Will Bernard Hopkins break his own record by winning a world title at age 48, or is the bell tolling for the old man with Tavoris Cloud charged up and ready to rumble tomorrow night on HBO?
In a world where styles matter, Bernard Hopkins is 48 years young while Tavoris Cloud is 31 years old. For whatever athletic deterioration B-Hop suffers from, Cloud suffers even worse on a technical level. Cloud is the type of fighter to bring the fight right to you. He's not particularly clever but he hits hard and he keeps coming. Hopkins has always schooled power punchers that bring the fight to him. It's the cute fighters that force Hopkins to lead and don't punch very hard that give him the most trouble. Cloud is the exact opposite. Activity may be a problem for Hopkins, but because Cloud doesn't have fast hands combined with his lack of tact, Hopkins will do what he needs to do to limit Cloud's output (legally or otherwise). Hopkins by unanimous decision.
I'm no Hopkins fan, and I even have a hard time saying I "respect" his style, because it's just ugly stuff more than it is some thinking man's genius stuff, but in his way, Bernard is a ring genius. He knows every trick in the book, and he's forgotten more about the mental side of the game than Tavoris Cloud will ever know. Cloud is a rudimentary sort of fighter -- it's not that he lacks the ability to do the things that would make people call him "skilled," I don't think, it's just not part of his mental makeup. He comes to bang, and he gets by on pure physicality.
Hopkins is old, and he fights like it. But a year ago, Gabriel Campillo gave Cloud a boxing lesson, only to get robbed in Texas. This time, Cloud's in New York, he's not the A-side of the fight, and Hopkins at 48 is better and craftier than Campillo, who is a good fighter. Campillo's ability to deal with Cloud's bumrush offense neutered his opponent; Hopkins is going to make this ugly, make it dirty, and no matter what Cloud does, I don't think he has it in him to deal with Bernard's tactics. His only chance is to stop Bernard, and Bernard's going to have to be significantly worse than he was last April for that to happen. It's not impossible, but I'm not seeing it. "The Executioner" will break his own record. Hopkins by decision.
It's hardly like it hasn't been mentioned, but the very fact that a 48-year-old is headlining an HBO main event is utterly remarkable. What's even more remarkable is that, listening to what appears to be the consensus, he's got every chance here. It's hard to argue much against that. In recent years, Hopkins has made a career out of grinding down and chewing up younger, aggressive, come-forward fighters, and the template for victory here appears to be much the same. The fact is, though, that one day he'll stop being able to do that.
Chances are this goes one of two ways: either Hopkins wins an unsightly, messy contest by a few rounds on the cards, or he gets outgunned and outworked. Cloud fights with an energy, output, and, well, a distinct naivety that Hopkins will either leverage to his complete advantage, or will be unable to negate. The hunch is that Cloud's verve will do enough to catch the judges' eye. I'm far from comfortable calling this, but it's Cloud by UD for me.
I've really gone back and forth over this one. Hopkins is the much better all-around fighter and, if he were in his prime, I would be picking him in a walkover. However, he is 48, which is pretty incredible when I think about it. Cloud is a physically strong fighter with heavy hands, if not the best coordination. The comparisons to Jeff Lacy are not totally unfounded.
I have a feeling that Hopkins is going to look very old in this fight. He has been fighting in spurts recently, and that's only going to get worse. He is going to hold, maul, hit low, kidney punch, and do whatever else he has to do to stay up with his younger foe. Cloud can outwork Hopkins, he just has to stay focused, a la Chad Dawson. Cloud also looked a little less thick at the weigh-in, a good sign for a man needing to be as flexible as possible. I also don't get the sense he is intimidated by the "Executioner". Cloud by close decision in an ugly fight.
The fight will come down to how well Cloud deals with Hokpins' tactics, and by tactics, I mean his usual holding, rabbit punches, feigning fouls against him and crying to the ref every fifteen seconds. That may seem a harsh assessment of Hopkins but it has been the reality for the majority of his fights in the past ten years. Some people would call it call it clever, some would call it perfidious and others would call it painful to watch - I say it's all three.
Cloud will have the edge in work-rate, stamina, hand speed and punch power, it remains to be seen whether or not he'll get the chance to use those advantages. Hopkins is still a good fighter and will pose problems that Cloud has yet to encounter, if Cloud has the intelligence to adapt and solve those problems, he should win on points. It'll be a long night for Cloud, he'll be made to look bad at times but will take it on the cards, which will be surprisingly close. Cloud by split decision.
Final Tally: Tavoris Cloud 3, Bernard Hopkins 2.