bernard Hopkins did on the press tour to promote the tournament finals turned an entire island against him. It started at the press conference in New York’s Bryant Park, where Hopkins made a show of ripping a miniature Puerto Rican flag out of Trinidad’s hand and throwing it to the ground. Photographer Will Hart was there.
Will Hart: It was pretty shocking. It was really, way over the line about Hopkins. But he was always about him being the black hat and to stir up the pot by being the bad guy. So he was stirring it up to make tickets. And he did a good job doing that all the time. We saw it on the news, it made news. Big time news. It was like, you know, what an asshole.
Before the next stop on the press tour, Hopkins received a stern talking to from a group of power players involved with the fight. As Bernard recalls, even Al Sharpton inserted himself into the situation. HBO Pay-Per-View executive Mark Taffet was among those trying to get Hopkins to apologize—or at least trying to nip the issue in the bud before it escalated.
Taffet: We had talked with Bernard about what had happened in New York, and said, “This is not the way we want to publicize the tournament, and don’t think it’s befitting of the tournament and the trophy we created.” And Bernard said, “Okay, I hear ya, I gotcha, no problem, no problem.” And then when we got to Puerto Rico, he expressed the same sentiments and did the same thing again. And then we learned that Bernard was not only cagey in the ring, but he was very fleet on his feet and a great escape artist outside of the ring.
I’ll let Alan Hopper, who was there in Puerto Rico, recount the madness.
Hopper: We went to San Juan. Coliseo de Roberto Clemente is where we held it. It was open to the public. And, I was sitting up in the regular stadium seats, and the press conference is going on, and I was off to the side. And I just heard a commotion. And I saw the whole scrim, or the backdrop that was promoting the fight, coming down, and ran around the corner to find out that Bernard had thrown the Puerto Rican flag on the ground in front of this audience. And followed Bernard as he was running away from people who were trying to grab him, and he jumped over seats and jumped over a vestibule and fell down in it, must have dropped 10 feet. They almost got him. I saw some of the fans almost get him. And he ran into the dressing room, and I remember Naazim Richardson, who later became his trainer, holding people back and letting Bernard in the door, and I went in there, and promotion people went in there, and Don King went in there. And then, I remember hearing a noise and looking up, and I’m not sure, but there was a hole in the window. And I think somebody from the outside may have shot a gunshot. There were some really, really unhappy people. Puerto Rico’s the most patriotic place I’ve ever been, and towards that end, they found out that Bernard’s white limousine that he was using that day was out back. And they lit it on fire. It was no small thing that happened there. I’ve rarely been afraid for my life, but that was a day when all of us were afraid for our lives. And it was difficult to get him out through the airport after that. And the next day in Philadelphia, I asked him if he could cool it. And Bernard said, “I’m not doing anything for anybody.” It went to show you the lengths that Bernard Hopkins is willing to go to try and get into somebody else’s head.
Reflecting on it 15 years later, Hopkins admits he was extraordinarily lucky to escape San Juan unscathed.
Hopkins: Real danger. I mean, I had to jump 20 feet down and land on the floor. I mean, they had to, they had to actually call reinforcement to be able to come and motorcade us out, so we wouldn’t get basically shot down or ran over or whatever. Let me tell you something, man. If it didn’t storm, when those tropical storms came down. And I know this sounds too much like a Hollywood script, but I can’t make this up. It stormed so bad, and you know how those islands storm when it’s hot like that. It stormed so bad that it got rid of half of the people. One limo was turned over. They were stomping, it was coming from a project. It was really ran-down shacks that people lived in, and they was coming cross the street with machetes, man. Basically, everybody’s life was on the line. I will tell you—I would do it again if I had to. There’s a lot of things that I said and a lot of things that I did that I know that was needed at that time—at least that’s what I thought. And that’s what I believed. And that’s what kept me, I believe, in the winning column for a long time, and it had nothing to do with my abilities. That’s the physical part. But I had to touch base for my own confidence, for my own drive, for my own demeanor, my own self-esteem. I couldn’t back down, buddy. Blame it on North Philly.