Far from a chump, I’m hardcore like Brooklyn,
Mess with me,
And get your manhood tooken
Vastly superior minds have struggled to evaluate far more significant performances than the one that transpired last night at The Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, where Tavoris Cloud was schooled by 48-year-old Bernard Hopkins over 12 dreary rounds. Kierkegaard for example, dedicated the opening chapters of Fear and Trembling to exploring Genesis 22:1-19, trying to understand the nature of faith and responsibility to God through the performance that, to him, produced humankind’s greatest hero. If we are looking for some perspective on last night’s performance then, it is certainly available to us (although perspective is largely ignored by those eager to construct a Khajuraho monument to, well, anything).
Expect the portentous reverence to extend well beyond the talking heads at ringside. Hopkins’ victory over Cloud will probably elicit talk of faith and heroism as well, prone as people are to hyperbole when the paint is still seductively wet. Some keen fecal analysts may even revisit the fight, looking to better distill the greatness that was on display. But there was nothing particularly profound about the 36 minutes of feinting, pot-shotting, over-officiating, complaining, and Gestalt-shifting that produced the first official loss on Tavoris Cloud’s professional ledger. The pattern of the fight developed early, and, like a tractor pull, the excitement ended long before the finish line.
A gunslinger stuck menacingly wiggling his fingers, Cloud, Tallahasee, Florida, spent long stretches of the fight harmlessly following Hopkins as the latter slid along the ropes. Cloud should have forced the fight against Hopkins, thereby increasing his chances to land something withering enough to remind Hopkins of his age; he should have played to his strengths, abandoned thinking, and tried to whale on the only other person in the ring not wearing a striped shirt. But this fervent attack never materialized. Slow of foot, Cloud was expected to have trouble getting into striking distance, even of a foe 17 years his senior. Yet even when in range—where he spent most of the fight—Cloud largely kept his guns holstered. Trainer Abel Sanchez cautioned Cloud against looking for the single shot that would alter the fight, but this was just another morsel of sage advice Cloud failed to digest. However one may wish to exaggerate Cloud’s merit to glorify Hopkins’ accomplishment, Gabriel Campillo had already skywritten Cloud’s limitations, and Hopkins had read the message. This was an impressive performance primarily because of Hopkins’ age—not because of his opponent.
Which is not to say that Hopkins, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is undeserving of praise. With a combination of feints, purposeful movement, and a handful of discouraging punches, Hopkins physically and psychologically wedded Cloud to his own inactivity. Dampening the action may have had the added effect of inclining the judges in Hopkins’ favor: the rationale being that, since Hopkins’ fights are typically dull affairs, a dull affair must mean he is winning. Hopkins, 174 1/2, forced enough cooperation from Cloud to make any assistance on the judges part moot, however. And in those moments where an actual fight percolated through the inertia, Hopkins generally scored with shorter, crisper punches, though Cloud had success cranking home a few left hooks and churning combinations to the body.
Those blows to Hopkins’ trunk—Cloud’s most effective salvos—were limited not only by Cloud’s hesitance, but by referee Earl Brown, who, in his effort to prevent the fight from deteriorating into a spaghetti junction, jumped in to break up every semblance of a clinch. This preemptive officiating prevented Cloud, 173 3/4, from working Hopkins over with his free hand (which, when permitted, he did to some effect). No, clinching should not be tolerated, but if the fighters can punch their way out of them, they should be encouraged to. In the sixth round, Brown also missed the left hook that cut open Cloud’s left eyelid, ruling that an accidental headbutt did the damage. In Brown’s defense, Cloud complained of an elbow immediately after the blow landed (rather fittingly, since his familiarity with the concept of punching had reason to be questioned on this night).
Ultimately, the right man won by scores of 117-111, and 116-112 twice. What Hopkins, 53-6-2 (32) chooses to do next is unclear. Talks with Nathan Cleverly could be revisited, or Hopkins could tempt Sergey Kovalev’s Gallagher act. He still controls his future in the sport, even at his advanced age; and while this is an indictment of the light heavyweight division, it is a testament to Hopkins’ commitment to his craft, and his still burning desire to challenge himself.
If Hopkins is correct, Cloud’s future could be in doubt, for decidedly more ominous reasons. “He’ll be a champion again. But I’ve got a history of destroying young champions, and you never see them again,” he told Max Kellerman. In recovering, Coud, 24-1 (19) should fight as many sentient heavy bags as he can find, and sign with a promoter who will have him fighting more than once every thirteen months. It doesn’t take a vastly superior mind to see that much.