There is history to be made, and there are echoes of the past.
Tavoris Cloud is the tenth man in history -- the tenth to share a commonality with the other nine men that spans 23 years: Men like Joe Calzaghe, Joe Lipsey, Jermain Taylor, Glen Johnson, Kelly Pavlik, Roy Jones Jr., and Felix Trinidad.
These pugilists and a few other forgotten prize fighters all entered the ring with Bernard Hopkins with unblemished, undefeated, records.
A few escaped with hard fought, marginal victories, neither impressive nor effusive. The rest suffered devastating losses.
Win or lose, nearly all left the ring with their future boxing careers dramatically altered or ended.
At 24-0 Tavoris Cloud, the 31-year-old Florida fighter, known for a hard-hitting, hard hat-wearing style, is looking to do what none of those other nine were able to do
The man named Cloud is looking to beat Hopkins into the mat like the pounding rain that should plummet at the first rolling rumble of his nickname, “Thunder.”
This Saturday night when Cloud and Hopkins meet on HBO, like two storm fronts curling together in Brooklyn, we shall see whether the undefeated fighter can conjure up a perfect storm and finally blow through the battened down hatches that Hopkins has maintained through decades.
There are fighters who act. There are fighters who react, fighters who think in the ring, fighters who are unthinking.
Tavoris Cloud acts.
If there is thought, it must almost be in the form of a mantra; something that only serves to remind him, in a most mindless way to plow forward, put one foot before the other, move his hands.
It’s as though a single-minded duty must be accomplished. When that mindset is unbroken, each step forward is like a link in a steel chain, curling around an opponent until it’s drawn tight and suffocating them.
There is a purity to this type of fighter, simplicity by way of singularity. A weakness, his lack of versatility, is also his greatest strength.
A meat grinder can’t finely slice filet mignon. It can’t delicately carve a breast of chicken. But it sure as hell can grind meat -- take something whole, tough even, and reduce it to a masticated pulp of disseminated tissue.
That’s Cloud. He’s not looking to dissect Hopkins, he is looking to grind him up.
Bernard Hopkins of course is nearly the exact opposite sort of instrument in the ring. Where Cloud makes like a mindless juggernaut, Hopkins is the crafty Cuisinart.
Yes, he's able to grind someone up... but with finesse, with a measured plan informed by the task at hand and the ingredients involved, with blades you can detach and swap out, adjust and align for the given challenge.
He can coarsely shred you, slice you, chop you or puree you all based on what the recipe calls for.
The problem for Hopkins, however, is that those interchangeable blades spin slower now, and they’ve lost their fine edge. At 48 years old, Hopkins is pushing the limits of credulity on the expiration date of his career.
Unbelievably Cloud, as the tenth man, has the opportunity to become the first undefeated fighter to emphatically defeat Hopkins and relegate boxing's reliable Cuisinart to the dusty shelves of obsolete appliances.
Almost a year ago now, Chad Dawson the WBC light heavyweight beltholder sat in the bowels of Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. The clock ticked towards 1 a.m. The new champ, looking roughed up but content, sat with his young boys and answered what it was like to face the old legendary champ.
“When you are in there with someone like Bernard Hopkins it’s harder than I thought,” Dawson explained to the big, quiet room. “He’s 47 but he fights like a 35-year-old. It’s the most difficult fight I’ve been in.”
Here is the pitfall for Tavoris Cloud. At just 31 he holds a 17-year age advantage over the Philadelphia veteran.
In fact, Cloud was just six years old when Hopkins began his career.
“I don't look at him as being physically formidable.” Cloud said. “He's all skills, mind games and trickery.”
(The undefeated 25-0 Joe Lipsey would beg to differ. After his brutal knockout at the hands of Hopkins in 1996, he never entered the ring again.)
“He's not what you look for in a fighter, not what you think a fighter should be.”
(The undefeated 40-0 Felix Trinidad would beg to differ. After 12 rounds of punishment and a late round white towel bail out by his father in 2001, Trinidad, Puerto Rico’s icon, was relegated to little more than opponent status and just four more sporadic fights.)
“It’s not something I think about, because it’s not going to happen. He’s not going to beat me.”
(The undefeated 34-0 Kelly Pavlik might beg to differ. After getting out-quicked, out muscled, and played with for 12 rounds in a confidence crushing 2008 loss, Pavlik went from being on the cusp of sport-defining superstardom to an “exposed” one trick pony who has been unable to claw back to respectability since.)
“Glen Johnson was a pretty tough joker. That round 12 showed me that this is what it is all about. Hopkins won’t be the toughest guy I ever met.”
(The undefeated 32-0 Glen Johnson might beg to differ. In what may have been Hopkins most comprehensive performance, he eviscerated the young Johnson sending him home in 11 rounds with his first loss and derailing his career for much of the next sux years.)
“My toughest fight is always going to be Bernard Hopkins.” Johnson recently said. “At the time I was a young undefeated fighter and you think you can't be beat... I was humbled to go back to the gym and train harder. I've never been hurt like that before.”
At every point in his long and storied career Hopkins has faced down young undefeated fighters. Most of the time, he’s shown them their boxing mortality.
“Bernard Hopkins doesn’t know what’s coming at him.” Cloud finished.
It begs the thought...
Does Tavoris Cloud know what’s coming at him?