Count on Cloud not to falter
Betting against Bernard Hopkins hasn't traditionally been a profitable way to spend one's time as a boxing observer over the past 12 years.
The ageless wonder has made it a habit of exceeding expectations about what a 40-something fighter should be able to do against a hungry lion in his prime. The resulting iconic victories have made it increasingly difficult to pick against Hopkins with any degree of certainty, despite the skepticism that his advancing age continues to warrant.
Time, however, is especially unforgiving when it comes to the boxing ring, and one day soon it will catch up even to Hopkins -- in a way that will be far more damaging than, say, the majority decision defeat he suffered last April to Chad Dawson. Eventually, even the great "Executioner" will grow old, perhaps overnight, and meet the inevitable fate that comes with hanging on for one fight too long.
Let's face it: One can only defy the odds for so long until the odds eventually decide to punch back.
So the question for Saturday becomes: Is Tavoris Cloud equipped to send Hopkins into a retirement that the 48-year-old has thus far eluded? And per usual for a Hopkins fight, that answer is far from black-and-white.
Cloud, 31, certainly has enough limitations to allow Hopkins a certain level of confidence in his pursuit of breaking his own record for becoming the oldest man in history to win a world title. But Cloud also represents the most dangerous finisher Hopkins has encountered since disarming an unbeaten Kelly Pavlik in 2008 at the age of 43. And that's where the doubt begins to creep in.
Since his defeat of Pavlik, Hopkins owns just one victory of any legitimate consequence -- his memorable dissection of Jean Pascal in their 2011 rematch. Although that fight was truly a masterpiece of slick boxing and mental domination, as Hopkins' mind games stripped Pascal of confidence, it also revealed a few important truths.
Pascal unknowingly became a perfect foil by foregoing his jab, allowing Hopkins an unimpeded path to break his opponent's rhythm by getting off first with lead right hands. Pascal also showed the veteran fighter far too much respect, failing to capitalize on opportunities when he had Hopkins hurt in Rounds 4 and 12. We also saw Hopkins, who was knocked down twice by Pascal in their first fight, forced to stand and trade in the rematch a bit more than normal during key junctures in order to win close rounds.
You can bet Hopkins won't receive any similar concessions from Cloud, whose activity alone will limit Hopkins' opportunities to steal rounds via a few cleverly placed counter shots. It will also force the aging fighter -- who needs to be economical in managing his stamina each round -- to revert back to his old ways of holding and pot-shotting in order to slow down the pace and give himself the best opportunity to survive.
The problem with that, of course, is that Cloud is a different breed of fighter than Hopkins has faced in recent memory. He's not going to back down from any of Hopkins' famously dirty tricks, nor will he be rattled by any attempts at guile or intimidation. As Cloud has routinely said so himself, he enters the ring to do one thing: hurt his opponent.
Naturally, Hopkins will attempt to use Cloud's aggressiveness against him, but at some point the two fighters will be forced to trade, just as Hopkins was with Pascal. Only in this case, Cloud won't hesitate if presented the opportunity to go for the finish.
Hopkins' defense will keep the fight close, but it won't be enough to hold off a late stoppage from Cloud. Despite all of the history and entertainment Hopkins has provided throughout 25 years as a professional, one now on an unimpeded path to the Hall of Fame, this will be the fight where he finally bites off more than he can chew.
Don't bet against the old man
Nothing lasts forever, especially in boxing, but it seems like Bernard Hopkins has been around -- and at or near the top -- forever.
But how much longer can he last? I think maybe just a little longer, even though Hopkins freely admits that training camp is harder now, the aches and pains more frequent. After all, he has boxed 458 professional rounds, not to mention probably thousands more in sparring.
Ancient by boxing standards, B-Hop turned 48 on Jan. 15, and although he is coming off a clear decision loss to Chad Dawson (somehow one judge had it a draw) last April, he still has never really been beaten up in a fight.
Just two years ago -- at the ripe old age of 46 -- Hopkins cleanly outpointed Jean Pascal in front of Pascal's Montreal crowd to win the light heavyweight title again and break George Foreman's record for becoming the oldest fighter in history to win a world title.
Who could forget the image of Hopkins dropping down to do a set of push-ups between rounds late in the fight to show how much energy he had left, while Pascal, almost 20 years younger, was sucking wind on his stool?
Now Hopkins is motivated to break his own record in Saturday's challenge of Tavoris Cloud, who is just 31 and undefeated (officially at least; I, like legions, thought he lost to Gabriel Campillo in his most recent fight, which happened 13 months ago).
So the question is, can Hopkins -- 17 years older than the in-his-prime Cloud -- pull yet another rabbit out of his hat?
Hopkins sure as hell isn't faster than Cloud. He's definitely not as powerful.
But he is a far better defensive fighter. He also won't have to chase after Cloud the way he did with Dawson, because Cloud usually stands in front of his opponent and wants to mix it up.
Hopkins is a much smarter fighter than Cloud. Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not saying Cloud isn't an intelligent fighter. I'm saying that Hopkins' boxing IQ is off the charts, as high as that of anyone who ever laced up gloves. He also has the experience and intangibles.
So, yeah, as crazy as it might sound, I think Hopkins has a significant chance to pull the upset and outpoint Cloud. (Hopkins hasn't had a knockout since stopping Oscar De La Hoya with a body shot in 2004.)
Hopkins can't fight a full three minutes of each round on those old legs anymore -- frankly, he hasn't been able to for awhile now -- but he still knows how to fight and he still rarely gets caught cleanly. Besides, Hopkins' career is filled with so many improbable victories, upsets pulled when almost everyone was against him, that I see no reason why he can't do it again versus a good, but not great, opponent in Cloud.
Just look at what Hopkins has already done when he was the heavy underdog in his age-defying career: Knocked out Felix Trinidad when many viewed Tito as being invincible. Moved up two weight classes, then dropped and easily outpointed Antonio Tarver (I was one of the few who got that pick right). Made Kelly Pavlik look like an amateur in an easy decision win. Held Pascal to a debatable draw in their first fight. Then took it to Pascal and beat him in the rematch.
Hopkins is an all-time great and has made a lot of history through the years. I think there might be more to come. I have picked against him a few times and been wrong.
After covering Hopkins for the past 13 years, I have learned my lesson. Fighting Cloud won't be easy, but I've got the old man on points.
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