Saturday features a compelling light heavyweight showdown between the legendary Bernard Hopkins (52-6-2, 32 KOs) and undefeated titleholder Tavoris Cloud (24-0, 19 KOs) at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Hopkins (48) looks to eclipse his own record by becoming the oldest boxer to win a major title belt while Cloud (31) hopes to reenergize his career after escaping with a highly disputed split decision victory over Gabriel Campillo in his last fight. Read below for the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article.
1. Punch output.
This issue is a concern for both fighters. For many years, Hopkins has specialized in slowing down the pace of his fights. What gets him in trouble (think of the Taylor or Calzaghe fights) is when opponents significantly outwork him in terms of punch volume. Although Hopkins may land the better punches in many of these rounds, there just aren't enough of them. When Hopkins gets in offensive ruts, where he throws only 20 punches a round, it's hard to find fault with judges who decide to favor his significantly more active opponents.
Hopkins has expressed regret in not letting his hands go enough in his losses, especially in the Calzaghe fight. A much more energetic Hopkins emerged in his two fights against Jean Pascal. His performance in the second Pascal bout helped reestablish his alpha status in the light heavyweight division. However, against Chad Dawson, Hopkins' offensive hesitancy manifested again. Dawson essentially outworked him to pick up a majority decision victory.
Against Cloud, Hopkins has to be active enough for judges to give him close rounds. If he's throwing even 35 punches a round, that might be enough to hold sway with the judges. If he's at 25 or below, that's a warning sign, and most likely he won't win the fight.
Cloud has his own punch volume concerns. He takes rounds off and even within rounds he sometimes lets up. Although Cloud is a pressure fighter and aggressively stalks his opponents, to this point he doesn't fight three minutes of every round. That doesn't mean that he fades late, but he'll find rounds, and moments within rounds, to take breaks.
Cloud cannot succumb to Hopkins' deliberate pace and he must resist the urge to take his foot off of the gas. Every time that he slows down, he gives Hopkins an opportunity to steal a round.
For Cloud to win the fight, it's more about volume than even effectiveness. Hopkins won't be able to match a 50-60 punch-per-round work rate. Cloud will give himself the best chance to win the fight by constant activity.
2. Stealing early rounds.
Hopkins is one of the most notorious slow starters in boxing. He's not concerned about losing early rounds as he studies, feints and sizes up his opponents. Often he'll look to land one or two big shots in each of the first few rounds (most likely his patented lead right hand), but he's not necessarily trying to win them. In these early frames, he likes to intimidate his opponents by demonstrating how easily he can land on them while taking away their offensive strengths. Strategically, he uses the first three rounds to sow crucial seeds of doubt.
Despite Cloud's success in the first round against Campillo, he more often starts deliberately, which is typical of a pressure fighter who gradually breaks down his opponents (his victory over Yusaf Mack was a textbook illustration of this). Think of Cloud as a younger version of Glen Johnson in terms of the type of pressure that he applies.
In this fight, which will most likely be going to the cards, the first three rounds will be critical. Let's be honest, unless something strange happens, like a Cloud injury or a cut caused by a punch, Hopkins isn't scoring a knockout. And while Hopkins was dropped by Pascal, his sturdy chin and steely determination make it unlikely that he will be stopped early.
Both fighters can be cavalier regarding the need to win early rounds. The boxer who shows more initiative in the first frames will put himself in a much better position in the second half of the match, where both of these fighters typically perform at their best.
3. Signs of Father Time.
Even though Hopkins emerged victorious in the second Pascal fight, he wasn't the fresher fighter down the stretch. In fact, Pascal had one of his best rounds in the 12th. In addition, the familiar second-half Hopkins push never materialized against Dawson. These are troubling signs for a fighter who specialized in breaking down his opponents physically and mentally over the course of a match. He once owned the last six rounds.
If Hopkins no longer has the energy reserves to come on strong, he quite simply is a different fighter. In the past, he found that extra gear and kicked it up a notch as his opponents started to tire. So much of Hopkins' success has been predicated on his second-half rallies. If he can't muster the same type of late-round energetic response that he has been famous for, he won't be able to beat Cloud.
4. Movement and tricks.
Cloud doesn't make quick adjustments in the ring. After Campillo got back into the fight, Cloud needed several rounds to figure out how to overcome Campillo's odd-angled shots, high punch volume and movement. Although no one would confuse Hopkins, an orthodox and deliberate fighter, with Campillo, a sprightly southpaw, Hopkins certainly has all sorts of ways to confuse and flummox Cloud.
Hopkins will tie up, grapple, wrestle, elbow, fake injuries, hit low and rabbit punch: his usual smorgasbord of disengagement tactics. But movement may even be more effective against Cloud, who is a straight-line fighter. By using angles and the ring to his advantage, Hopkins will inhibit Cloud from launching his most potent offense, which is when action is in the pocket and at mid-range or closer. In addition, Hopkins' lead right hand, thrown from all sorts of weird trajectories, will help keep Cloud honest.
Cloud will be expecting the rough stuff on the inside and he's a physical specimen as well. In fact, Cloud's left hook and short right hand may be better punches at close range than anything that Hopkins has at this late point in his career. Hopkins' best chance of winning the psychological game (and most likely the fight) will be from the outside, circling the ring, employing angles and throwing unconventional shots. I believe that a fight waged in the trenches favors Cloud.
5. Body punching.
This will be very important for both boxers. Cloud needs to land early to the body in order to slow Hopkins down later in the fight. Hopkins should go downstairs on the inside to keep Cloud from aggressively charging forward.
Both fighters have been good body punchers in the past but they don't always feature it as frequently as they should. Cloud has a nice left hook to the body and occasionally will throw a straight right hand downstairs. At times, Hopkins can be very effective jabbing to the body and he'll also throw left and right hooks to the body during grappling sessions – he’s an expert at using his free hand.
The boxer who can win the body punching battle will have much better success in dictating the style of the fight. If Cloud can establish his body work, Hopkins will be softened up in the later rounds and less of a threat. Should Hopkins effectively assert his body punching, Cloud will be far more reticent to come inside, giving Hopkins additional opportunities to pick him off from the outside with his more accurate punching.
One basic question will determine who wins this fight: Will Hopkins let his hands go enough to win seven rounds? All of the other factors surrounding the fight pale in comparison to this central premise. For me, the answer is no. Hopkins will frustrate, stymie, disengage, trick, clown and bluster; but he won't be able to let his hands go consistently. Ultimately, one must throw enough punches to win. Because of Cloud's pressure/higher punch volume and Hopkins' flagging energy level, I don't think that Hopkins will be offensive-minded enough to win the balance of the rounds. Look for Cloud to win early, Hopkins to come on in the middle rounds and Cloud to pull away late.
Tavoris Cloud defeats Bernard Hopkins by a competitive unanimous decision, along the lines of 116-112, or eight rounds to four.
Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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