Thursday, March 7, 2013

Can Bernard Hopkins make history one more time?

Former Middleweight and Light-Heavyweight world champion Bernard Hopkins has had a career that most young fighters would probably dream of.  In a career that has spanned nearly twenty-five years, Hopkins has certainly earned the moniker of future Hall of Famer.

Hopkins will of course go down in history as a legitimate top five all-time Middleweight. Twenty successful title defenses, the most in the division’s illustrious history in a ten year title reign from 1995 to 2005. During this period Hopkins went on to totally unify the World Middleweight championship becoming the only fighter in history to hold all four major world titles in a division at once. 

As if Hopkins’ accomplishments as a Middleweight were not enough to solidify his legendary stature in the sport of Boxing, upon leaving the Middleweight division Hopkins showed that he is one of the sport’s top Light-Heavyweights. Since scoring a dominating victory over former Light-Heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver in 2006 Hopkins has continued to be a force in the division facing the likes of Joe Calzaghe, Jean Pascal, and Chad Dawson just to name a few.

Despite suffering close losses in his fight with Joe Calzaghe and in his rematch with Chad Dawson, Hopkins continues to arguably garner the most attention of any fighter in the Light-Heavyweight division. 

Now at age forty-eight Hopkins sets his sights on attempting another historical feat. To break his own record as the oldest fighter in history to win a major world title in the sport. A record he set at age forty-six surpassing the legendary George Foreman.

The man standing in Hopkins’ way of continuing to make history?  The undefeated International Boxing Federation (IBF) Light-Heavyweight World champion Tavoris Cloud.

Cloud, unbeaten in twenty-four professional fights has made four successful defenses since winning the then vacant IBF Light-Heavyweight title by defeating former IBF Light Heavyweight world champion Clinton Woods in 2009.  During his title reign Cloud has been tested by high caliber opposition most notably the before mentioned Clinton Woods and then by former IBF Light-Heavyweight world champion Glen Johnson.  Despite those notable wins one might argue that Cloud has never been in with a fighter of the caliber of Bernard Hopkins.

Cloud does however have a career knockout percentage of nearly 80% and should be viewed as dangerous.  Cloud’s exciting come forward pressure style has made him a fighter to watch. Cloud has however had difficulty in his fights with Woods, Johnson, and most recently Gabriel Campillo.

In his fights with Woods and Johnson Cloud was able to establish a high punch output. Although Cloud took his share of punishment, particularly in his fight with Glen Johnson, he was able to win those fights by outworking both fighters.

Despite a good start in his fight with Gabriel Campillo in February of last year, knocking Campillo down twice in the first round one might argue that Campillo may have provided somewhat of a blueprint for future Cloud opponents. 

After weathering the storm in the first round of that fight Campillo was able to regroup and execute an effective fight plan that emphasized lateral movement, angles, and hand speed.  In contrast both Woods and Johnson were willing to stand right in front of Cloud and more or less fight him in a phone booth. 

Campillo however in the opinion of this observer was able to gradually take control of the fight getting the better of the exchanges, landing in three or four punch combinations.  Although Cloud would have periods of effectiveness it was Campillo who seemed to dictate the action.  Despite Cloud retaining his title via a controversial split decision, I feel that coming out of that fight that there are perhaps more questions for Cloud to answer as he enters this fight against Hopkins. 

So what are the keys to success for both fighters in this fight?  For Cloud I believe it is critical that he get Hopkins’ respect from the outset.  Cloud needs to establish himself early and put smart pressure on Hopkins by cutting the ring off and nullifying Hopkins’ movement.  Cloud must however pace himself. Although Cloud is known for having consistently high punch outputs it is vital that he not punch himself out and conserve his stamina.  Hopkins has never been stopped in his career of sixty-two professional fights, barring something unexpected I believe most expect this fight to extend into the middle or late rounds.  Hopkins has shown that he can turn up his pace as the fight progresses. It will be interesting to see how Cloud will adjust as Hopkins executes his fight plan.  It will be equally interesting to see how Cloud responds to any clinching and or grappling on the inside from Hopkins a fighter who is a master of the craft of Boxing but also a fighter who is a grizzled veteran who knows how to frustrate his opponents. 

In contrast for Bernard Hopkins to be successful in this fight he needs to establish the pace from the outset.  One thing that Gabriel Campillo utilized which made him very effective when he fought Cloud was angles.  Hopkins is a fighter with great defense and has shown the ability to be elusive.  Hopkins needs to give angles and avoid being a stationary target for Cloud who will be looking to put pressure on him and push him back. 

As it is critical in this observer’s eyes that Cloud establish himself early in this fight, it is critical that Hopkins not get off to a slow start.  Some might argue that one element that has gone against Hopkins in fights that he’s lost to Jermain Taylor, Joe Calzaghe, and Chad Dawson is that he seemed to start slow and pick up his pace as the fight went on.  It is important that Hopkins be consistent with his punch output and not allow Cloud to outwork him.  If Hopkins chooses to fight only in spurts, even though he may have periods of effectiveness, judges are likely to favor effective aggression.  Hopkins must be consistent in this fight. 

Cloud vs. Hopkins may end up being one of the one of the best fights of the year.  A young undefeated world champion still looking to prove that he belongs with the elite of his division facing a  future Hall of Famer who is seventeen years his senior. A victory for Cloud will no doubt establish him as a star player in the Light-Heavyweight division and could set up future big money fights with the fellow champions of the division Beibut Shumenov, Nathan Cleverly, and Chad Dawson. After all the title “Undisputed” is the ultimate goal.

A victory for Bernard Hopkins will add another accolade to what has already been a historical career that few fighters could compare to.  Although Hopkins has made a career of proving skeptics and naysayers wrong, the question that most probably have as this fight approaches is will Hopkins be able to beat father time once again? 

Whether or not that question will be answered in this fight with Cloud remains to be seen. No matter the outcome the Boxing World can at minimum can be assured of an entertaining night of Boxing with historical implications.

The attention of the Boxing World will now center on the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York when Bernard Hopkins challenges Tavoris Cloud on Saturday March 9th. Conventional wisdom suggests that we are likely to see a competitive fight that will be rough and could indeed be ugly at times. 

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

The Boxing Truth® is a registered trademark of Beau Denison All Rights Reserved.

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