BROOKLYN, N.Y. – At the final press conference to promote Tavoris Cloud-Bernard Hopkins on Wednesday afternoon, Hopkins’ trainer Naazim Richardson launched a diatribe towards the press for what he felt was a lack of appreciation for the skill of intelligent boxing.
Richardson spoke on behalf of his fighter, who was dressed from head to toe in black and wearing a mask and sunglasses to conceal his face, promising that Saturday would mark the return of “The Executioner.”
Yet, by the seventh round, an announced crowd of 12,293 at Barclays Center was chanting “B-Hop!” in appreciation of a 48-year-old living legend performing his magic at the highest level of the sport. Hopkins, who is five days short of being exactly 17 years older than the IBF light heavyweight titleholder, was feinting, flurrying and banging like he had a decade ago.
As Cloud’s resolve seeped away just as blood dripped from a cut over his left eye, the Hopkins looked more and more like the younger fighter.
After 12 rounds, it was Hopkins who stood tallest, winning a unanimous decision and the IBF belt by the scores of 116-112 on two cards and 117-111 on the third. At 48, Hopkins (53-6-2, 32 knockouts) surpassed his own record as the oldest boxer to win a major world title.
Compubox numbers had Hopkins landing 169 punches to Cloud’s 139 despite throwing just 417 to Cloud’s 650.
“I wanted to use my speed and reflexes which I still have at 48 years old,” said a victorious Hopkins afterward. “The 40 and up club still rules.
“I have a history of destroying young champions and we haven’t seen them again. I don’t know if we’ll see Tavoris again.”
Cloud (24-1, 19 KOs), of Tallahassee, Fla., confounded pundits early in the bout by trying to box with Hopkins rather than impose himself on the older man. Cloud had success early, landing a clean left hook in round two as Hopkins stepped back straight out of an exchange.
Hopkins, who had lost his previous bout against Chad Dawson last April, did not clinch and make it ugly as many had expected, but rather moved and countered whenever Cloud stepped in to exchange.
By round four, Hopkins’ feints became more effective, keeping Cloud off balance for Hopkins’ straight right hand leads. A cut appeared over Cloud’s left eye that produced blood. Cloud claimed it was from an elbow but referee Earl Morton motioned to his head to rule it a head butt. Replays clearly showed that it came from a punch, however.
As the blood began to obscure Cloud’s vision, his focus began to wane and Hopkins’ craft and skill began to dominate. When Cloud missed wildly on a left hook, Hopkins appeared behind him, waving his right hand to taunt before landing two shots, just as he taunted Jean Pascal by doing pushups between rounds during his victory to win the WBC light heavyweight title at 46.
As the ring filled up awaiting the decision, Hopkins leaned over the ropes to address Andre Ward, whom many feel will take the reigns as the sport’s ultimate in-ring tactician once Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather Jr. retire.
“Did you learn anything tonight?” asked Hopkins. “Write it down, watch the tape, use it if you want. You’re going to be here a long time.”
Later, an introspective Hopkins addressed his own future.
“Tonight means a lot to me but I think it means more to everyone else,” said Hopkins, who made 20 defenses of the middleweight title before moving up to light heavyweight in 2006. “I’ll stop when I want to stop but after tonight I don’t think people want me to stop. It does feel incredible, I was ready and prepared tonight, I found my heart and soul in that ring like I do every time I fight. I’ve never taken a shortcut or compromised my integrity in the ring.”
The road to this point has been a long one for Hopkins, beginning with his five-year stretch at Graterford Prison in Pennsylvania for robbery, then a decision loss in his pro debut back in 1988 and struggle to gain the attention of television networks. Now, 25 years later, we are all getting old waiting for Bernard Hopkins to slow down.
“I want to mention Roy Jones and James Toney,” said Hopkins. “I was the third child in that house and now I’m in that house alone and can put the lights on.”
Photos / Elsa-Golden Boy / Getty Images
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.