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Dollars and sense: Hopkins a savvy customer

Golden Boy Promotions chief executive officer Richard Schaefer is a former banker who frequently fields queries from family, friends and acquaintances about the best way to handle their money.

Schaefer has a standard pitch, but he usually gets a standard response: Most of those who approach him for advice listen carefully, are too intimidated to ask any significant questions and then never wind up implementing his suggestions.

And so Schaefer, a one-time executive at Swiss bank UBS Warburg, was not particularly shocked when he was asked for financial help by Bernard Hopkins.

The boxer is a partner in Golden Boy and has made enough money over the years that he needs a comprehensive plan to maximize it.

Schaefer talked to Hopkins about asset allocation and diversification. He explained stocks and bonds and expected to receive his usual response.

Instead, Schaefer was shocked when Hopkins began to pepper him with questions.

"He asked me a lot of very good questions, which were very insightful and which clearly showed that he was listening carefully to every word I said," Schaefer said. "Bernard approaches his business life the way he does his boxing life: He digests the information, he trains and then he implements."

Hopkins will fight Winky Wright in a light heavyweight bout Saturday at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. The HBO pay-per-view match will do very well financially Schaefer said.

That's hardly unusual for Hopkins, who has all of a sudden become not only one of boxing's best pay-per-view attractions, but one of the few athletes in the game who can legitimately call themselves an entrepreneur.

It's been a long road from Graterford State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, where he was sent as an illiterate 17-year-old convicted of strong-arm robbery and sentenced to 18 years.

He vowed as he sat in his cell never to return. On his final day, a prison guard told him he expected to see him soon.

Hopkins promised the man he would not be back, which prompted guffaws from the officer.

That was one of many of life's battles that Hopkins won. He was an anti-establishment fighter for much of his career, most of which was spent holding a middleweight title.

Though he held the belt for more than 10 years and made 20 successful defenses, he was more known for his battles with the sport's authority figures.

But since he joined Golden Boy late in 2004, Hopkins has gone through a renaissance. Though he proudly waves his Costco warehouse club card and gleefully talks of how much money he saves by buying staples such as toilet paper in bulk, he's also become a shrewd investor who is making thousands, if not millions, in the Philadelphia real estate market.

Others are losing heavily in what is a sour market, but Hopkins has profited greatly.

"It's a stale market and a lot of people are getting hammered," Hopkins said. "But that's when I've come in and bought their problems."

He chuckles. He knows that those he's bought from believe he's gotten over on them, but he's always felt exactly the opposite. He's a conservative investor – "Very conservative," Schaefer adds – and he won't act unless he's sure. But if he's sure, he's not swayed by other's opinions.

And he's identified values in the real estate market and done the equivalent of winning an undisputed title.

"I've had a field day the last three years," Hopkins said of his real estate transactions. "I've been getting stuff at $400,000, $500,000 that is worth $800,000, $1.1 million. I've been killing them."

Hopkins has approached his business life much like he has he's boxing life. He spends hours, if not days, weeks and months, studying and researching his opponents.

He leaves little to chance. No detail is too minute to escape his attention.

He realized that as he was sitting in a cramped and dank jail cell, unable to read properly – "In school, I got laughed at, because I would read differently from what the paper said," he pointed out – and knew he needed to earn his GED to be able to get probation.

He said he had a revelation while in prison about what education could do for him.

"It was an awareness," he said.

And when he had that revelation, he began a conversation with himself.

"I said, 'You mean to tell me that if I know how to read and count, and know how to see things, that I could protect myself from being told things that aren't true? Do you mean to tell me that if I educate myself, it's like armor, and that if I'm armed with knowledge that I could become powerful? More powerful than I could be if I armed myself with guns?

"Do you mean to tell me if you're ignorant, you're a cripple in this society? Yes. Do you mean to tell me if you have to give someone your money and have them invest it and rely on them to take care of you, that you'll probably lose it, but if I study and ask questions and learn, I can make more and more and more money without even doing anything? Yes.’

"A lot of fighters are told not to worry about the business part, Hopkins said. “Their manager or whoever tells them, 'You fight, because that's what you do. You hired me to take care of the business.' But to me, that's modern-day slavery. I'm a free man and I don't have any intention of being enslaved. So I made it my life's work to learn."

He's forever going to be known as a boxer, one, he said proudly, who never took shortcuts, always fought the best and who will wind up in the International Hall of Fame the first time he's eligible.

But being a boxer is only a small part of who Bernard Hopkins is. He's a fighter at heart and has battled to make himself as successful in the business world as he is outside the ring.

It's a barely concealed joke among those closest to him about his penuriousness, but he's devoted thousands to charity. He recently donated the money to build a playground in inner city Philadelphia, where he grew up.

"You're a pretty dull person if there is only one thing in life you care about or understand or want to talk about," Hopkins said. "I love boxing. Boxing is a big part of my life. But it's a part of my life. It's not my life. Bernard Hopkins is not going to be defined simply or easily. I'm a complex person in a complex world.

"I don't do things just because the media thinks I should. Or because the promoters think I should. Or because anybody thinks I should. I am the true American hero. I came from the worst possible surroundings and now I'm at the top of my game, on top of the world. I'm what they say a role model should be."

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