It’s been a little more than two years since Bernard Hopkins (56-6-2, 32 KO’s) stunned the sold out Bell Center in Quebec, Canada by besting the then 29-year-old Jean Pascal.
Hopkins not only captured the IBO, WBC, and Ring Magazine Light Heavyweight titles, but also became the oldest boxer to win a world championship strap. Prior record holder George Foreman won his gold at age 45, while Hopkins was 46.
This Saturday night the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York will serve up the opportunity for Hopkins to break his own mark when he challenges the current IBF Light Heavyweight title holder Tavoris Cloud (24-0, 19 KO’s) in a 12 round clash.
Currently, the odds makers have installed the champion Cloud as around a -160 betting favorite (-165 Stratosphere), with the take-back on the ageless wonder Hopkins a generous +130 (+140 at Stratosphere) when you take into account the challenger has only suffered two defeats since 2006.
History suggests this should be an easy outcome to predict with so many examples of how the priest, better known as “Father Time,” has been the one to eventually beat some of the sport’s best. At 37, Joe Louis lost his final bout to Rocky Marciano, who wouldn’t have stood a chance in Louis’ prime.
By the age of 29, when Joe Frazier was KO’d by Foreman, most agreed he had very little left. Even the “Greatest” Muhammad Ali, when 36, was defeated by Leon Spinks in just his eighth pro fight. After Sugar Ray Robinson reached 36, he managed to win just three of his final 14 bouts against top contenders.
Cloud is much more than simply a “top contender.” He isn’t very difficult to prepare for as opponents know exactly what to expect – preferring to stand and trade rather than box. Cloud throws almost every punch with bad intentions and at 5’10” will be giving up 3 inches in height but does possess a 1-inch reach advantage over B-Hop.
Statistically, the champion connects on 31% of his punches and has been able to avoid 72% thrown in his direction. Cloud has plenty of power, which is reflected in his 79% knockout ratio in 111 rounds as a professional. Simply put, he’s a come forward type of fighter who won’t be hard to find.
For Hopkins, though he was always a cerebral fighter more than a brawler, he’s been forced to be even more so this late in his career. It’s no secret that fighters of his age may not have the ability to take too many shots. But we also know those who haven’t absorbed much punishment tend to hold on to a sturdy chin much longer.
Hopkins’ style prohibited him from taking many punches, especially the “flush” kind that really do long term damage. The phrase “crafty veteran” was attached to B-Hop long before he was even considered an aging fighter and it’s obviously very well deserved.
Few boxers have showcased such ability to frustrate opponents with technique more than anything else. Statistically, Hopkins has connected on 32% of his punches and has gotten out of the way of 73% from opponents. His conditioning has forever been his greatest asset and it’s indicative by his low knock-out ratio of 51.6%, reflecting he prepares himself to go the distance and stay busy enough to win via decision.
Bottom line, stylistically Cloud is the perfect opponent for Hopkins based on the fact he’s very aggressive but lacks high level boxing skills at this point in his career. The fighters who gave Hopkins problems of late, like Chad Dawson and Joe Calzaghe had excellent form to go along with their smothering approach, not allowing “The Execution” to execute his blueprint of precision counters.
With that said, at 46 will Hopkins still have the stamina to take some of Cloud’s power shots and continue to outbox and outmaneuver the champion for 12 full rounds? Then can Hopkins also remain busy enough offensively to get the nod from the judges? They have given him the nod in the past even as primarily a counter puncher who sets traps.
As a handicapper my prediction has to be Cloud, but as a professional sports better who’s profited plenty through the years by backing Hopkins when he was least expected to win, ultimately producing some nice underdog returns, I just can’t fade B-Hop. Not because he’s from Philly like myself and a fighter I’ve always been a fan of, but more because he’s continued to defy the odds and has proven he can confuse and completely take inexperienced fighters out of their game.
Hopkins has fought over 450 professional rounds, four times more than Cloud. Even so, this time around I just can’t back Hopkins. I will either pass on the side or back the champ to defend his title.
Pick: Cloud/OVER (expect a decision)
Line: Hopkins +135, Cloud -165 (c/o Stratosphere)
Fight record (last 3 yrs): 96-50 (66%)
Current run: 30-12 (71%)
Vegas-Runner, a pro sports bettor in Las Vegas, has been featured on CNBC/ESPN. Follow him on Twitter@vegasrunner, at Pregame.com and on AM 1100 ESPN (also FM 98.9) on Fridays and Sundays from 11 pm to midnight when he co-hosts First Preview. Contact Vegas Runner at [email protected].