CloudJohnson_Waters2You have to root for the world champ who can't afford hotel laundry rates and has to do his own wash, don't you? (Hogan)

Four days before he is set to defend his IBF light heavyweight title on HBO, Tavoris Cloud got another reminder that winning a world championship doesn’t necessarily end your struggles.

As Cloud was awaiting his Saturday night title defense against Yusaf Mack as part of a Don King promoted triple header on HBO, he had a decision to make. It was one you might not expect a world champion to be facing but such is the situation for even the undefeated if they are relatively unknown and constantly avoided by the only fighters with whom they can make real money.

When that is the case, a boxer like Cloud must pay attention to details far beyond those involving training or the vagaries of their opponent’s style. Details like finding some place to do their laundry.

“I’m washing my own clothes at a laundromat because I can’t afford to wash ‘em at the hotel,’’ Cloud said Tuesday from St. Louis, where the whir of a clothes dryer could be heard in the background as he spoke. “I can’t afford to pay a hotel $4.50 to wash a pair of drawers. What am I supposed to do?’’

Cloud wasn’t asking for sympathy when he announced that this was how he was spending his time. It was just a statement of fact; the cold hard facts of life for a young light heavyweight (29) with a world title belt around his waist but not yet a top-draw opponent willing to fight him for it.

Twice Cloud claims former champion Jean Pascal agreed to square off with him and then reneged before losing his championship to 46-year-old Bernard Hopkins. Once, ex-champion Chad Dawson relinquished his title belts rather than face him, claiming he could make more money elsewhere without either them or him to deal with.

And so Cloud (22-0, 18 KO) continues to scuffle, cutting corners at the corner laundromat four days before a title defense while hoping the next victory will be the one that finally lands him Pascal or Dawson or maybe a unification fight with someone like WBA champion Beibut Shumenov, who according to Cloud’s chief advisor has also declined the opportunity to put his face in the Clouds for an evening, or WBO titleholder Jurgen Brahmer.

“All we get is constant refusals, refusals, refusals,’’ said Al Bonanni, who has been with Cloud since early in his professional career. “I’ve had this kid for eight nine years. He’s a good fighter. I’m not comparing him to Marvin Hagler but the same thing that happened to Hagler (who was ducked for years and forced to fight in high school gyms and hotel ballrooms in New England before his chance finally came) is happening to Cloud.

“We’d love to fight Pascal on HBO (those talks have been renewed, sources say, for a possible fight in Montreal later this year but as with most things in boxing nothing is definitive). We’d love to fight Hopkins. We’d love to go to Europe. Hell, we’d fight in Africa or Asia.

“Cloud will fight anybody but these guys know even if they beat my kid they’re going to get the sh*t kicked out of them. They’re going to be pissing blood for a week, so why fight him?’’

Whether that’s the case or not only time and opportunity will tell. For the moment Cloud is young enough that he still has the time but he’s been waiting for the opportunity ever since he first beat former champion Julio Cesar Gonzalez three years ago in an IBF elimination fight that set up a shot at the then vacant title against former champion Clinton Woods.

Cloud had to wait 50 weeks to get that fight but he made good use of it, hammering out a decision by throwing more than 1,000 punches, a remarkable work rate for a light heavyweight. He then retained the title with wins over ex-champion Glen Johnson and Fulgencio Zuniga last year but still never landed what he has been seeking ever since he first started boxing at the age of 17 – a big payday.

Cloud thought his high action fight with Johnson, in which he wobbled the former champion badly in the fifth round only to see him come back and make a tense give-and-take fight of it the rest of the night would lead to something bigger. Instead, so far it has led only to a journeyman like Mack (29-3-2, 17 KO) and a laundromat in St. Louis.

Yet Cloud refuses to look at his future like his name. He believes that while clouds pass through everyone’s professional life eventually they break. In his case, if they do it will only be because he did not.

“They will never catch me unprepared,’’ Cloud said assuredly as he pulled his shorts out of the dryer. “I’m a world champion. Guys fighting me prepare like its Armageddon because they think I’m a guy they can beat.

“I trained two months for this in Orwell, Ohio (where King has long had a training camp set up). No MP3 player. No computer. No I-pod. I didn’t even watch cable TV. They’re waiting on me to slip up or lose confidence but that won’t happen.’’

Certainly it has happened to many fighters trapped in a limbo similar to the one where Cloud now finds himself. They are champions without portfolio or influence, fighters whose futures are in the hands of people who don’t make fights, they prevent them.

Such boxers are champions denied really, denied the one thing that got them into boxing in the first place – an opportunity to better themselves that existed nowhere else.

Cloud’s story is an all-too familiar one. He grew up in poverty as a kid in Florida with often more than a dozen people living in his house. It was a place so sparse that Cloud claims they used a hole filled with ice as a “refrigerator’’ because they couldn’t afford a real one.

Compared with that, washing your drawers at a laundromat to avoid hotel charges is a step up but it’s not where he thought he’d be after defeating Johnson. Yet Cloud refuses to give in to discouragement. Instead he prepares for Mack and waits for the time to come when someone finds himself alone with him in a place where payback can be stinging and retribution painful.

“What motivates me?’’ Cloud said. “I‘m a fighter, man. I don’t give a damn. The first chance I get I’m going to hurt one of these emeffers.

“I’m washing my own clothes at the laundromat because I can’t afford to wash ‘em at the hotel but what am I supposed to do? Lie down and feel sorry for myself?

“This boxing game is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. I thought the Glen Johnson fight would push me through but instead it showed me how hard it really is to make it, how much dues you have to pay, how the people with power won’t let you through the door.

“It’s definitely not just about the fights. It’s a psychological battle. It’s just a different aspect of the game. I can’t complain about it. I have to keep winning. I have to stay relevant. I don’t really want to wait but life’s a waiting game. If I do my job they’ll have to turn to me sooner or later.’’

When they do, Tavoris Cloud won’t forget the days at the laundromat…or who put him there.

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