BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Known for his gamesmanship as well as his “Executioner” nickname, Former RING light heavyweight and middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins‘ act used to include providing his “victims” with a ceremonial “last meal” at the final press conference.
On Wednesday at Barclays Center, site of Saturday night’s HBO-televised battle with rugged and unbeaten IBF 175-pound titleholder Tavoris Cloud, Hopkins re-awakened that dark imagery, sporting a black hoodie and a ski mask that covered all but his eyes, which were shrouded by dark shades.
Hopkins, who turned 48 in January, sat virtually motionless throughout the event, never saying a word or revealing his face and leaving some in the audience to openly wonder if the man on stage was truly Cloud’s opponent.
Instead, he allowed his trainer, Naazim Richardson, do the talking.
“It’s the Executioner who will be here on Saturday night. For those of you who have been on that long journey from years gone by, you guys have been watching him for years. You’ll be able to say: That’s the Executioner, I remember him. Because that’s what you’ll see on Saturday.”
By defeating Cloud, 31, Hopkins (52-6-2, 32 knockouts) 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 WBC’s light heavyweight belt in May of 2011.
Hopkins rose from knockdowns in the first and third rounds to salvage a disputed majority draw with Pascal in December of 2010, and was later dethroned as the WBC’s light heavyweight beltholder by Chad Dawson in April of last year.
When Richardson was done, he and Hopkins left the stage without a staredown opposite Trout, and, withoutt a word from Hopkins.
Cloud seemed unaffected the antics of Hopkins, which he called, “childish,” and, “funny.”
“It was childish. I just thought that it was childish,” said Cloud, who is 24-0 with 19 knockouts. “It was funny. It was real funny. It was funny to just turn around and to just see a grown man with a ski mask on standing there and not saying nothing to nobody.”
While Hopkins will have been out of the ring for 11 months since facing Dawson, Cloud will have been out of action for more than a year since winning by disputed split-decision over southpaw Gabriel Campillo on Feb. 18 of 2012.
After being floored twice in the first round, Campillo appeared to take control of the fight, doing damage that sliced open cuts around each of Cloud’s eyes.
But it was Cloud who was named the winner of an unpopular verdict, 116-110 (eight-to-four in rounds) and 114-112 (six-to-six) on the cards of judges David Robertson and Joel Elizondo, respectively. Judge Dennis Nelson had it for Campillo, 115-111.
Richardson dismissed Cloud’s performance against Campillo.
“If you talk about the Campillo fight, I don’t even count that fight, because Campillo wasn’t taken as a serious threat as he should have been. But that’s youth, and he’s learning. You’re going to see the best Cloud you’ve ever seen come up against the Executioner,” said Richardson.
“But on Saturday night, for those of you who do remember, it won’t be Bernard Hopkins, and it won’t be B-Hop. On Saturday, you will see the return of the Executioner. For those of you who remember, you will see what I’m talking about.”
Cloud agrees that he will be an improved fighter against Hopkins, having worked in the altitude of Big Bear Lake, Calif., under the guidance of new trainer, Abel Sanchez.
Sanchez’s well-known pupil is Kazakhstan-born WBA middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin (25-0, 22 KOS), who scored last month’s 13th consecutive knockout win in the seventh round over Philadelphia-based Hopkins mentoree Gabriel Rosado.
“We started at the bottom, but we’re going to put that bologna way in the back, because we’re going to get some steak now. I want to thank Abel Sanchez, my new trainer, for allowing me to come into his training camp and making me one of his own. I’ve trained very hard up there in Big Bear,” said Cloud, whose workouts include sparring sessions with Golovkin.
“I’m ready. I just feel different. I feel like I can’t be beat. I mean, I always felt like that. You’ve got to feel that way as a fighter. But I just feel like it’s a different type of energy. Really, I feel like I’ve beaten so many odds, that, similar to Bernard Hopkins, I feel like I’ve beaten so many odds, like this is just another fight. You go into a fight and you put everything into it. I feel kind of invincible.”
After he lost to Taylor, and then endured an immediate rematch loss, Hopkins rose into the light heavyweight division for triumphs over Antonio Tarver, Winky Wright, Kelly Pavlik, Ornelas and Roy Jones, his lone defeat prior to Dawson in the division being by split-decision against Joe Calzaghe.
Cloud recognizes the task before him in Hopkins, whom he feels will bring out the best in him.
“I feel good, because my whole life, I’ve watched boxing. My whole life, I’ve watched boxing and seen those guys fighting on t.V. I would say, ‘man, I can do that,’ and, ‘I wish that was me.’ You know, ‘give me a chance.’ I would think, ‘If I was up there, I would do it like this,’ or, ‘I would do it like that,’” said Cloud.
“Fighting a fighter like Bernard Hopkins, who is supposed to be a legend, it puts me in that frame of mind, that, you know, Cloud, you know where you stand in the game. You kept working hard. Now, you’re going to get your shot to be on T.V. and be in a fight like that. It’s real exciting for me. From the jump, from the start, it put me on my toes. It really put me on my toes. I know he said he’s going to be victorious. I’m going to put on a great show.”
Thurman is coming off a fourth-round stoppage of former WBO 147-pound beltlholder Carlos Quintana that took place on Nov. 24 — the day after Thurman’s 24th birthday. The rugged Zaveck, who turns 37 in March, was last in the the ring in March of last year when he unanimously decisioned Bethuel Ushona.
Prior to Ushona, Zaveck was dethroned as IBF beltholder by Andre Berto, who stopped him in five rounds in September of 2011.
Actress Rosie Perez was also in attendance at the press conference. Cloud is promoted by Don King, and Hopkins, Golden Boy.
Photo by Rich Kane, Hogan Photos, Golden Boy Promotions
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com