The Executioner’s Swan Song
Champion Hopkins dates back to ancient times. He would have held the measure of many in any gladiatorial era; yes, that he would…
March 2, 2013, New York City
This coming weekend Tavoris “Thunder” Cloud looks to put an end to one of the very best career runs in boxing history as he faces Bernard Hopkins. The Executioner’s Swan Song? It is an ancient metaphorical phrase, an ancient proverb dating back to the third century, this “Swan Song,” referencing a final performance before retirement and sometimes it seems, by the boxing numbers, that Champion Hopkins dates back to ancient times. He would have held the measure of many in any gladiatorial era; yes, that he would.
I am here at Staghorn Steakhouse, 315 West 36th Street in New York, New York. Don’t ask oh fearless Editor for it is a story for another time. Great place by the way. There is a young couple beside me and the young lad has a “Best of The Rolling Stones” disk beside him. As I am waiting for my steak I am paging through the December New Yorker magazine somebody left behind. There is a cartoon, page 97, that shows an older lady picking a picture of her husband off a desk full of family photos. Hubby is in the background. As she looks at the photo she comments “You got better-looking as you got older—up to a point.” I am humming away at the same time “Get Off of My Cloud, This Will Be the Last Time, It’s All Over Now, Let It Bleed…” Brain connect because I have Hopkins on my mind at that sudden moment. It’s the damn cartoon. The things you think of when you are waiting by yourself for a meal!!!!
You may or may not like Champion Hopkins but you had better give credit where due. His is the measure that ranks with any top Middleweight of any era. Yes he would have more than held his own and beat, on any given night, the likes of the Haglers and the LaMottas. Hopkins was a big strong Middleweight, a defensive genius, with an innate understanding of timing, of space and place. I am not sure about Monzon or Robinson but yes he would have been there with the best of the best. Little would have one realized what a run Hopkins would have after losing his first pro fight to Clinton Mitchell way back in 1988 at the Resorts in Atlantic City. There was an incredible run from that point up through 2005 with the only loss during that run being to Roy Jones. In 2005, entering his forties, having notched an amazing twenty middleweight title defenses, most thought he was done after his second loss to Jermain Taylor.
As mentally tough in and out of the ring as any legendary Champion, and as good as it gets in keeping in top athlete condition before, up to, and at gladiatorial time, Hopkins turned around in 2006 and beat Antonio Tarver. The loss to Calzaghe in 2008 and the talk again started in terms of time to hang ‘em up. He had trouble in that fight. Forget the scorecards. He was stealing time any which way he could. Calzaghe and his dear old Pops had the answer for beating an aging fighter. If you could not figure out the clever veteran then volume, volume and more volume and for certain there are not any that measure punch stat like Calzaghe did. Amazingly, six months later and “The Executioner” destroyed the undefeated Middle King Kelly Pavlik. From there it was the young Lion, Pascal, in his own den. I was ringside for that first fight. I must tell you that up to that point I was not a Hopkins fan. To see the subtleties of how Hopkins fights, live, the craft he has perfected, is something special. More on that another time but at that point, after all those years, I had finally become a fan. After that fight it was “the old man” that was out in the hallway, on a cold winter night in what otherwise is an ice hockey rink. He had on his rabbit fur hunting hat and he was surrounded by a mass of excited fans and let me tell you he stayed for some time chatting, signing autographs, and having photos taken as a cold minus ten blew in through the open doors. As for Pascal, I could not tell you but he surely was not doing Hopkins style post-fight meet and greet.
Thunder Cloud!! It may be apt in more ways than one for Champion Hopkins, the amazing forty-eight-year-old number one ranked Light Heavy in the world. In a present-day boxing climate of avoiding and handpicking opponents Champion Hopkins has not avoided any of the toughest of challengers. Again, like him or not, give credit where due. He has faced through his career the best to be put forth. In Cloud he faces one of the best, currently, in his weight class. What does Hopkins, ever the mind player, have to say: “I know I’m the better fighter, I know I have the better fighters I.Q. and I’m 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…I mean, this isn’t the first time a fighter ever froze up like that in the ring when you start seeing something a little different than what he was speaking about prior to the fight.” As for Cloud and his thoughts: “I’m going to make him adjust to what I’m doing. I’m not going to try to adjust to the way he’s doing. I’m just going to just get in the fight and set the pace for the fight, don’t let him dictate pace.”
Cloud is speaking his trainer’s speak. That may be the difference in this fight. Cloud will have in his corner the masterful Abel Sanchez. Make no mistake about Sanchez. He has one of the great boxing minds. What does that mind tell him? I suspect it tells him that he has a high volume puncher who is sheer unbridled aggression in Tavoris Cloud. He has a cagey vet in Hopkins that will try and slow tempo down and steal rounds and mentally try and tire Cloud out as he did with Pascal. Sanchez knows that he does not need to have his young charge load up on every punch. This will be the Calzaghe recipe with the only difference being Cloud will get out of the gate earlier and be in Bernard’s grill setting a furious pace if possible. Sanchez certainly knows one other item. You see as grand as Bernard has been he has not set anybody on the seat of their pants since way, way back to Oscar D days in 2004. In short, Cloud can afford to take risks in terms of not only how he attacks but also in terms of late round conditioning. Hopkins track record does not show, even remotely, stoppage power. Cloud can afford to bring busy volume, not necessarily knockout punch hard busy, and coast down the late rounds if necessary. It will be a tough night for Champion Hopkins but he already has a tough night in mind. That damn New Yorker cartoon:”You got better-looking as you got older—-up to a point.” “Hey you, get off of my Cloud!”
If Hopkins wins what then? Well, sitting at number four in the world is current WBA Champion Beibut Shumenov, another high volume, big, very big, for his weight class beast, and rock hard fighter and I once again will be humming away, “This will be the last time, this will be the last time…”