It is the general strategy of IBF light heavyweight champion Tavoris Cloud to fight his own fight and make his opponent adjust to him. It seems to have worked up to this point, amassing a record of 24-0 with 19 knockouts over his nine year career. However, the 31-year old Cloud has never faced anyone like Bernard Hopkins before. A few adjustments by the champion might be necessary as the two clash tomorrow night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on HBO's World Championship Boxing (9:30 pm ET/PT).
Cloud, who hails from Tallahassee, Florida, is a fundamentally sound and workmanlike light heavyweight with a solid chin. He fights well out of clinches, muscling off his opponent to create space and find opportunities. He comes to fight, willing to take some to give some, and puts in real work with powerful combination punching that ultimately breaks down his opponent.
That is not the Tavoris "Thunder" Cloud we saw last time out, however. Against Gabriel Campillo in February 2012, Cloud inexplicably started backing up in Round 2 after knocking the Spaniard down twice in the first round. With a bloodied nose and cut over his left eye, Cloud appeared to lose his sense of identity and wound up getting outboxed and picked apart over the course of the bout. Even his punches didn't have the snap and power to slow down Campillo.
Nevertheless, Cloud was the beneficiary of an awful split decision. The undefeated champion recognizes that it was not a strong performance, pointing to a lack of preparation.
"In that last fight I wasn’t as well prepared as I am now. And that’s what I learned from that fight, and that’s to come to the fight well prepared, expecting any and everything. And that’s what I’m going to do," Cloud said on a recent media call.
Against the veteran Hopkins (52-6-2, 32 KO's) who knows every trick in the book, Cloud will need to be prepared to expect exactly that. Yet, his philosophy might not lend itself to ideal preparation going up against "The Executioner".
"I make the other guy adjust to me. I never watch a lot of film of my opponents. If we have to adjust to the opponent, we're not doing something right on our end," said Cloud in a recent interview with BoxingScene.com. "My new trainer, Abel Sanchez, stresses that and my previous trainer felt that way, too."
While Cloud would be well-served to not let the tricky Hopkins get into his head with tactics that include, but are not limited to, leaning in with the head, clinching, taunting and doing push-ups between rounds, this fight will come down to how well the relatively untested champion can adjust to whatever adversity he may face once in the ring with the boxing legend.
"I know I’m the better fighter. I know I have the better fighter’s IQ and I am also the better-conditioned fighter. I believe that when I go in that ring and Cloud is thinking something else, he’s going to be very, very surprised," said a confident Hopkins.
"I know that he’s going to have to go ahead and adjust mentally and then adjust physically, and that’s when a fight really begins."
Not only will he have to adjust to the mind games, but Cloud may also likely have to contend with a cut while finding a way to win without scoring a knockout as Hopkins has never been stopped in his 60 fight career and has always fought back valiantly from knockdowns as he did in draws with Segundo Mercado in 1994 and Jean Pascal in December 2010. Cloud was unable to overcome this type of adversity against an average fighter in Campillo so will have to prove that he is, in fact, better prepared for the highly motivated veteran after a year-long absence from the ring.
Now training with Sanchez in Big Bear, the aggressive Cloud will have to fight angry without getting angry. Following the blueprint set by Chad Dawson who earned a majority decision over Hopkins last April, Cloud will need to take the fight to his wily opponent by coming forward, staying active and setting up a variety of combinations from different angles with his jab. The southpaw Dawson found a home for his straight left hand from which Hopkins could not get out of the way so Cloud should look to close the gap and keep his aging opponent on the defensive.
Of course, Hopkins is more than capable of fighting from this posture with exceptional counterpunching ability, he just needs to be more active doing this. Against Dawson, Hopkins gave up a number of rounds by simply not doing enough and spending too much time trying to mentally overwhelm his opponent rather than applying effective aggression to work his way through Dawson's jab. He also lunged in with single telegraphed shots targeting a cut over Dawson's left eye as opposed to launching a systematic and sustained attack. Cloud has not yet convincingly demonstrated an ability to fight effectively going backwards so that is something Hopkins should try to exploit.
At 48 years old, this all may be too much to expect from B-Hop at this stage.
However, one must not underestimate the power of his motivation to retire nemesis Don King (who promotes Cloud) and break his own record of becoming the oldest champion in boxing history, both of which were not factors in his last fight 11 months ago. Another missing factor heading into tomorrow night's fight is that Hopkins is not six months removed from a separated left shoulder, an injury he sustained in his first meeting with Dawson in October 2011 when he was thrown to the canvas in the second round.
On to the mental and physical adjustments so the fight can really begin.
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