It was 2013, a full quarter century since Bernard Humphrey Hopkins Jr. first stepped into a professional prize-ring, and the amazing Old Man Hopkins roadshow just kept chugging along. But did anyone really want to keep watching it? Hopkins vs Cloud had The Barclays Center in Brooklyn barely half-full, but in truth, this was hardly surprising. Absolutely no one had been asking for this match-up, a fight that was little more than the next tedious episode in the ongoing saga of Bernard Hopkins’ seemingly endless career.
Had this bout come on the heels of Bernard out-foxing Jean Pascal two years before, a most extraordinary display of ring acumen and psychological domination, it would have made sense. But in the interim were two sloppy and unsatisfying duels with Chad Dawson, chock full with clinches and fouling, the second one a lopsided points defeat after which Bernard indicated he was finally retiring. Months passed and then, out of nowhere, Hopkins vs Cloud was on the docket but no one really knew why. Given all that he had achieved, how would a win over Cloud add anything to Bernard’s legacy?
Tavoris Cloud at one time had appeared to be a bankable talent, but that was before contender Gabriel Campillo had exposed him as an obviously limited fighter; tough and powerful, yes, but clearly lacking in ring smarts. In other words, another excellent rube for the grizzled Hopkins who, at 48 years of age, had forgotten more boxing technique than Cloud would ever know.
The only drama the match offered was tied to the following questions: Would the clock finally run out on “The Executioner”? Would he dip down into that well of ring wisdom and wizardry and this time come up empty? And would Cloud finally be the one to fearlessly take the fight to Hopkins and impose the kind of pressure, intensity and volume punching which would be too much for Bernard’s rickety legs to withstand?
Alas, the answer to the latter question was an emphatic “no,” as the younger man proved to be made-to-order for the cagy veteran. In a dreary contest that could be replayed and used as an experimental treatment for chronic insomniacs, Hopkins did his usual slow-paced thing with clinching and countering, blocking and mauling, while Cloud followed his elder around the ring like a well-trained Labrador Retriever. It was as if the champion had trained to fight a statue and was bewildered to discover his challenger could both move and punch.
The rounds Cloud won were the ones in which Hopkins decided to coast; the number of times the younger champion threatened “B-Hop” with an aggressive attack could be counted on one hand. By the mid-point of the bout it was clear Cloud was caught under Hopkins’ hypnotic spell and that the wise old man was about to cruise to another points win which would add nothing to Bernard’s already-cemented Hall of Fame status, while doing boxing little good. What did it say about the current state of the fight game when a 48-year-old could so easily defeat a supposed elite performer who was fully seventeen years younger?
It was a fight and a result that only caused one to marvel again at Hopkins’ special brand of vintage voodoo. One could only speculate as to what weird, witch-doctor hocus-pocus he practiced behind the scenes, but his ability to compel opponents younger, stronger, and bigger to ignore the obvious tactical choice and not try to out-muscle and overwhelm the older man was something to behold. Pavlik, Pascal, Cloud, and even Dawson to a lesser degree, all showed the old man far too much respect. Simple logic insisted that any one of these youngsters could have decided to just pretend for an hour that they were Jake LaMotta or Henry Armstrong and steamroll an old man lacking in both power and physical strength, but Cloud fought like he was up against Earnie Shavers.
Despite all the post-fight talk of Hopkins’ time-defying brilliance — and there is no question Bernard remains as cagey a fighter as anyone has seen in recent decades — playing to his weaknesses instead of his strengths was never really that complicated and there was no reason Cloud couldn’t have at least attempted it. Think Carmen Basilio vs Sugar Ray Robinson, or Aaron Pryor vs Alexis Arguello. Set a fast pace, be first, go to the body every chance you get, keep backing the old guy up and just take the fight to him. Hell, if Jermain Taylor could do it and eke out a couple of close wins over Hopkins, surely, more than seven years later, someone else could.
So the “take-away” from Hopkins vs Cloud was that as long as Bernard kept paying that Santería witch-woman in Cuba to kill chickens and put pins in dolls, then presumably his opponents would keep performing as if they were in the ring with Darth Vader. And indeed, wins against Karo Murat and Beibut Shumenov were to follow, though again, the bouts themselves were hardly crowd-pleasing affairs. But then the black magic appeared to finally run out, or at least was no match for Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev in 2014, with the Russian dominating Hopkins and giving him his most one-sided loss since Roy Jones Jr. beat him way back in 1993. And after Kovalev’s hand was raised, precious few were lamenting the overdue end of the career of Bernard Hopkins. So it goes when one long overstays their welcome. — Robert Portis