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Richardson: Hopkins 'smells blood' versus Cloud
Trainer Naazim Richardson on Bernard Hopkins: "I told him we've got to bring the Executioner back for this one. I've started to see that mindset again."
BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Just before midnight on Sept. 29, 2001, Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins was being booed by the partisan Felix Trinidad crowd at New York's Madison Square Garden as he entered the ring for their middleweight unification bout.
Hopkins' triumph added Trinidad's WBA title to his IBF and WBC belts, unifying the 160-pound division for the first time since 1987 and tied Carlos Monzon with his record 14th defense.
Hopkins (52-6-2, 32 knockouts) is hearing similar criticism heading into Saturday night's HBO-televised clash with IBF 175-pound titleholder Tavoris Cloud (24-0, 19 KOs) at Barclays Center, a match up which represents the now 48-year-old's first fight in The Big Apple since his stoppage of Trinidad.
Cloud's trainer, Abel Sanchez, claims that Hopkins will absorb a similar thrashing as an aging Sugar Ray Leonard did at The Garden in February of 1991, when he was dropped twice by a younger, WBC junior middleweight beltholder Terry Norris.
But Richardson dismisses sentiment such as Sanchez's, saying, "I feel like Bernard is smelling the blood in the water again."
"Some old sharks don't smell the blood in the water, they just see the pack leaving, and they're like, 'where's the pack going?'" said Richardson. "But I believe that you'll see the Executioner again on Saturday night."
In accordance with his "Executioner" nickname, Hopkins act often involved providing his "victims" with a ceremonial "last meal" at the final press conference.
During Wednesday's final press conference at Barclays Center, Hopkins wore a black hoodie and a ski mask that covered all but his eyes, which were shrouded by dark shades.
"I would tease him in the gym and I say, 'I don't need Bernard Hopkins or B-Hop, I need the Executioner,'" said Richardson "I told him we've got to bring the Executioner back for this one. I've started to see that mindset again."
By defeating Cloud, 31, Hopkins can eclipse his own record as the oldest man to win a significant crown, a feat the Philadelphia native accomplished at the age of 46 with a unanimous decision over Jean Pascal for THE RING's and the WBC's light heavyweight belts in May of 2011.
"I don't like nothing taken from me. Yes, I had some close fights in my career that's going to be debated through time," said of Hopkins, who was later dethroned as THE RING/WBC light heavyweight beltholder by Chad Dawson in April of last year.
While Cloud will have been out of action for more than a year since winning by disputed split-decision over southpaw Gabriel Campillo in February 2012, Hopkins will have been out of the ring for 11 months since facing Dawson.
During that time, Hopkins said he has demonstrated an ability to perform at an optimum level.
"I'm not that far from 50, and I see myself as going these rounds and I'm fighting prospects in the gym, sparring, getting me ready for March 9," said Hopkins.
Watching Hopkins closely, Richardson does not see a fighter who can no longer do the job in the ring.
"I'm watching Bernard in his camp, the first sign that I know he's serious and ready is when he started holding the pads again with me. Because when he holds the pads with me, I'll rough him up and I'll push him around. We had gotten away from that, and he was just working with my little guys, the guys with speed," said Richardson.
Richardson said he would call out Hopkins if he saw a man he felt was slipping in his craft, just as he tried to with a fighter he once trained, but whom he would not identify.
Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, who promotes Hopkins, attributes the fighter's abilities to his general attitude toward a healthy body.
On Saturday night, Richardson believes Hopkins' experience will conquer Cloud's youth and athleticism.
"The next step is to see if we can get him to execute it in the fight. He's got the gun, and we know that he's got bullets in the gun, but do you still freeze in the moment? That's a test to see if he can be a police officer any longer. We know that he's got the guns, and I've seen the weaponry, so he's got the bullets. Now we'll go into the fight and see if he can still pull the trigger on it. Everything that I saw in the gym shows me that he can, but until he does, we don't know," said Richardson.
"It wouldn't surprise me when you see Tavoris Cloud back up, try do some boxing, and [abandon] that seek and destroy s--t, which shouldn't happen, because he's the younger man. I think you see him do that, and then, try to play it off like, 'I was trying to throw a different wrinkle into the game.' But it will be more like, 'You felt that hot s--t in there, and you came on up out the kitchen.' So I'm telling you, there are going to be rounds that he loses emphatically. I believe that you will see not only a guy who can still pull the trigger, but also a guy that looks to finish too."
Photo by Rich Kane, Hogan Photos, Golden Boy Promotions
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org