- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
Light heavyweight titleholder Tavoris Cloud would have preferred that the activity surrounding his career had taken place in the boxing ring over the past year rather than the upheaval outside of it that led to two canceled fights, a new manager and a new trainer. And a whole lot of waiting for his next bout.
Cloud has not fought for 13 months, but not for lack of trying. So pardon him if he's anxious to make his fifth title defense when he meets former champion Bernard Hopkins -- attempting to, at age 48, break his own record as the oldest fighter in history to win a world title -- on Saturday night (HBO, 9:30 ET/PT) at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
"I'm ready. I feel like I can't be beat," Cloud said. "You have to feel like that being a fighter. I just feel like this is a bigger type of energy. I feel like I've beaten so many odds. I feel kind of invincible. It's going to be a good fight."
Said Don King, Cloud's promoter, "Cloud is hungry. He needs the money. He wants the fame and acclaim. This is his opportunity in the land of opportunity."
In the scheduled 12-round co-feature, heavy-hitting 24-year-old welterweight prospect Keith Thurman (19-0, 18 KOs) of Clearwater, Fla., steps up in competition against former titleholder Jan Zaveck (32-2, 18 KOs), 36, of Slovenia. Zaveck lost his title two fights ago when Andre Berto stopped him in the fifth round.
Preceding the telecast, junior lightweight titlist Juan Carlos Salgado (26-1-1, 16 KOs) of Mexico faces mandatory challenger Argenis Mendez (20-2, 10 KOs) of the Dominican Republic in a rematch on HBO Latino (8:30 ET/PT) at The Hangar at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, Calif.
Last time out, Cloud defended against former titleholder Gabriel Campillo. Although Cloud scored two knockdowns in the first round, Campillo clawed his way back into the fight, and when it was over many believed he had clearly won -- only to be surprised when Cloud was awarded a split decision.
"In that last fight I wasn't as well prepared as I am now," Cloud said. "And that's what I learned from that fight, and that's to come to the fight well prepared, expecting any and everything. And that's what I'm going to do."
Cloud's reputation took a hit because of the performance and because his team declined to offer Campillo a rematch. However, Cloud (24-0, 19 KOs), 31, of Tallahassee, Fla., was lined up to face another quality opponent, former champ Jean Pascal. They were to meet in August on Pascal's turf in Montreal.
Pascal suffered a right hand injury, however, forcing the fight to be postponed in late July. Showtime, which had bought the fight, could not work it into its fall schedule, causing it to be canceled altogether.
Cloud was upset and accused Pascal of faking the injury. But Cloud, who had already been training for 10 weeks, stayed at King's training facility in Orwell, Ohio, hoping for the rescheduled date that never came. That led to strains with longtime trainer Al Bonanni, understandable after the long camp, not to mention issues with manager Jerry Attardi, Bonanni's uncle.
Once the Pascal fight was canceled, King began working on another fight, a mandatory defense against former European champ Karo Murat of Germany. King made one of his famous exotic deals for the fight to be in Venezuela in November, but it went south and, once again, Cloud had a fight canceled.
Cloud decided to shake up the team. Attardi agreed to sell the management contract to James Prince, who has worked with many fighters, including Andre Ward. The writing was also on the wall for Bonanni, who was replaced just before Christmas by Abel Sanchez, who also has worked with many fighters, most notably Gennady Golovkin among today's top talents.
"It was a decision on my part to switch trainers and find somebody that I could grow even more with, somebody that was a little more open-minded, and Abel Sanchez was the guy that I decided to go with, and he's a good trainer," Cloud said. "I don't have no bad feelings towards Al. I just needed somebody with a more open mind, and that happened to be Abel Sanchez. And this decision came after years of going back and forth with Al. I'm just working with Abel Sanchez right now."
Although Attardi bankrolled Cloud for years and helped take care of him, Cloud said he felt like he was not doing much to advance his career and get him big fights.
"I just wanted somebody to get in there and really go to war for me and go to fighting, and you know that happened to be James Prince," Cloud said.
Prince put Cloud with Sanchez and sent him to his high-altitude camp in the mountains of Big Bear Lake, Calif.
"The first day of training in Big Bear, it felt like somebody put a plastic bag over my head," Cloud said. "After eight weeks up there, I feel very strong."
Sanchez wasn't looking to make any wholesale changes.
"I watched a couple of tapes. He's just a guy that got complacent, a lot of talent," Sanchez said. "Obviously, Al has done a great job with him. He's 24-0, but he got complacent. I think he's looking for one shot, looking to knock everybody's head off, and I'm sure that when he started in this game he wasn't that way. As you get a little older and then not having that many fights, the inactivity could have caused that too. But we tried to go back to just moving his hands a little more, just being a little more active, a little lighter on his feet, and trying to get him to enjoy what he's doing.
"He seemed to be doing it as a job, instead of as something that he enjoys to do. And I think that we're accomplishing that."
If anyone knows a thing or two about a prime fighter making his name against an aging legend, it's Sanchez.
"Twenty-two-years ago I brought a young man here to [New York to] fight Terry Norris," Sanchez said. "If you remember the fight, it was a terrible beating for Ray Leonard. Saturday night, the legend is going to retire and the new star is going to be born."
Cloud-Hopkins came about in large part because of Twitter. While Cloud was in the midst of making the changes to his team, Hopkins (52-6-2, 32 KOs), looking for another shot at a title, was calling him out on the social media platform.
"I read a couple of tweets and heard rumors that he's been calling certain people out, and my name somehow came out, and I wanted to respond to it," Hopkins said. "And I didn't hear anything for a while. It was kind of like a drought. I didn't just want somebody dropping my name just to make the fans and everybody feel that, 'Oh, I'm trying to fight everybody.' So I realized that I've got to go ahead and put the light on these topics and see what happens, and here we are."
Fighting a legend like Hopkins is just what the doctor ordered, Cloud said. It makes up for the difficulties of the past year.
"Whatever comes with the fight, I'm ready," Cloud said. "He called me out. I'm just going in to win the fight. I'm going to give the people their money's worth, true sports entertainment for their dollar.
"I switched to my new trainer Abel Sanchez to add versatility to my game and I'm coming to fight a serious fight. If I knock [Hopkins] out, it will just put another feather in my cap. I'm predicting a win, but I never look for the knockout because that's not my game plan. If my punches result in a knockout, so be it."
With a new team after more than a year away from the ring, Tavoris Cloud is ready to defend his light heavyweight title against veteran Bernard Hopkins on Saturday.