Tavoris Cloud vs. Bernard Hopkins: Biggest Keys for Each Boxer in Title Fight

Zachary AlapiCorrespondent IMarch 8, 2013

Tavoris Cloud vs. Bernard Hopkins: Biggest Keys for Each Boxer in Title Fight

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    This Saturday’s Tavoris Cloud-Bernard Hopkins IBF light heavyweight title fight is hardly a bout boxing fans were clamoring for. Given the stale taste of their recent respective performances, it seemed more likely that Hopkins (52-6-2, 32 KO) and Cloud (24-0, 19 KO) would only return to more mainstream relevance if matched wisely. 

    That appeared like it was going to be the case for Cloud, who was supposed to face Jean Pascal in August of 2012. In what could have been a compelling and meaningful crossroads fight between two prime light heavyweights, Cloud was left idle when Pascal succumbed to injury. And this proved to be yet another false start for Cloud, a fighter who has now been inactive for more than a year. 

    Hopkins’ plodding decision loss to lineal champion Chad Dawson in his last fight was a case of a woeful clash of styles. If fans and pundits thought there was nowhere left for Hopkins to go, he again proved them wrong by securing another title shot. 

    So, given that Cloud-Hopkins is an inevitability, what are the keys to victory for each fighter and who holds the edge in a bout that the boxing public is, to put it bluntly, stuck with? 

    The fear is that Hopkins will again play spoiler and force Cloud into an excruciating fight. While Hopkins must be commended for his genius boxing acumen, his style does not endear him to fans. Conversely, one wonders how Cloud will fare after looking sluggish in “winning” a gift decision against Gabriel Campillo in February 2012. 

    Cloud-Hopkins, however, carries some intrigue. Can Hopkins break his own record of being boxing’s oldest ever world champion, and will he set himself up for another significant fight? Can Cloud redeem himself for his performance against Campillo and finally secure a major unification bout? 

    If Hopkins can fight with the calculated aggression he showed against Pascal in 2011 and Cloud can return to form as a relentless, powerful aggressor, the bout could exceed expectations. In the spirit of hoping that it does, here are some keys to victory for both fighters.

Ring Generalship

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    Controlling the ring geography will be essential for both Cloud and Hopkins. In what could turn out to be one of the fights subtle subplots, much will depend on who effectively plays the matador role in this bout. 

    Now, it would be easy to dismiss such a statement. After all, as the pressure fighter, Cloud is certainly no conventional matador. That said, in applying consistent advancing aggression, Cloud can control and manipulate Hopkins’ movements by keeping “The Executioner” on his back foot.

    Thus, Cloud needs to advance with intelligence in order to be aware of his positioning and remain prepared to navigate his older, slower opponent into spots where he can unleash combinations. 

    Conversely, Hopkins wants his movements to be economical. At 48, this should come as no surprise, and Hopkins will want to use a combination of feints and short bursts of movement to disrupt Cloud’s pressure, all while simultaneously holding his ground. 

    Luring Cloud into traps will allow Hopkins to land counter shots. In other words, Hopkins cannot simply retreat and must force Cloud to question his own pressure tactics.

    To do so, expect Hopkins to reach deep into his bag of tricks: a mix of initiating exchanges, fighting off his back foot, lateral shuffling and well-timed clinches are all tactics he should employ. 

    Ultimately, variety within their respective styles will be key for both fighters.

Punch Output

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    Bernard Hopkins, to put it as kindly as possible, is an economical puncher. In his two fights against Jean Pascal, Hopkins averaged 41.8 and 34.1 punches per round, respectively (per BoxingScene.com and DogHouseBoxing.com). The fact that his punch output decreased in the fight he actually won is also somewhat puzzling. 

    Taken in isolation, Hopkins’ punch stats against Pascal are hardly impressive. However, what must be considered is how effectively Hopkins can negate his opponent’s offense. In those same two fights, Pascal was held to 29 and 31.4 punches per round and was never able to mount a sustained attack. 

    However, in losing to Chad Dawson, Hopkins was out-jabbed 168 to 124 and out-landed 151-106 in total (per BoxingScene.com). Even though Dawson only landed one more jab (25 to 24), Hopkins’ lower work rate prevented him from connecting with more power punches. 

    Now, Hopkins won’t come close to out-landing Cloud, a notoriously active puncher. That said, Hopkins must avoid an extreme punch gap. At his best, Cloud can throw upwards of 900 punches (as he did against Fulgencio Zuniga). After averaging 82.5 punches per round in that fight, Cloud will want to push a similar pace. 

    When he struggles, as was the case against Gabriel Campillo, Cloud’s punch output drops. In his controversial victory over Campillo, Cloud threw 712 total punches (compared to 990 against Zuniga) with a connect percentage 21. When Cloud isn’t throwing his natural volume of punches, it means that he is tentative, confused and inaccurate. 

    When it comes to punch output, the pendulum will likely swing drastically in either Hopkins or Cloud’s favor. And it should be evident who has the clear advantage after only a few rounds.

Initiating Offense vs. Counter-Punching

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    For Cloud to be effective, he will need to initiate exchanges and try to smother Hopkins with a relentless punch output. However, Cloud cannot resort to single shots or predictable combination patterns because doing so will enable Hopkins to counter him. 

    A key difference will be between simply stalking and moving forward behind a stiff jab and volume punching. If Cloud simply plods forward, Hopkins will pick him off and land the cleaner punches. Working his jab and firing double left hooks to the head and body will be essential for Cloud, as will landing his straight right hand. 

    Jabbing, in many respects, will be crucial for both Hopkins’ disruption and countering of Cloud, as well as Cloud’s ability to set up his offense. Consider Hopkins’ two fights against Pascal. In the first bout—a controversial draw—Hopkins out-jabbed Pascal 191 to 148 (per BoxingScene.com); similarly, in the their second fight—a Hopkins victory—“The Executioner” threw 174 jabs compared to Pascal’s 140, landing 51 to Pascal’s measly 19 (per DoghouseBoxing.com). 

    Cloud is also adept at throwing his straight left. For instance, against Fulgencio Zuniga, Cloud connected on 122 of 557 jabs, an astonishing figure that is greater than the total number of punches Hopkins threw in either of his fights against Pascal. Volume will be important for Cloud, and he should strive to outpunch Hopkins at a 2:1 ratio. 

    Essentially, both Cloud and Hopkins must avoid extended stretches of passivity and use well-timed jabs to either initiate their offense or disrupt one another’s rhythm. This should boil down to a battle of precision (Hopkins) versus volume (Cloud).

Psychology

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    This category could be filed under “intangibles.” In terms of psychology and the mind games Hopkins so expertly employs to distract his opponents, it will be curious to see how Cloud treats “The Executioner” once the bell sounds. 

    If Cloud is deferential and overly respectful, he will negate what should be an easy early advantage as Hopkins has a tendency to start fights at a tortoises pace. Cloud needs to apply pressure early by smothering Hopkins with a high volume of punches from the opening bell. Hopkins is hardly a power puncher, so Cloud should not be concerned with getting tagged early. 

    Conversely, Hopkins should try to set a sluggish pace at the outset. Whether he accomplishes this through clinching, wrestling or well-placed elbows, Hopkins should strive to spoil Cloud’s rhythm and force him into throwing single punches. 

    If Cloud can handle Hopkins’ veteran and, at times, dirty tactics, he will have made an important statement. Against Pascal, Hopkins was able to sap his opponent’s energy and confidence (remember those between-round pushups?). Unlike Pascal, Cloud must maintain his composure and not be afraid to foul Hopkins (within reason, of course). 

    By showing offensive variety, going to the body and refusing to get frustrated when he doesn’t hit Hopkins cleanly, Cloud can avoid falling prey to a predictable and laborious tempo. This, however, is no easy task. Hopkins knows and trusts his body, and he is an expert at picking his spots and avoiding fighting the full three minutes of every round. 

    Will Cloud eventually tire—both physically and mentally—as Pascal did? Or will Hopkins simply not offer enough offense to match Cloud’s trademark aggression? Regardless of who wins, expect Cloud-Hopkins to involve a multitude of minor engagements that might be fascinating in theory, but most likely difficult to watch.