Tavoris Cloud is not going to talk your ear off. He's not the most introspective person you'll ever meet. The International Boxing Federation light heavyweight champion will never give you six words when he can get by with three.
He's held the IBF version of the title for more than two years, yet he's still largely unknown despite punching power that compels promoter Don King to compare him to a young Mike Tyson.
It says a lot about Cloud that, when asked about his greatest achievement, he doesn't speak of winning the world championship or defending it successfully three times.
"I'm not dead and I'm not in prison," the 30-year-old Cloud says, matter-of-factly.
Cloud (23-0, 19 KOs), who defends his title Saturday in Corpus Christi, Texas, against former World Boxing Association champion Gabriel Campillo in a Showtime-televised bout, came from poverty so extreme that as many as 15 people used to sleep in the tiny two-bedroom Tallahassee, Fla., home in which he grew up. When the family's refrigerator was repossessed, it was replaced by a foot bath filled with ice.
He slept most nights on a concrete floor, with roaches crawling on him and the occasional rodent wandering past. His brother, Ricky Sweet, couldn't make it out, sentenced in 2003 to life in prison for burglary with assault.
"He grew up extremely poor," said Al Bonani, his trainer. "He had nothing. But he wanted to fight and he had a great deal of talent. There are guys who have talent who don't do anything with it. Tavoris really was determined to take advantage of the talent he had and to make it, and he worked extremely hard."
Because of that determination, Cloud managed to break out of the trap of poverty and crime. He had one small brush with the law, a misdemeanor battery and criminal mischief charge in 2000, but he's otherwise gone down the right path and been an example of what perseverance and dedication can mean.
Cloud's mother, Emma Smith, brought him to a gym at age 15, where he attracted the notice of ex-NFL player Alonzo Johnson, who played college football at Florida A&M and was running a youth program.
He was impressed by Cloud's dedication and physical gifts and recognized that he needed guidance. Cloud went to live with Johnson at age 16 to pursue a boxing career.
It was the wisest choice of his life, as it led him to the pinnacle of his profession. It would have been easy to become a statistic and get sucked in by the lure of the streets, but King said Cloud is special because at a young age, he knew what he wanted and what he had to do to get it.
"Everyone who sees him fight talks about his guts and his intestinal fortitude," King says. "But what they don't know about are the guts it took for him to overcome his past."
Cloud's boxing ability set him apart. He turned pro under Johnson and was spotted in his fifth pro fight by Bonani, a veteran trainer with a keen eye for talent.
When Bonani saw him, he knew instantly Cloud could be special.
"I took one look at him and I said, 'Holy [expletive], this kid can fight,' " Bonani said. "He wasn't very experienced, but you could just see that he had a lot of tools."
Bonani said Cloud reminds him more of former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield than Tyson.
Though Cloud is an exceptionally hard hitter, prompting King's comparison to Tyson, his pure boxing skills are more akin to Holyfield's, Bonani said.
Cloud has a hard jab and he's adept at moving his head and rolling his shoulder to deflect punches.
The one area in which he does compare favorably to Tyson is his aggressiveness.
Asked about Campillo, Cloud didn't have much to say other than it's going to be a bad night for the Spaniard.
"I saw him a couple of times, but I don't know that much about him and I don't care," Cloud said. "All I know is, he's threatening to take my title and so I'm going to beat the [expletive] out of him for that."
King and Bonani railed on other top light heavyweights, such as World Boxing Council champion Bernard Hopkins and former champions Chad Dawson and Jean Pascal, for refusing to fight Cloud.
Cloud has been frustrated by his inability to land a big-money fight, but he's come to grips with it. If he keeps winning, he knows things will eventually go his way.
"Of course it's hard to accept," he said. "It's not easy. There are a lot of frustrations. I will go out and show that I'm the best light heavyweight in the world. I can't get the really big names now, so I'll use the fights I get to prove what I can do and when [the big fights come], I'll hurt someone. I'll prove myself then."
Regardless of what he does for the rest of his career, Cloud has nothing left to prove. Coming from where he has to win a world championship, Cloud has already done enough.
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