"I heard this guy talking about his mom's refrigerator being repossessed, about how they had to put their food in a metal washtub and fill it with ice to keep it from spoiling," Hopkins said last week at the Harrowgate Boxing Club in Port Richmond, where he is preparing for his next date with destiny.
"I've been watching that tape of Cloud for, like, 2 months. I'm from North Philadelphia, he's a country boy from Florida, but I know where he's coming from. [Cloud actually is from Tallahassee, Florida's capital city.] He said he used to live in a room with 15 people, and he ain't never going back to that again. I know how he feels. I know that him coming up the way he did means my butt better get ready because he's hungry, too."
It is their similarly impoverished backgrounds, even more than their shared astrological sign (both are Capricorns; Hopkins turns 48 Tuesday, Cloud celebrated his 31st birth last Thursday) that unites them in a way only up-by-the-bootstraps fighters can comprehend. If there is a difference, it is that Cloud, as has been the case with several of B-Hop's more recent opponents, is literally young enough to be the future Hall of Famer's son. And that's the way Hopkins likes it.
Hopkins will celebrate his birthday with a news conference at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday in Brooklyn with Cloud.
Hopkins last fought on April 28, 2012, losing a 12-round majority decision and his WBC 175-pound title belt to Chad Dawson in Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall. It was widely speculated then that the oldest man ever to win a widely recognized boxing championship (Hopkins was 46 when he dethroned then-WBC ruler Jean Pascal via unanimous decision on May 21, 2011, in Montreal) had fought his last fight. Hopkins himself hinted at retirement, saying he would not lace up the gloves again just for a payday, but only if something of historical significance became available.
"You can make and lose money, but history never goes broke," said Hopkins, who also holds the middleweight division record with 20 title defenses. "History outlasts money. You can't spend it all up and act like it don't exist."
Richard Schaefer, the CEO of Hopkins' promotional company, Golden Boy, made inquiries to not only Cloud, but to WBO champion Nathan Cleverly (25-0, 12 KOs), of Wales, and WBA titlist Beibut Shumenov (13-1, 8 KOs), of Kazakhstan. The people representing Cleverly and Shumenov conveyed their regrets, most likely because those fighters already had defenses scheduled, but possibly because they concluded that the risk of a loss to a renowned but aged opponent outweighed any reward.
"It wasn't easy for me for me to find a challenge which Bernard felt was worth his effort, time and sacrifice to come back and lace up the gloves again," Schaefer said. "But when we were able to reach an agreement with Cloud, it was exactly what Bernard was looking for. And this is a great opportunity for Cloud, too. Beating a legend like Bernard would take his career to a totally different level."
Hopkins joked that Cloud would not have been his first choice - "I wanted the youngest guy [that would be the 25-year-old Cleverly], not the oldest, which Cloud is," he said - but maybe things worked out for the best nonetheless.
"Cloud reminds me of [previous Hopkins opponents] Robert Allen and Antwun Echols," Hopkins said. "He's a muscular, good-punching, knock-down, drag-out type of fighter. He's going to press me, try to wear me down, overpower me. I normally pick those guys apart.
"He's also trying to make history by doing something no one has ever done, which is to knock me out. He's young and he's strong and he probably thinks he can knock everybody out. But he's going to find out it's not that easy to do when I'm the guy in the other corner. For the last 10 years, and probably longer, everybody I fight wants to beat Bernard Hopkins the way no one has ever beaten him. Tavoris Cloud wants to be the first man to do it, but he's in for a big surprise."
The poverty thing aside, Hopkins believes he has one psychological edge over Cloud. That would be the 4 1/2 years B-Hop spent in prison on a strong-arm robbery conviction, which he said has strengthened him in ways that have shaped his laser-focused approach to boxing.
One of the proudest possessions Hopkins has is the framed certificate that hangs in his palatial Delaware home that congratulates him on successfully completing all of his parole requirements.
"When you come up from nothing, it's not easy to have the patience or discipline to change your life," he said. "Boxing had to work for Bernard Hopkins because, really, what other choice did I have? Prison taught me to maximize every second of every day. I'm always conscious of the clock because, when you're incarcerated, you want to burn time. I couldn't have gotten that discipline on the street, not like I got it now.
"Being locked in a cell is no fun, but I survived it. Maybe I wouldn't survive it again, and that's why I made a vow to myself never to go back inside. I dreamed about a lot of things back then. But for guys like me, dreams usually don't come true.
"Now that I'm living the dream, I'm never going to allow myself to get too comfortable or forget the past. That's what drives me. It's not just Tavoris Cloud I'm competing against. In some ways, I'm always competing against myself, and I have to win."