BROOKLYN, N.Y. –At the end of the sixth round, Tavoris Cloud returned to his corner appearing deflated after a clean left uppercut-hook from Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins had caused a deep, bleeding gash over his left eye.
Before the fight, Hopkins’ trainer, Naazim Richardson, had claimed that his 48-year-old former RING middleweight and light heavyweight champion had “smelled blood” heading into Saturday night’s clashs with Cloud, who is 31.
That was clearly apparent as Hopkins seized upon his advantage in the seventh round, out-boxing and mugging the younger man to the delight of fans at Barclays Center who chanted “B-Hop” midway through the session.
Although Hopkins may have given away the eighth, he appeared to have regained momentum over the course of the 10th and 11th, when many in the announced crowd of 12,293, yet again, screamed loudly as the aging warrior spun Cloud wiith a looping left hook.
In the end, Hopkins (52-6-2, 32 knockouts) dethroned Cloud (24-1, 19 KOs) as IBF light heavyweight beltholder by unanimous decision, 116-112 on the cards of John Poturaj and John Stewart, and, 117-111 on that of Tom Schreck. RingTV.com had it for Hopkins, 117-112.
“I have a history of destroying young champions and you never see them again,” said Hopkins. “I don’t know if you will ever see Tavoris Cloud again. I wanted to show that the 40-and-up club still rules, and this feels great.”
By defeating Cloud, Hopkins, whose birthday was on Jan. 15, eclipsed 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.
“This means more to everyone else because I’m not going anywhere. I stop when I want to stop, and I think that after tonight, I don’t think people want me to stop either,” said Hopkins.
“It does feel incredible. I was ready and prepared tonight. I found my heart and soul in that ring tonight, just like I do every time that I fight. I have never taken a short cut or compromised my integrity. “
Hopkins was later dethroned as THE RING/WBC light heavyweight beltholder by Chad Dawson in April of last year.
“I feel great. I stuck to the game plan. I have been working on my speed and my reflexes, and at the age of 48, I wanted to display them. We were working on combination punches. I tried to throw multiple punches. In my other fights, I would only throw one shot,” said Hopkins.
“The plan was to try to throw combination punches. We knew that if we continued to throw combination punches that he couldn’t adjust to that. Because I was working on my combination punches, it took me a while to find my rhythm. But in around the fourth and fifth round, I found that rhythm.”
It was Hopkins’ first New York appearance since Sept. 29, 2001, when his 12th-round knockout of previously unbeaten Felix Trinidad added Trinidad’s WBA title to his IBF and WBC belts, unifying the 160-pound division for the first time since 1987.
While Cloud had been out of action for more than a year since winning by disputed split-decision over southpaw Gabriel Campillo in February 2012, Hopkins had been out of the ring for 11 months since facing Dawson.
“I do not idolize you. You’re a good fighter, and I respect you,” Cloud told Hopkins after the fight. “I was only average tonight. He hit me with an elbow, but I’m not complainig. It is what it is. The good thing about boxing is that you do it inside of the ring witthout guns, and everbody lives to fight another day.”
But Ward said he would not fight Hopkins unless it was financially beneficial to both fighters.
“I didn’t hear everything that he said to me in the ring because I had my head set on, but he said ‘It doesn’t matter how much they pay him, he’ll never fight me. He said they could pay him $10- or $12-million and he would never fight me,” said Ward, 29, having successfully undergone surgery on Jan. 4 to repair his injured right shoulder and returned to the gym for light training last week.
“That’s a matter of respect, man, but I know how to turn it off and turn it on, make no mistake about it. I know what it is to be a businessman. That being said, I’m content to sit back and enjoy this man the way that he is. If they want to make an offer for me and him where both of our families can be set for a long time, then we’ll consider it.”
Ward, who could return in September, had an that forced the cancelation of his scheduled March 2 HBO-televised defense against former undisputed middleweight titleholder Kelly Pavlik.
Ward is coming off an HBO-televised 10th-round knockout of Dawson in September, this, after having dethroned Carl Froch last December as WBC 168-pound beltholder by unanimous decision in the finals of Showtime’s Super Six Super Middleweight Classic.
What would happen if Ward did fight Hopkins?
“I think that the fans would want to see it. I think that it would be a big event,” said Ward. “You would have the teacher and the student. I think that it would do well on HBO.”
Photos by Naoki Fukuda
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com