Bernard Hopkins is one of the great strategists in boxing history. Every action the 48-year-old former middleweight and light heavyweight champion does comes following a great deal of thought and calculation.
Little is left to chance, particularly when he has a fight lined up.
Hopkins will meet unbeaten knockout artist Tavoris Cloud on Saturday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., for Cloud's IBF light heavyweight title in the main event of an HBO-televised card.
Hopkins came to the news conference wearing a dark hooded coat, a dark ski mask and a pair of dark sunglasses. But Hopkins, one of the great talkers in the history of the sport, bolted the gathering at the Barclays Center with nary a word.
He was trying to get some sort of message across, but we're left to guess what it might be.
As Hopkins sat stoically on the dais, trainer Naazim Richardson took the microphone and said, with Hopkins just a few feet to his left, "Bernard Hopkins has already left the building. Bernard Hopkins has gone back home, I believe, but he will be here ringside to see the fight."
Richardson then paused for some dramatic effect and then added, "But don't worry. 'The Executioner' is still here. And 'The Executioner' will be here Saturday."
There's no telling what message Richardson and, by extension, Hopkins were trying to convey.
Cloud, who is 24-0 with 19 knockouts, insists that whatever it is Richardson and Hopkins are trying to do will have no impact upon the event.
"I'd be a fool to get caught up in Bernard Hopkins' mind games," Cloud said. "That's a fool's game buying into those traps. When the bell rings on Saturday night, we're both equals. I've got to go in there and hit him to show his tactics will not work against me."
Hopkins has never been knocked out or stopped, but Cloud clearly has the punching power to become the first one to do it. That Hopkins is 48 and doesn't move as well as he once did only adds to the intrigue.
But Hopkins has always been like a guy defusing a bomb. In his last appearance in New York, Hopkins was a massive underdog in the finale of promoter Don King's middleweight tournament. Only weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Hopkins throttled Felix Trinidad in the defining bout of his illustrious career.
Trinidad was the most feared puncher in boxing at the time and Hopkins expertly neutralized it.
Reflexes go and quickness diminishes, but a fighter never forgets those things. The question that Hopkins must answer is whether he has retained enough of his reflexes and quickness to pull it off.
He's in magnificent condition, as he always is, but as Muhammad Ali proved when he fought Larry Holmes in 1980, a beautiful body doesn't always mean an older fighter is ready to recapture past glory.
Hopkins is in uncharted territory, but he's also in unparalleled shape for a boxer his age.
"I don't know what being a 48-year-old feels like," he said. "There are a lot of 48-year-olds [who] aren't in good shape. The pharmacy is making a killing off of them. I'm 100 percent clean. I'm doing this off of nuts and bananas."
The fact that Hopkins wore a mask and that Richardson referred to "The Executioner" would suggest that Hopkins may choose to be aggressive against Cloud.
Cloud's not sure. He just knows that's incumbent upon him to put his hands on Hopkins. Age won't matter if Cloud lands a clean combination because he has that one-punch knockout power few in the sport possess.
"You have to go in there and hit him, show him that his tactics don't work," Cloud said. "Bernard Hopkins is a fighter that you have to get straight to the point with. You can't lollygag and [expletive] around because that's his game. Being serious and doing my job, throwing punches in the ring, that's my game. I don't come to put on a show for the people. I come to give the people a fight and give them their money's worth, give them real entertainment.
"He is a good fighter. He's earned his keep, but I just don't think he can hit me. I think he trains hard and he lives his life right. He's made sacrifices to increase his longevity, but you know it's been too long."
Cloud's promoter, the 81-year-old Don King, knows full well what his guy is up against. King was promoting Trinidad – he still waves the Puerto Rican flag incessantly and screeches, "Viva, Puerto Rico!" at every opportunity – and he remembers how Hopkins laid waste to his star.
King referred to Hopkins as a "genius" and noted, "He just doesn't work with his fists, he works with his brain."
No one has a better boxing brain than Bernard Hopkins. Floyd Mayweather Jr. may be his equal, but there is no one any more astute or cerebral in the business.
Hopkins sought out the fight via social media. He knew of Cloud's reputation as a puncher.
If he didn't think he could pull it off, Hopkins wouldn't have called Cloud out.
Just because he's 48 is no reason to doubt him.
He's proven that dozens of times over the years. Even if it's not obvious at first, there is a method to everything Hopkins does.
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