HOW HE DID IT: More Mastery From All-Time Great Bernard Hopkins

BY Lee Wylie ON March 11, 2013
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HopkinsCloud Hogan20Bernard Hopkins proved yet again that age is just a number by becoming the oldest world champion in history for a second time after beating Tavoris Cloud in Brooklyn on Saturday night.

Although he fell a little short of matching the same level of virtuosity shown in the Felix Trinidad, Antonio Tarver and Kelly Pavlik fights (he's getting on a bit now after all), this was still a staggering display by Hopkins. Indeed, in spite of his opponent's technical shortcomings, many of which were exposed throughout the fight, some thought Cloud –once considered a viable opponent for pound for pound contender Andre Ward—would be throwing too many punches and applying too much pressure for the old-timer to deal with.

Hopkins' win over Cloud shouldn't really have come as too much of a shock for anyone, for this is not the first time Bernard Hopkins has proved the naysayers wrong. With a perspicacity that may be unrivalled in the modern era, Hopkins has built a legacy based on the mastering of fancied younger fighters with perfect or near perfect records.

Here, I'd like to highlight what Hopkins did that allowed him to subdue and control an opponent 17 years his junior.

Footwork

It's been said here before that the fighter who can dictate his opponent's footwork using his own footwork will usually control the fight. It was clear from the opening bell that this was Bernard Hopkins' strategy. Because Cloud tends to load up on his punches, he's either uncomfortable in doing so or is unable to let his hands go unless his feet are well underneath him and planted. Conversely, because Hopkins never looks to load up with anything big, he can let his hands go freely without having to set himself first. By employing lateral movement and never allowing his opponent to set himself, Hopkins was able to minimize Cloud's offensive capabilities while maximizing his own in the process.

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Notice how Hopkins' lateral movement forces Cloud to reposition himself or risk conceding an angle.

Bernard Hopkins is notorious for his relatively low punch output. However, if he's faced with an opponent who struggles to cut the ring off and comes forward in a straight line, his movement causes them to constantly think about his location instead of punching.

Needless to say, movement alone doesn't win fights. Therefore, with Cloud's punch output reduced, Hopkins had to take advantage by producing enough offense of his own to please the judges.

Feints

In response to following him around the ring, Hopkins would provoke a reaction out of Cloud with a shoulder feint, before redirecting his movement back the other way. Almost contradictory, a feint on an aggressive fighter tends to have the opposite effect as it does on a defensive based or counterpunching fighter. Where a feint will usually draw a counter from a defensive fighter or counterpuncher making them more aggressive, a feint will usually slow down the pace of an aggressive fighter, making them more hesitant. By the mid-way point in the fight, Cloud had become over sensitive to Hopkins' shoulder twitches and feints. As a result, any time Hopkins stopped moving long enough for Cloud to get close to him, Hopkins would feint him out of a defensive position, before nailing him with a lead left hook to the head or the body, a counter right cross, or a slight variation on his usual jab.

hopkings1132013 2

Notice how Hopkins sudden level change/feint pulls Cloud's lead arm away from his guard, leaving an opening for a right cross.

Something I noticed while watching the fight was how Hopkins didn't really bother throwing his signature right hand lead much. There were a few occasions nearing the end of the fight when he caught Cloud coming in with it, but apart from that, it certainly didn't feature as prominently as it has in the past. This, I believe, was due to the fact that Hopkins rarely looked to clinch or tie up his man. Hopkins often uses his sneaky right hand lead as a way of getting himself inside where he can tie his opponent up. Because Hopkins' main strategy was to keep Cloud from getting set, using footwork to turn his man and keep the fight primarily on the outside, Hopkins wasn't too concerned with getting tying Cloud up via his right hand lead.

hopkings1132013 3

Here's Hopkins getting inside on Joe Calzaghe using his right hand lead. This has been one of Hopkins' primary tactics for gaining entry over the years.

The Jab

In the right hand lead's place, Hopkins introduced a slight variation of his usual jab. The jab is boxing's most versatile punch. Here, rather than use it to set up other punches or as a probe to gain intelligence, Hopkins used a lunging jab to disrupt Cloud's forward momentum and to prevent him from getting to the inside.

hopkings1132013 4

Here is Hopkins executing a lunging jab at various stages during the fight. Notice how Hopkins' head is taken away from the centerline. The majority of fighters will aim their counters toward an opponent's head. By slipping to the right as he's stepping forward with his jab, Hopkins is taking a pre-emptive measure against a potential jab or counter from Cloud.

Counterpunching

Whenever the action took place at close quarters (Cloud's best chance of winning the fight) Hopkins managed to get the better by way of his superior counterpunching ability. One of the things that I noticed during the fight was how much Cloud telegraphs his punches, particularly his wide swings in close. On the few occasions when Cloud found himself in a more advantageous position, Hopkins managed to neutralize much of what Cloud was throwing by threading shorter, crisper blows inside of Cloud's wide swings.

hopkings1132013 5

Here's Cloud trying to work inside with wide hooks. Hopkins, the superior craftsman in close, thwarts them easily by rolling and countering with shorter hooks and uppercuts.

Part of what makes Hopkins a truly special fighter is his ability to draw leads from his opponents by offering them false targets, creating specific openings for specific punches. Although Hopkins' reflexes and reaction time are excellent for a 48 year-old fighter, they are greatly enhanced by the fact that he knows what punches his opponents are likely to throw in certain situations.

hopkings1132013 6

Here is Hopkins in the aptly named Philly shell/half guard defense. As is often the case with when an orthodox fighter is confronted with this defense, Cloud attempts to land a right hand toward the seemingly unguarded area of Hopkins (left side). Although its main purpose is for defending, the half guard defense is great for drawing right leads. Here, Hopkins knows what punch is likely to be thrown and as a result, rolls with the blow and lands a right hand counter. What seems like split second reflex timing is really down to probability.

Here's another example.

hopkings1132013 7

Notice how low Hopkins is carrying his gloves in the first still. This is no coincidence. Hopkins' low gloves (particularly his rear) are designed to draw a left lead from an opponent. Sure enough, Cloud obliges and Hopkins slips to the outside of the jab and counters with a right cross.

Although the official decision was that the cut above Cloud's eye was caused by an accidental clash of heads, in reality, it stemmed from a short left hook and from Hopkins's ability to draw a lead and counter.

hopkings1132013 8

Here, as Cloud leads with a jab, Hopkins slips to the outside of the blow and comes back with a short left hand after missing with his initial right hand counter.

Defense

Although he's starting to get hit more often these days, Hopkins' defense is still world class. It's one of the reasons why he's never been seriously hurt or rocked in the ring. Apart from solid fundamentals (correct balance, tucked chin, body angled slightly to the side etc.) Hopkins elusiveness in the ring can be attributed almost entirely on the pre-emptive measures he takes. Prior to a fight, it's well documented that Hopkins leaves no stone unturned in scouting his opponents –how many times during the past have we seen a Bernard Hopkins opponent have their primary weapon taken away from them?

Although many (Andre Ward during the HBO telecast included) believed that Cloud's best weapon was his right hand, I think his left hook looks like his most dangerous punch. After watching the fight, I think Bernard Hopkins felt the same way.

Although Hopkins was circling both left and right, he seemed to be moving more to his right (to Cloud's left) during the fight. Although this may suggest that Hopkins was indeed trying to avoid Cloud's right hand, moving toward a blow with the intention of crowding it (not allowing it to reach its maximum velocity or power) can also be a way of stuffing that particular blow. By circling toward Cloud's left hand, Hopkins was able to square Cloud up. If Cloud were to throw his left hook after being made to turn to his left, Hopkins would see it coming due to the wide, highly telegraphed angle the blow would now be coming from.

hopkings1132013 9

Here's Hopkins moving to his right (Cloud's left) with his non-working hand glued to the side of his head. As Cloud throws his left hook, Hopkins stuffs the blow, taking it on his right arm.

Here we see it again.

hopkings1132013 10

As Hopkins is tending to his right, Cloud has to square himself up to throw his left hook (2nd still). This time, Hopkins is able to circle out and away from the blow. Notice how Hopkins has his non-working hand glued to the side of his head ready to block the left hook in the second still. This type of pre-emptive measure is one of the reasons why Hopkins has rarely been hit clean during his career.

All in all it was a masterful display from Hopkins. Although Cloud kept it competitive throughout, there can be no argument as to who the better fighter was (I scored it 117-111 for Hopkins). Using clever footwork, subtle shifts, broken rhythm (changing the tempo of his punches and movements) along with feints and short combination punching in close (a rarity in a Bernard Hopkins fight these days), Hopkins neutralized Cloud's predictable linear attacks in what was possibly his cleanest, most aesthetically pleasing performance since the Kelly Pavlik fight. I found it ironic that Hopkins' trainer, Nazim Richardson, referenced Joe Louis' short punching during one of the rounds. As I was watching the fight, I thought Hopkins' movement was eerily similar to that of Jersey Joe Walcott's when he out boxed Joe Louis in their first fight but failed to get the decision.

We are literally running out of superlatives to describe Bernard Hopkins. For me, he's not only the best fighter of his era, he is among the greatest fighters ever, period. This once in a lifetime phenomenon won't be around too much longer, so let's just savor the moment and enjoy him while he's still around.

Comment on this article

Radam G says:

B-Hop also proved that having competent officials -- especially the referee -- also matters. His win started long before the fight did. He argued for every darn thing under the sun like it used to be done in old school @$$ thrashing.

But forget all of that, and let me just handle the refereeing. Earl Brown was competent to da T. He took no jive from either fighter and ALLOWED clinching -- something that most of these nowadays incompetent refs don't allow. Not a single time did EB bytch jump on B-Hop's arse for using a MAJOR segment of the sweet science. And that would be CLINCHING! Now the clinch is how B-Hop really broke up the "rhythm" and "tempo of his punches and movements," and Cloud's too.

Over a hundred years ago, the B-Hop way of tying up an opponent was also the way that Jack Johnson broke up the "White Hope('s)" game. WHO the referee is has always been the most important segment of a FIGHT! Now if Tex Rickard would not have refereed that Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries Bout way back in da day, there would have been a ref like the usually 100-percent dependable Pat Russell, who would've got in Jack Johnson's arse for clinching [that ref would've called it holding] and would let Jeffries throw off Johnson and called the bout a T-K-O because ole Jackie Boy woulda being hurtin' like a bytch like ole B-Hoppy was against SuperChad Dawson, after Dawson did dat syet.

The game is fudging SEEDY and to win at anytime, fair officials -- you will forever be NEEDY! So take things in yo' own hands and be-have-your-way GREEDY! Jack Johnson made history because of that. He and Team Jack Johnson always demanded syet be their way, and they got it too. Homcide Hank made history because of that. Even my Tio Mamoy's old arse made history because of that. The Sugarmen -- Robinson and Leonard -- made history because of that. GOAT Ali made history because of that. Da Manny made history because of that. Now B-Hop has re-repeated history because of that. And because of DAT, the seedy powers that be will always hate him. AND they DO! WAKE UP, people! SNAP TO actuality and reality. Later time for alternate reality. B-Hop is da BEST! Holla!

deepwater says:

B-Hop also proved that having competent officials -- especially the referee -- also matters. His win started long before the fight did. He argued for every darn thing under the sun like it used to be done in old school @$$ thrashing.

But forget all of that, and let me just handle the refereeing. Earl Brown was competent to da T. He took no jive from either fighter and ALLOWED clinching -- something that most of these nowadays incompetent refs don't allow. Not a single time did EB bytch jump on B-Hop's arse for using a MAJOR segment of the sweet science. And that would be CLINCHING! Now the clinch is how B-Hop really broke up the "rhythm" and "tempo of his punches and movements," and Cloud's too.

Over a hundred years ago, the B-Hop way of tying up an opponent was also the way that Jack Johnson broke up the "White Hope('s)" game. WHO the referee is has always been the most important segment of a FIGHT! Now if Tex Rickard would not have refereed that Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries Bout way back in da day, there would have been a ref like the usually 100-percent dependable Pat Russell, who would've got in Jack Johnson's arse for clinching [that ref would've called it holding] and would let Jeffries throw off Johnson and called the bout a T-K-O because ole Jackie Boy woulda being hurtin' like a bytch like ole B-Hoppy was against SuperChad Dawson, after Dawson did dat syet.

The game is fudging SEEDY and to win at anytime, fair officials -- you will forever be NEEDY! So take things in yo' own hands and be-have-your-way GREEDY! Jack Johnson made history because of that. He and Team Jack Johnson always demanded syet be their way, and they got it too. Homcide Hank made history because of that. Even my Tio Mamoy's old arse made history because of that. The Sugarmen -- Robinson and Leonard -- made history because of that. GOAT Ali made history because of that. Da Manny made history because of that. Now B-Hop has re-repeated history because of that. And because of DAT, the seedy powers that be will always hate him. AND they DO! WAKE UP, people! SNAP TO actuality and reality. Later time for alternate reality. B-Hop is da BEST! Holla!


agreed. These old tricks are learned in sparring. clinching,leaning,choking,punching witha free hand away from the ref is the name of the game

Matthew says:

No doubt Hopkins knows all the subtle tricks of the trade, and they were on display against Cloud. I also want to commend referee Earl Brown for a job well done. He let both fighters know early on that he wasn't going to tolerate any nonsense, and that he was in charge. Other than that, you hardly knew he was there because he let the fighters fight and didn't step in every five seconds. That is the mark of an excellent referee. I hope he gets more high-profile assignments in the future.

Grimm says:

For me, he's not only the best fighter of his era, he is among the greatest fighters ever, period.


Indeed. Good text + good posts.

stormcentre says:

Good analysis, particularly Hopkins’ ability to use footwork/distance, draw leads and offer false targets; to compensate for his ageing (but still good) reflexes and also make opponents predictable.

It didn’t work with Calzaghe or Taylor though as they knew what was happening and (amongst other things) sold dummy draws back to Bernard whilst giving him too much activity to think about - which is one reason why we saw Bernard play for extra time and fouls.

Hopkins also knows that when guys are constantly moving, most of them (Cloud included) can't be throwing dangerous punches; unlike him. Floyd Mayweather does some similar things.

Once you're in position and understand the distance, yours and your opponent’s reach, and your own and the opponent’s speed; there's only so many things that your opponent can easily do - particularly if you're on the move and/or keeping him busy in other ways. Then, if you offer an exposed target that is best served by a jab; that's probably what you will milk out of him - particularly if he’s behind on points. Once the jab is out, and committed to; you can throw your power shot safe in the knowledge that he probably won’t have a decent counter for the counter. If he does milk out another punch that suits you better. Floyd Mayweather does some similar (old school) things.

GGG also achieves a similar outcome, but by via different and more European and Eastern-block means.

the Roast says:

This loss looks really bad for Cloud. Everybody and dey momma knew all of Hopkins tricks were coming. The fients. The little half steps. The clinches. The mesmerizing. Cloud's trainer should be fired for not having him ready to deal. Cut the freaking ring off and bang the body, the arms, the hips. Slow the old guy down and beat him up. I remember being outraged when Cloud got that gift over Campillio. Then Campillio gets smoked in 3 by that Russian guy. Conclusion? Cloud just isnt very good. Jim? Back to you.

stormcentre says:

This loss looks really bad for Cloud. Everybody and dey momma knew all of Hopkins tricks were coming. The fients. The little half steps. The clinches. The mesmerizing. Cloud's trainer should be fired for not having him ready to deal. Cut the freaking ring off and bang the body, the arms, the hips. Slow the old guy down and beat him up. I remember being outraged when Cloud got that gift over Campillio. Then Campillio gets smoked in 3 by that Russian guy. Conclusion? Cloud just isnt very good. Jim? Back to you.



Good points roast.

I also expected that Cloud would be a little better prepared for those tactics too. But then I guess it’s one thing to know and teach them (as Abel Sanchez most probably did). And another entirely to expect a fighter (like Cloud) that hasn’t really had to deal with them before, to be able to deal with them being thrown at him for the first time - by one of the best practitioners of them - and on one of the biggest stages he has performed on.

I sort of expanded on this here . . .

http://www.thesweetscience.com/forums/showthread.php?8975-Big-Bear-Camp-Was-Eventful-For-Tavoris-Cloud&p=26495&viewfull=1#post26495

Cheers

the Roast says:

Good points roast.

I also expected that Cloud would be a little better prepared for those tactics too. But then I guess it’s one thing to know and teach them (as Abel Sanchez most probably did). And another entirely to expect a fighter (like Cloud) that hasn’t really had to deal with them before, to be able to deal with them being thrown at him for the first time - by one of the best practitioners of them - and on one of the biggest stages he has performed on.

I sort of expanded on this here . . .

http://www.thesweetscience.com/forums/showthread.php?8975-Big-Bear-Camp-Was-Eventful-For-Tavoris-Cloud&p=26495&viewfull=1#post26495

Cheers


Cheers backatcha Mate, I suppose dealing with all of Hopkins tricks is easier said than done. Always good to have a new quality poster in the mix like you. Tell Pat Cash the Roast sez Hey if you see him.

stormcentre says:

Thanks for that.

When I first saw that avatar of yours, I had a good laugh. Very implicit, but also clever. Nice.

Radam G says:

Cloud and Sanchez were prepared for B-Hop's every tactic, but they could not do Jack, because B-Hop is an old-Daddy Mack. You know that he is coming, but you don't know how, when, where and at what speed.

B-Hop hit Cloud at such angles and speeds that pundits still refuse to acknowledge to B-Hop busted up and cut Cloud with the B-Hop's excutioner's fists. For instance, one can see on video that B-Hop busted open Cloud's eyelid with a fast-as-lightning fist. But many scribes are still writing dumbjive that it was a B-Hop elbow.

Bottomline and to the point, B-Hop walked on a Cloud. He's one Cloud-walking old bad bytch. Holla!

ali says:

Hopkins looks easy to beat from the outside but once u get in that squared circle it's a total different story.

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