BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Bernard Hopkins can still hear the warden telling him he’s coming back. It’s an indistinguishable, omnipresent voice that reminds the two-time former world light heavyweight champion and future Hall of Famer where he came from, and is the mantra of why he remains so steadfastly defiant today.
“The Executioner” was at his throaty, indignant best Tuesday, Hopkins’ 48th birthday, at the Barclays Center to announce his HBO March 9 fight against IBF light heavyweight champion Tavoris “Thunder” Cloud.
The Hopkins-Cloud fight will be the main event on a split HBO-televised show that will also feature a heavyweight fight between Chris Arreola and Bermane Stiverne, from a different locale. And a third fight will be on the HBO show from the Barclays Center that has yet to be announced.
During the press conference, a birthday cake was presented to Hopkins. The old pro teasingly joked he was too old to blow out all of the candles. But what seemed to really stoke Hopkins was the verbal jousting against another old pro, Don King, Cloud’s promoter.
Hopkins has age against him—again. Placing him in a heavy underdog role—again. It’s nothing that Hopkins hasn’t faced before.
“I understand the economic threat that I am, they want to sit my ass down, go head home Pop-Pop, you’ve done enough,” said Hopkins, 52-6-2, (32 KOs). “You’re trying to convince me that I’m done, because you said it. You sound like the warden that told me when I had nine years to walk off in the streets saying that ‘You ain’t going to be nothing, you’ll be back in six months.’ Okay, warden, that’s what you all sound like.
“I’m here leaving out with the box in my hand with all of my belongings. You can’t do this, you can’t do that, I’ve heard it before, I’ve heard it all my life. I’d rather be the underdog than be the favorite. I haven’t been the favorite in anything in my life. Some of all think that no matter what I do, the story becomes big when something happens that never happened to me in my 28-year career, or even came close. So don’t think that I’m the old man just talking. I tried to offer [Cloud] cake and he wouldn’t take it.”
Cloud does pose a danger to Hopkins, as Naazim Richardson, The Executioner’s trainer, pointed out. Richardson views Cloud, 24-0 (19 KOs), as a rugged fighter, and a slightly better version than Jean Pascal. Cloud won’t fade like Pascal did against Hopkins in May 2011.
“Cloud is an ornery kid and there was a time he was fighting for all of the right reasons,” Richardson said, “This is the toughest challenge Bernard has had in quite some time, I believe Cloud is dangerous. Someone like Chad Dawson knows how to win seven out of 12 rounds, which makes you a champion. Cloud is dangerous with his heavy hands and his mindset. Pascal was dangerous, but isn’t as diverse. This makes Cloud that much more dangerous considering Bernard is having a birthday today.”
Cloud, both Richardson and Hopkins agree, falls right into what Hopkins does well. Against a southpaw like Dawson, Hopkins wasn’t able to play the matador and counter. With Cloud, a hard-charging, straight-forward puncher, Hopkins can counter him, he can slide and hit him as he comes forward.
“Cloud is coming to wipe Bernard out, and that’s what we expect him to do,” Richardson said. “I’ll say this about this training camp, Bernard came into camp and he’s been wrestling with me. He hasn’t done that in some time. He’s asking all of these things of himself in camp, and that’s really impressed me, He has this desire. But think about his dangerous opponents. He responds better to danger.”
Jermaine Taylor didn’t pose a great danger to Hopkins. Neither did Joe Calzaghe. But Kelly Pavlik, Antonio Tarver, Pascal, they all fell under Hopkins’ spell.
“I didn’t like the Taylor fight, I didn’t like the Calzaghe fight, I like guys those guys that pose a danger to him, and that’s what Cloud poses,” Richardson said. “Bernard is much stronger than he was years ago, and he seems to be taking this very seriously. Bernard responds well to danger. He steps up and fights at another level every time that happens. I think he’s back again to his history-setting self. The more dangerous the opponent, the better he performs.”
Hopefully, Hopkins-Cloud will come close to the sparring King and Hopkins got into at various times during the press conference.
“Cloud, the young mini-Tyson, will look to make history, but when the hands of time are moving, the old moves on and the young comes on,” King said. “We look to take the mantle from Bernard’s shoulders.”
That seemed to strike a cord with Hopkins. He referred to Cloud as King’s last horse in a sparse stable.
“Don’s workers, Al Hopper, you better pitch hard because you’ll be looking for another job after March 9,” Hopkins said. “I know there is a short staff over there, I hope the last seven leave, too. When I hear you can’t, that gives me motivation. When others think they can write my destiny, even the wrath of Don King, when you see someone that has a track record, you have a fight. Age is not an enemy to me. Time still goes forward.”
Photos by Rich Kane – Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions