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Hopkins’ Master Class

By Graham Houston

I think that HBO’s Jim Lampley got it right when comparing Bernard Hopkins with Archie Moore — these are the type of fighters who come along every 50 years. Moore, at the age of 44, outclassed a rugged but limited Italian fighter named Giulio Rinaldi to retain his light-heavyweight title. Reporter Jesse Abramson referred to Moore as a “ring antique” in that 1961 fight.

Now we have Hopkins, at the age of 48, having things pretty much all his own way against a tough but surpsingly subdued Tavoris Cloud to capture the IBF light-heavy title.

Hopkins, having becoming the oldest fighter in history to win a major world title by defeating Jean Pascal for the WBC title at the age of 46, has now beaten his own record.

Cloud was the slight betting favourite but proved to be a woeful disappointment to his backers. Watching Cloud’s cautious advance made me think of a strong young fellow from a rural area arriving in one of the tougher neighbourhoods of a big city, eyeing the locals and thinking to himself: “I’ve got to tread carefully here.” That, to me, was Cloud’s approach to this fight: I’ve got to tread carefully — and that’s not the way to beat a strategic master such as Hopkins.

Everyone in the business knew that Cloud’s only way to win was to put pressure on Hopkins, to endure punishment and keep punching. Cloud had fought this way in wins over Clinton Woods, Glen Johnson, and even in his struggling and frankly fortunate win over Gabriel Campillo. When Johnson hit him with a good shot, Cloud actually roared in defiance. Against Hopkins, though, Cloud boxed as if he didn’t want to get the old master mad at him.

Hopkins was crafty and smart and he showed beautiful balance and movement for a fighter of any age, let alone one closing in on his 50th birthday. While Hopkins isn’t what you could call a big puncher, he hits hurtfully. He had Cloud wary and respectful all night. Yes, Hopkins was skilled and sharp and showed the subtle moves that had Cloud missing and going in the wrong direction, but in Cloud he had the perfect foil — an opponent who tried to outthink him and outbox him, facets of the fight in which the defending champion was out of his depth.

There were flashes of effective fighting from Cloud, who did win four rounds on two of the judges’ cards. He landed a couple of heavy right hands over the top, a couple of ripping left hooks to the body. He was, though, all too ready to back off and bail out as Hopkins fixed him with that baleful look of his and fired back.

What Cloud needed to be doing was, it seemed to most of us, to be stepping in a bit faster, using the jab to touch Hopkins and get his distance, and then letting his hands go. The problem for Cloud was that Hopkins was countering him and making him pay a price for moments of aggression. A world-class boxing match, it seems to me, is often all about levels. A fighter gets hurt, but comes back and through desire and urgency takes the fight to another level — and on and on, until supremacy has been established one way or the other. Cloud, to me, was content to keep the fight at one level, a level at which Hopkins was safely outpointing him.

Cloud backers would have known they were in trouble in the first round. A pattern had been established in which Hopkins had the room and the space to box in the manner of his choosing, clever and crafty, economical and almost elegant in his command of the ring.

The start of a fight can be so very important. Sometimes a boxer can start tentatively but then come on assertively — we saw this year with Lamont Peterson and Ishe Smith, who buckled down after shaky starts and began to push forward in a meaningful manner. At other times, though, a fighter just seems to get locked into a pattern of passivity — Fernando Montiel against Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. against Sergio Martinez are instances that come to mind; David Tua against Lennox Lewis, perhaps — when the fighter just seems unable to let his hands go. The term “mentally beaten” comes to mind. At least Montiel closed the fight strongly against Johnson and Chavez scored the last-round knockdown against Martinez, but Cloud never got going, “stuck in one gear” as the British writers say.

So, Hopkins was able to dictate the terms and the tempo of the engagement. While he didn’t beat up Cloud, he bluffed, befuddled, bamboozled and bewildered him. Instead of going right at Hopkins in a “Here I come Bernard, you’re in a fight now” type of way, Cloud showed respect for an elder, which is commendable in everyday life but not in the boxing ring. Hopkins was content to keep the younger man in his place with crisp, quick punches, delivered at judiciously timed intervals, and cruise to a comfortable win. It wasn’t exciting, but it was a boxing exhibition of the highest order.

For me the highlight of the weekend was Argenis Mendez’s devastating display of intelligently applied firepower in knocking out Juan Carlos Salgado to capture the IBF junior lightweight title and avenge a previous somewhat disputed defeat. Mendez has always possessed boxing skill but not always the type of drive and determination one would hope to see in a young boxer. In Saturday’s fight, though — thoughtfully shown by HBO on its Latino channel — Mendez got it right, flooring Salgado with a right hand in the opening round and flattening him with a big left hook in the fourth.

Talking about left hooks, Edgar Sosa landed a beauty in knocking out Ulises “Archie” Solis in the second round in their all-Mexico WBC flyweight title eliminator, shown on the UniMas network. This third meeting — Solis had won two narrow decisions years ago — was shaping up to be the nip-and-tuck, evenly contested boxing match that had been anticipated when Solis unwisely tried one left uppercut too many and got drilled by Sosa’s impeccably timed left hook. We don’t often see a perfect, one-punch left-hook finish but we saw two of them on Saturday night courtesy of Mendez and Sosa.

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