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Bernard Hopkins: Not even father time can stop the one and only B- Hop

by Andrew Picken: In another display of defiance Hopkins now, (53-6-2, 32 KO wins) rolls back the years and defies the critics by comprehensively beating Tavoris Cloud, (won 24 (KO 19) + lost 1 (KO 0) + drawn 0), to claim the IBF Light Heavyweight title of the world on Saturday night. If there’s a nickname he could steal it would have to be Paulie Malignaggis “magic man” as B Hop is still able to talk the talk and walk the walk, magic indeed at 48 years old!

After losing to Chad Dawson in 2012, Hopkins made his way to the ring in his trademark balaclava exuberating his usual confidence and proving the doubters wrong – yet again to make history. Ironically breaking his own record he set in May 2011. Physically Hopkins looks immense sporting a physique many a 28 year old would be proud of let alone a 48 year old. It would suggest Hopkins lives the life, but more important is his positive mind set. Academics often point out that Psychology and physiology are intrinsically linked. If this is the case Hopkins is an A+ example.

Hopkins defines the term “longevity” using an unusual skillset that has been perfected to outfox opponents rather than outbox them. Hopkins would never admit that his body has slowed but the formula he has perfected is an adaptive style that can stand the test of time much longer than the laws of physiology ever could. He is a veteran of the sport, he has extracted a learning outcome from every one of his previous 52 fights to develop a strategy that aims to emphasise his strengths and expose his opponent’s weaknesses. He works with what he has, not what he hasn’t. Deep down he probably knows he doesn’t have the engine to outlast a younger, fresher guy but his greatest toolset in the twilight years of his illustrious careers is his in ring intelligence. With saying that not once did he look tired on Saturday. A sly old dog he can still slip and slide, weave and run, hold the ring or fight on the back-foot. He executes this style in one of the most economical ways he can, he finds space to breather, dictates the pace whilst appearing always dangerous and ultimately frustrating his opponent by being for the most part out of range. It can be said some of his fights aren’t the most exciting to watch, but he is able to find a way to win and has fine – tuned his skills to produce results which as a boxing fan I find quite fascinating.

Back to the fight. The American commentators noted that Cloud was as focussed on Hopkins theatrics as much as his fighting skills. Interesting observation and maybe all part of the Hopkins strategy as traps were laid constantly for Cloud to fall victim to. It was no way one way traffic both fighters having success, Cloud connecting with some big shots, but each time Hopkins taking the shots and coming back. I suppose Hopkins has an unusual but highly effective style that simply confuses opponents, he looks kind of slow at times but is deceptively fast and can fire at will from a variety of angles. Even at 48 he’s remarkably fleet footed. In round 6 comes a cut inflicted on Cloud, deemed a head-butt by the referee that actually transpired in the replays to be a legal punch that arguably turned the fight more into Hopkins favour. Cloud came roaring out after like a wounded animal. These sort of distress signals given to a fighter like Hopkins essentially writes the script for the rest of fight. Frustration! B Hop knew he had his man where he wanted him and all he had to do now was replicate the previous 6 rounds by sticking to the game plan.
Remain agile, stay out of range, out position Cloud and pick off his man. Even in round 9 Hopkins was still manoeuvring around the ring like he was on air. It is a true art to be able remain fleet footed yet able to instantly switch to planting the feet, firing a shot, then simultaneously returning straight back to being on the move. B Hop also defines the term “elusive”. Only experience can bring a fighter that instinctive ability to be able to use every inch of the ring to full effect. Other skills that demand focus from less experienced fighters come natural to Hopkins, enabling him to fight on autopilot whilst focussing on breaking his man down mentally and outsmarting his opponent. Frustration is a key part of the Hopkins plan, if he can wear an opponent down he can neutralise that fighters assets.

It is strange that most boxers careers have ended around the early thirties mark. Fighters like Pavlik or Hatton demonstrate this. But these fighters, as great as they were, lack what Hopkins has in abundance and that’s the ability to adapt. Hatton knew one way to fight, take shots to land shots, an all-out action style that was a sure way to win fans, but at the sacrifice of longevity. Peak fast, remain there shortly and then deteriorate fast. It’s an almost “hit and run” style of career. That’s why he came up short in his comeback fight with Senchenko, you cannot change that type of fighter, Hatton did not adapt his style he resorted back to the only way he knew – pressure and in fighting. Ultimately that risky sort of style could never work, as much as I loved to watch Hatton dynamic was not a Ricky strong point. Hopkins is different he is like a chameleon changing colours to blend into the background, constantly adapting, constantly changing and constantly playing to his own strengths. Hopkins is beatable and his record shows that, but at this stage in his career when logic says he should deteriorate B Hop actually improves, like a fine wine he is maturing with age and becoming a harder puzzle to solve. I expect maybe another loss but also another time defying win and another record making title.