Hopkins win shows mastery of craft

Updated: March 11, 2013, 1:08 AM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- In a career filled with making history, the great Bernard Hopkins made more of it on Saturday night.

Hopkins, who is 48 and has been fighting professionally for 25 years, scored a well-earned unanimous-decision victory against Tavoris Cloud to win a light heavyweight world title for the third time, before 12,293 on Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

By claiming another 175-pound title, Hopkins, an amazing athlete, broke his own record -- set in 2011, when he was 46, in a rematch with Jean Pascal -- as the oldest fighter in boxing history to win a major belt.

It was clear in the second half of the fight, when Hopkins was beating Cloud to the punch and fighting exactly as he wanted to, with a deliberate pace, that he was on his way to the win. In the end, the judges scored it for Hopkins, 117-111, 116-112 and 116-112. ESPN.com also had it for Hopkins 116-112.

"This feels great. It does feel incredible. I was ready and prepared tonight," he said. "I found my heart and soul in that ring. I have never taken a shortcut or compromised my integrity in the sport."

Hopkins (53-6-2, 32 KOs) also invoked two of his all-time great contemporaries.

"I want to mention two guys who I grew up in the same [figurative] house with in the '90s, Roy Jones Jr. and James Toney," Hopkins said. "I was always the third child in that house and now I can finally put the lights on."

[+] EnlargeBernard Hopkins
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsBernard Hopkins broke his own record by becoming the oldest man to win a world title, at age 48, in Saturday's unanimous decision over Tavoris Cloud.

With everything Hopkins -- who made a division-record 20 middleweight title defenses and won the undisputed title -- has done, he can claim to have surpassed both of those fighters in terms of accomplishments.

The 31-year-old Cloud (24-1, 19 KOs), 17 years Hopkins' junior, had his moments but could never put together a sustained rally or throw the masterful Hopkins off his game.

"[Trainer] Naazim [Richardson] told me what to do, and I stuck to the game plan," Hopkins said. "It was trying to throw combination punches and trying to throw them often. In my other fights, I was doing just one punch. If I did combination punches, we knew he wouldn't be able to adjust to that style."

Cloud never did. The fight began very slowly, with almost no real punches swapped in the opening round and with Hopkins grabbing Cloud almost immediately. After a few clinches, referee Earl Brown admonished both fighters.

It turned into a bit of a cat-and-mouse game as they tried to maneuver for position and put together brief flurries. Each landed solid shots, but blows came mostly one at a time. In the third round, the fighters started talking to each other and smiling.

But eventually, Hopkins settled into his rhythm of landing a few shots, jabbing and either getting out of the way or tying up Cloud.

"Because I was working on combination punching, it took me a while to get into my rhythm," Hopkins said, "and I found it in about the fourth or fifth round, and then things became easy."

Hopkins opened a terrible cut on Cloud's left eyelid in the sixth round. After Brown called timeout so the ringside doctor could examine Cloud, he ruled that the injury had been caused by an accidental head-butt. Replays, however, seemed to indicate that it was caused by a Hopkins left hook.

Cloud, of Tallahassee, Fla., thought it was an elbow.

"I was only average tonight. He hit me with that elbow, but I am not complaining," said Cloud, who earned a career-high $550,000 to Hopkins' $750,000. "It is what it is. The good thing about boxing is we do it inside the ring without guns and everybody lives to fight another day."

With the crowd chanting "B-Hop! B-Hop! B-Hop!" in the seventh round, Hopkins pushed Cloud back and seemed to get the better of him, the cut clearly bothering Cloud.

But Cloud's cutman, Danny Milano, did an excellent job of keeping the gash closed, and it rarely bled again until it opened in the 12th round as blood trickled down Cloud's face.

[+] EnlargeTavoris Cloud and Bernard Hopkins
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IITavoris Cloud was cut and outworked by Bernard Hopkins despite being 17 years younger.

Despite his old legs, Hopkins, the Philadelphia legend, moved and avoided most of Cloud's clean punches while landing many shots on the inside and jabs on the outside. Cloud dug some body shots, but Hopkins never flinched.

Cloud, who was making his fifth title defense and fighting for the first time in the 13 months since a controversial split decision win against former titlist Gabriel Campillo, seemed content to let Hopkins set the pace. He didn't show any sense of urgency in the late rounds, and it showed on the scorecards.

"I have a history of destroying young champions and you never see them again," Hopkins said. "I don't know if you'll see Tavoris Cloud again."

He can add Cloud to his epic list of younger, favored fighters he has vanquished, including Felix Trinidad, Antonio Tarver, Kelly Pavlik and Pascal.

"I was really working on my speed and reflexes. At 48 years old, I wanted to display them," Hopkins said. "I'm with the 40-and-up club, and it still rules."

For an old-timer, he outworked Cloud. Hopkins landed 169 of 417 punches (41 percent), according to CompuBox statistics, while Cloud connected on 139 of 650 (21 percent). Hopkins also outlanded him in eight of the 12 rounds.

Super middleweight champ Andre Ward -- who is destined for light heavyweight in the near future -- was ringside calling the fight for HBO. When it was over, Hopkins leaned over the ropes and gave him some words of wisdom.

"Did you learn anything?" Hopkins asked him. "Write it down, watch the tape and use it if you want to, because you're going to be here for a long time."

The point was that Hopkins has no intention of facing Ward when he comes up in weight, and Ward isn't much interested in fighting Hopkins either.

"He said, 'No matter what, I'll never fight you,'" Ward said. "Me and Bernard Hopkins are just not gonna fight. Never say never. Anything can happen. We entertain the right opportunities."

Ward was impressed with Hopkins, however, and has the utmost respect for him.

"It was a masterful Bernard Hopkins performance," Ward said. "It goes back to the fact that every fight doesn't have to be a bloodbath to be exciting.

"He reminded us that we need to respect what he is doing. It's not all about blood and guts. He may not be the most quote-unquote exciting, but he is effective and a living legend in the sport."

Hopkins is indeed a living legend and has no intention of walking away while he is still beating quality opponents.

"Tonight means a lot to me, but I think it means more to everyone else because I don't plan on going anywhere," said Hopkins, who bounced back from his loss last April to Chad Dawson, who took the belt he had won against Pascal. "I'll stop when I want to stop.

"And after tonight, I don't think people want me to stop either."

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