Saturday 9 March 2013 is a fairly interesting day for boxing. In the UK Darren Barker attempts to try to put together a consistent run of form against experienced Italian Simone Rotolo, hoping for a world title shot if he wins. On the undercard Lee Purdy and American Carson Jones meet in their delayed bout, both men having aspirations of world title glory. In Japan, two of the exciting, popular yet controversial Kameda Brothers take on soft touch opposition. In California talented IBF Superfeatherweight champion Juan Carlos Salgado has a rematch with Argenis Mendez, a man who pushed him very close in their first bout.
Yet the match… and in truth card… that most interests me is of that between IBF 175lbs kingpin Tavoris Cloud and the legendary Bernard Hopkins. In many ways the story for the bout writes itself; can Hopkins, now 48, break his own record for being the oldest world champion in boxing history or will Cloud be the young boxer to finally put the Executioner to rest?
As a boxing fan my relationship with Hopkins is complex. I admire his talent and dedication immensely. He has reinvented himself as well as any other boxer has as age robbed him of his physical talents and his run since about 2006 has been a triumph for technique and experience over youth and natural ability. At times I can even admire his cynicism and tendency to fight dirty, how he straddles the line of both legality and good taste with his pre-fight comments and in-fight antics… his hitting and holding, his way of working on the blind-side of the ref. I love listening to him describe fights and watching him train, seeing how he works on all the little details that together combine to make him so effective.
At the same time I detest his play acting, the way he clattered to the floor as if shot when Roy Jones Jr returned the favour on some of the dirty tactics, the way he moans and complains at every opportunity. Perhaps most of all I just don’t enjoy watching him box. For Hopkins to be successful he cannot be in entertaining bouts; he needs to slow the pace, to box in bursts, to spoil and the grab. Hopkins is the sort of boxer where I sometimes wish I didn’t watch his bouts, simply found out the results the next day, nodded my appreciation and never had to sit through the actual contests.
Cloud is not like that. At 31 years old he is still in his physical prime, a powerful, dangerous boxer, one of the biggest punchers in boxing, not only at 175lbs but also pound for pound but fairly crude and lacking in technique. Promotional issues, injury, Don King’s lack of TV dates and Chad Dawson’s questionable relationship with mandatory contenders have meant that Cloud has spent far too much time out of the ring, an absence that has both stalled his momentum and led to disjointed performances. The best and worst of him was readily seen in his last bout, over a year ago against Gabriel Campillo. Early on Cloud was the monstrous puncher he is famed to be, knocking down Campillo twice and looking like he was about to score an early stoppage. Yet he lost his rhythm and as the bout wore on Campillo’s beautiful combination punching tore him apart. In the end he was very lucky to win the close split decision he did.
This leaves us with two boxers both with something to prove. Hopkins wants to once again throw back the hands of time and prove that age is no barrier to success, that his talent, his dedication, his technique and his sheer willpower are more than enough to carry him past any obstacle. Cloud wants to prove that he is still the boxer so many were excited by in 2008 when he demolished teak-tough Mexican Julio Cesar Gonzalez.
Hopkins has always been fairly smart with his matchmaking and on paper Cloud is the sort of boxer his excels against. As mentioned above Cloud is crude, relying on his power and aggression over technique. He is not particularly fast, of either hand or foot and his reflexes have never been a strong point. While his power tells he often struggles to hunt opponents down; Campillo recovered after the early knockdowns, Zuniga managed to survive despite being dropped twice and the chinny Mack was able to escape him (and keep the bout relatively close) before finally being caught. When hit Cloud doesn’t dodge, fire back or counter, instead covering up and waiting for the opponent to stop punching. It was this as much as anything that made his bout with Campillo so close… Campillo would land a shot, Cloud would bring his gloves up and give Campillo the perfect opportunity to throw (and often land) six or seven punches in combination. Cloud likewise only ever really punches on the front foot; if an opponent can ever make him retreat Cloud becomes far less effective. Cloud has some similarities to both Pavlik and Pascal… two boxers who the elder-Hopkins put on signature performances against.
Yet Cloud is not Pascal or Pavlik… and Hopkins is not the Hopkins of those bouts.
In his most recent four bouts, two each against Pascal and Dawson, Hopkins relied on transitioning between the outside and inside instantly with very little time spent in the pocket. If given the chance he would leap in from the outside, often with a straight right lead and immediately clinch, hitting the head and body, wrestling a little and waiting for the referee to split them up at which point he would repeat as necessary. If the opponent came in wildly he would slip to the side and if they exerted pressure he would simply clinch.
He had mixed success in doing so. Against Pascal it was effective because Pascal throws every shot as if it was his last, hurling his fists forward with all his might. He telegraphs his shots, rarely threw in combination and by the midway point of the point he had tired himself out, making his shots even slower and even more predictable. Hopkins was able to fight in the gaps, avoiding Pascal’s offence while hitting him while Pascal was still winding up his bombs. In contrast Dawson managed to control each bout with Hopkins on the back of constant workrate; he simply didn’t give Hopkins the opportunities to exploit that Pascal did.
As a fighter Cloud is closer to a Pascal type but there are key differences. Pascal is a better all around athlete while Cloud carries more power. This links into their styles; Pascal leaps in while Cloud stalks down. Pascal throws single shots while Cloud… while not the most natural combination puncher… often throws more than one shot at a time. Pascal struggles to do anything on the inside while Cloud has shown a solid inside game to go with his strength against the likes of Glen Johnson and Clinton Woods. Pascal has a history of fading in matches as he wears his stamina out; Cloud hasn’t faded to the same extent.
Campillo had success against Cloud because he threw quick, scything combinations. A 48 year old Hopkins cannot do that. He may be able to catch or at least distract Cloud with his stepping shots from the outside but the best he can hope for then is to clinch… and if Cloud continues and remembers to actually fight in the clinch he should be able to at least neutralise, if not beat Hopkins there. While Pascal’s wild leaping attack gave Hopkins the chance to evade or counter Cloud’s more considered stalking should mean he has more success pinning Hopkins down… and when Cloud is able to pin someone down he can punish them. When Pascal did connect with Hopkins he wobbled Hopkins… Cloud can do the same.
Hopkins certainly has the skills to make life difficult for Cloud and I imagine it will be a frustrating night for the puncher from Florida. But we are asking a 48 year old man to not just survive but win against a 31 year old man with incredible power. Even for a boxer of Hopkins’ talent that is a tall ask.
If I was being cynical I’d suggest that Hopkins, if finding himself in trouble, will find a way out of the match, be it by injury or other such method. Doing so would allow him to keep his pride and possibly get another high profile rematch.
I’m not going to be cynical though. Instead I believe Cloud will come through and after a few close rounds early on start to take control as he wears out Hopkins with his power and pressure. The end decision is something along lines of 116-112 to Cloud with Hopkins (as always) complaining about it.