By Joseph Santoliquito
BROOKLYN, NY (CBS) — Bernard Hopkins never ceases to amaze. If Hopkins has no palpable special motivation, the future Hall of Fame fighter has always been able to conjure up some of his own.
This time, Hopkins didn’t need it. This fight came well supplied with its own special incentive.
When “The Executioner” stepped into the ring Saturday night at Barclays Center against the IBF light heavyweight champion, 31-year-old Tavoris Cloud, he wasn’t so much battling a much younger fighter as he was throwing punches at his former promoter, Don King.
Hopkins, 48 years young, knew if he beat Cloud, he’d beat King, since Cloud was the only viable fighter left in King’s thin promotional stable. King and Hopkins didn’t have the most amicable relationship when they worked together. Hopkins, known for his candor, has openly said he hates King.
Hopkins has constantly defied odds—and he did against Cloud on Saturday night, breaking his own record by becoming the oldest fighter in boxing history to win a major world title. Hopkins previously held that record when he was 46, after he beat WBC light heavyweight champ Jean Pascal in 2011.
The “old man” made it look easy, beating Cloud by unanimous decision, receiving 116-112 scores from judges John Poturaj and John Stewart, and judge Tom Schreck had it 117-111 for Hopkins.
“The 40-and-up club is still good, this proves if you live clean you can win. I tried to throw four and five punches that I normally don’t throw,” Hopkins said. “Cloud is a gutsy, strong young champion, but I have a history of destroying young champions. This feels great. I get to retire Don King. That was Don King’s last fighter and I beat him. I put Don King out of business.”
Hopkins (54-6-2, 32 knockouts) does not have the power anymore, since he hasn’t stopped a viable opponent since he downed his Golden Boy Promotions boss, Oscar De La Hoya, back on September 18, 2004, but his caginess made him superior. He’s still a master technician.
It marked the first time Cloud (24-1, 19 KOs) lost. Each time Cloud tried imposing his power, Hopkins was long gone. There was no one there. It left Cloud terribly exposed to be counter punched.
A big key for Hopkins was constant movement. He kept circling making it difficult for Cloud to set his feet and sit on his punches for optimum power.
In the early rounds, Hopkins looked good. He was able to fight inside, where he’s been traditionally very effective. Where it worked in the first round, Cloud countered that in the second with a few stinging left hooks to the body. Hopkins immediately lowered his right arm to protect his ribs.
But in the third, Hopkins was at it again. He occasionally leaned in with his left shoulder and used it almost like a third first. Hopkins appeared to have three of the first four rounds. In the fourth, Hopkins slammed a straight right off Cloud’s head.
Another key for Hopkins was the tempo of the fight. Cloud never really pressed Hopkins early on. He never forced Hopkins to move at a faster pace.
With less than a minute left in the fifth, Cloud landed a strong right on Hopkins’ chin. A few seconds later, Hopkins cleaved Cloud’s defense with a right uppercut. And so it went. Anything Cloud did, Hopkins had an answer.
In the sixth, Hopkins opened a cut on Cloud’s left eye lid. Referee Earl Brown declared the cut caused by an accidental headbutt. Brown stopped the fight momentarily for the ringside doctor to take a look at the cut. When it was declared Cloud could continue, he came out with a greater sense of urgency. That lasted for about 30 seconds.
A TV replay revealed that the cut was caused by a quasi left hook from Hopkins.
By the seventh, a very partisan Hopkins crowd began chanting, “B-Hop, B-Hop, B-Hop.” Hopkins even had some fun with the ever-charging Cloud by stepping aside after a Cloud miss and holding his right hand aloft feigning he was going to hit Cloud as he hung over the ropes frustrated and wondering where Hopkins was.
Those same chants began ringing loudly again in the last round. Hopkins raised his tired arms—a winner again. And again, another shocking triumph in his storied career.
Hopkins topped it off by telling super middleweight world champion Andre Ward, seated ringside as the HBO color analyst, “Did you learn anything tonight? Write it down, watch the tape, use it if you want.”