BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins‘ hybrid left hook-uppercut was so subtle that it escaped the gaze of many ringside observers.
The arc was so swift and short that the initial ruling was that the deep, bleeding gash the blow caused over Tavoris Cloud’s left eye in the sixth round was the result of an accidental clash of heads.
A 48-year-old former RING middleweight and light heavyweight champion, Hopkins pressed his advantage, out-boxing his 31-year-old adversary to the delight of the announced crowd of 12,293 that packed Barclays Center and chanted “B-Hop” over and over for much of the remainder of last Saturday night’s clash.
“I think that the fans of Brooklyn, and Philly, and all through the tri-state area came out and they gave me my respect and things like that,” said Hopkins.
“It was the subtle things that I was doing. The people that are watching the fight that are doing the blow-by-blow, they actually don’t know what I’m doing. But now, they appreciate the craft of boxing.”
Hopkins (52-6-2, 32 knockouts) used that craft to dethrone 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.
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 and WBC light heavyweight belts in May of 2011.
Instructed by Hopkins to “take note” of what he did against Cloud, Ward remarked about how the younger fighter often lunged and missed wildly over the final portion of the bout.
“Good feet are a lost art in boxing. It’s all about the hands so much these days. But with Bernard Hopkins, he’s mastered the sport from the bottom up. He knows how to move, what direction to move in and when to move in that direction. With Cloud, he likes you standing still so he can do what I call heavy bag work and let loose with both hands,” said Ward.
“But Hopkins was never there. When he thought Hopkins was going to move, Hopkins was in his grill. When he thought Hopkins was going to be in his grill, Hopkins was moving. He was forced to think faster than he had ever had to think before and he couldn’t process what was going on. Then, you look up, and it’s the 12th round and the fight is over. You’ve got to appreciate this kind of stuff.”
Considered a “protege” by Hopkins, Ward acknowledged the crowd’s appreciation of his mentor, even though he considered it long overdue.
“Bernard Hopkins has been a professional for a quarter of a century. I mean, that’s 25 years,” said Ward, a 29-year-old 2004 Olympic gold medalist.
“You know, I think this is the first time that I’ve seen Bernard Hopkins get embraced from the beginning of an event to the end of an event. But, I mean, look how long it took.”
Hopkins certainly was not being appreciated 12 years ago on Sept. 29, 2001, at New York’s Madison Square Garden. In fact, he was being booed by the fans of Felix Trinidad as he entered the ring for their middleweight unification bout.
Hopkins made his way to the ring wearing a red mask as well as matching trunks and shirt with a large, silver “X” on its back as the screams of Trinidad’s nickname, “Tito, Tito,” from the of 19,075 fans — believed to be the Garden’s largest for a non-heavyweight fight at the time — drowned out Ray Charles’ version of “America The Beautiful.”
By the fourth round, however, Hopkins’ dominance over Trinidad had reduced their collective cheers to murmurs and mumbling as it became increasingly apparent their Puerto Rican hero was about to become the 14th of the Philadelphia fighter’s record 20 title defenses.
Hopkins head-swiveling, right cross-uppercut sent Trinidad reeling to the ropes and down. Referee Steve Smoger reached the count of nine before Trinidad’s father and trainer, Felix Sr., entered the ring and held his son in his arms, signaling the end at the 1:22 mark.
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.
By defeating De la Hoya by ninth-round knockout in September of 2004, Hopkins held the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO middleweight belts — the first fighter in boxing history to do so.
After he lost to Taylor, and then endured an immediate rematch loss, Hopkins rose into the light heavyweight division for triumphs over Tarver, Winky Wright, Kelly Pavlik, Enrique Ornelas and Roy Jones, suffering his first defeat in the division by split-decision against Joe Calzaghe.
Hopkins became a light heavyweight titlewinner for the third time by defeating Cloud, having also vanquished Antonio Tarver by unanimous decision in June of 2006 for THE RING title.
“To me, the craft of boxing is not wasting punches and getting scored for them. What about the guys that made him miss?” said Hopkins.
“Of course, if you make them miss, you make them pay. But I’m an old school fighter that had to adapt to a new world, which I did tonight.”
Other than Hopkins, perhaps no one appreciated his performance more than Ward.
“There is a reason why Bernard Hopkins has lasted for as long as he has, and the way that you saw him fight in there tonight, that’s how he’s been able to fight for as long as he has. Bernard Hopkins still is making a living, he hasn’t taken any punishment,” said Ward.
“At the end of the day, we love the fans, we love the media, but we’re going home to our families. So I tell the younger fighters to learn the art of boxing. Don’t get caught up in being the most exciting: Be the most effective. Learn to the art of boxing, learn to duck, learn to hit and not get hit. But we’re in an era when you’re not, ‘exciting’ if everybody don’t leave with black eyes and busted lips.”
Photos by Naoki Fukuda
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com