The CBZ Newswire

Hopkins and Thurman Ring Some Bells as They Win Respective Bouts in Contrasting Styles

by on Mar.11, 2013, under Boxing News

By Juan C. Ayllon

 

Tavoris Cloud, at left, and Bernard Hopkins exchange blow up close (photo courtesy of espn.go.com)

Tavoris Cloud, at left, and Bernard Hopkins exchange blow up close (photo courtesy of espn.go.com)

BROOKLYN, NY – If Bernard Hopkins would have just stood still so he could hit him squarely and often, Tavoris Cloud might still be champ. 

However, like a kid making the move to little league from T-ball – where the baseball sits atop a tee for the batter to hit – Cloud took on a challenge at a whole new level on March 9th at the Barclays Center.    

Reflecting on the event, I am transported back to spring break in 1980.  I am visiting Six Flags in St. Louis, Missouri with the family.  At present, an attendant is egging us on. 

 “Is that all you’ve got?” he yells. 

 At a strapping weight of 155 lbs. to my 180, my brother, Luis, repeatedly rings the bell on the high striker while I whiff.  I check my stance.  I swing with all my might, yet I can’t get it within two feet of the bell.  It’s humiliating.

 

Photo courtesy of www.artofmanliness.com

Photo courtesy of www.artofmanliness.com

For the unfamiliar, the high striker is a carnival strength test where you propel a puck up a tall, vertical track in hopes of ringing a bell at the top by slamming a mallet against a lever. 

 A long line of large men – some upwards of 300 lbs. gather.  They try – and fail.  It’s a matter of leverage and placement, the barkers tell us as they take our money.  A small crowd gathers to watch this skinny kid best behemoths. 

 Several months later, the truth comes out on a TV news show:  Carnival workers often alter and manipulate the leverage settings, enabling relative weaklings to win while stymying much stronger men, who often pay out large sums to save face. It’s maddening. 

 In his twilight years at 48, if nothing else, Bernard Hopkins is a masterful manipulator.  Lacking the energy of a younger fighter but possessing a sturdy chin, he knows that in order for a puncher to knock him out, they need to get proper leverage and placement, and drawing on his immense experience and skillset, he uses every trick to slow down the pace and insure that this doesn’t happen.  As his record of 52-6-2 (32 knockouts) attests, only the most energetic and skillful prevail – like Chad Dawson last year, Joe Calzaghe in 2008, Jermain Taylor in 2005 and a prime Roy Jones, Jr. in 1993 – and they often look bad in doing so. 

 Dubbed “The Executioner”, Hopkins is playing the role of a predator to a “T” – he’s separating arguably the weakest player from the pack of major titleholders at 175 lbs. in hopes of devouring him.   

 Seventeen years his junior, at 24-0 with 19 knockouts, IBF Light Heavyweight champion Tavoris Cloud can certainly punch, but he’s also very one-dimensional.  In his last outing a touch over a year ago, he narrowly escaped defeat by Gabriel Campillo, a high volume punching masterful tactician whom he’d knocked down twice in the first round, only to be bedeviled and out-boxed for the balance of the bout.  He was lucky to escape with a disputed split decision win.  Granted, Cloud punches in bunches, but he’s also arguably rusty with a year’s inactivity. 

 The bigger man at 6’ 1”, Hopkins promises to make the 5’ 10” Cloud pay for coming in to get his shots off.  It works.

 Cloud fights more tentatively than usual.  Demonstrating why boxing is called the “Sweet Science”, Hopkins offsets Cloud’s power and bull rushing by constantly turning his man, never allowing Cloud to get set to launch a bomb.  Moreover, he employs just enough sharp counterpunching to cut and keep Cloud tentative, off balance and in low punch output mode.   Although the cut is ruled the result of a head butt in round six, replays showed that it results from either a punch or elbow.  

 The cut energizes Cloud to make a run for it, but it’s no use. When he connects with the occasional bomb, Hopkins takes it well, but most times, his blows are blocked, glancing or rendered inconsequential as he’s turned, manhandled and peppered with crisp counters. 

 For those who appreciate such tactics, it’s top shelf stuff, but for those wanting solid action and slugging, it’s maddening. 

 I’ll be honest:  I fall into the latter category.  Boxing is not a chess match, but a controlled collision, a tactical war or firefight, and I’m not alone in that opinion.  As John Madden once described a football scrimmage, it’s like a car accident – it happens so fast.  In contrast, some scribes have referred to Hopkins’ fights as “hug-fests” or “snooze-fests.” 

  A few heads turn at the viewing party I’m hosting when I shout, “I want somebody to level that guy!”  I wonder aloud if that guy might be Sergey Kovalev, the powerful Soviet boxer who at 20-0-1 and 19 knockouts is destroying everyone in his path.  This includes Campillo, who gave Cloud fits; he dispatched him in three rounds in January.  Yet, the question remains, would he have the chin and the wherewithal to overcome Hopkins’ skills and tactics? 

 Either way, the results are conclusive:  Hopkins wins by unanimous decision with scores of 117 to 111 and 116 to 112 twice.

 

Keith Thurman, left, lands a punishing left to the jaw of Jan Zaveck (photo courtesy of espn.go.com)

Keith Thurman, left, lands a punishing left to the jaw of Jan Zaveck (photo courtesy of espn.go.com)

In the supporting act, undefeated knockout artist Keith “One Time” Thurman, 24, battered and dominated his 36 year-old ex-champ opponent, Jan Zaveck.  Sure, he failed to knockout this tough hombre from Ptuj, Slovenia, but this slugger from Clearwater, Florida fights like a fleeter, 5’ 8 ½” tall version of a young George Foreman. 

Stupefying blows redden Zaveck’s face in the first two rounds, raising doubts whether or not he can go the distance.  And for fans watching, Thurman is good for eliciting “oohs” and comments like, “did you see that?” at least once a round.    

"Did you see that?"  (photo by Juan C. Ayllon)

“Did you see that?” (photo by Juan C. Ayllon)

To his credit, Zaveck maintains a tight guard, shifting and moving just enough to minimize flush shots.   Although jarred repeatedly, he absorbs what lands with admirable grit and toughness.  He also manages to rattle Thurman several times with a quick, looping overhand right, prompting Thurman’s trainer, Dan Birmingham, to shout, “Keep your guard up!”

Although he demonstrates good reflexes and movement, his proclivity to neglect defense while on the hunt raises some questions. 

Thurman had previously been knocked down by one Quandray Robinson in the first round of their encounter in September 2010.  “One Time” then proceeded to knock him down in the first, second and third round of their bout en route to knocking him out in three.

I had previously asked Thurman about these lapses in defense.  His response was telling:  “I might be open for a counter, but to be able to place that counter and time that counter – how do you not know that I might see your counter, that I might counter your counter?” 

As Zaveck demonstrated, sometimes the window of opportunity is a matter of milliseconds.  What if this happened with a speedy puncher like Kendall Holt, the former WBO Light Welterweight champion who just moved up to welterweight, or former IBF Welterweight champion Mike Jones, who himself was separated from his title in June 2012 by knockout after dominating, only to get caught by premiere power puncher Randall Bailey in the 11th round?   

Everyone gets tagged at some point, but not everyone passes the test. 

So far, Thurman is passing his, this time winning over 12 rounds by scores of 120 to 100 all.  And, unlike Hopkins, he’s winning fans everywhere for his fighting spirit. 

Looking back, eventually, I managed to ring the bell on the striker that spring day in 1980, but only after I’d spent in excess or $20.  And, similarly, fighters like Kovalev and Thurman press on to get their chance to test their strength on the “high striker” of a world title. 

Andrzej Fonfara, seen here with trainer Sam Colonna prior to his breakout win over Glen Johnson (photo by Juan C. Ayllon)

Andrzej Fonfara, seen here with trainer Sam Colonna prior to his breakout win over Glen Johnson (photo by Juan C. Ayllon)

In fact, Chicago-based Andrzej Fonfara, who won the fringe IBO Light Heavyweight belt last summer, traveled this past weekend to Brooklyn to scout Cloud and Hopkins, as he hopes to fight the winner or someone of their caliber this fall at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago on August 16.  He, like the rest of them, wants a chance to swing that mallet on the World stage.  And people in living rooms everywhere will gather to watch the spectacle.

The author, Juan C. Ayllon at right with longtime CBZ contributing writer Dan Hanley at the viewing party.

The author, Juan C. Ayllon at right with longtime CBZ contributing writer Dan Hanley at the Hopkins-Cloud and Thurman-Zaveck HBO Championship Boxing viewing party.

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