Aging Hopkins looks to reclaim old image

Posted: March 08, 2013

Wearing a black ski mask, sunglasses, and a black sweatshirt with the hood raised, Bernard Hopkins sat in silence at Wednesday's news conference in Brooklyn.

It was the last promotional stop for Saturday night's title bout against IBF light heavyweight champion Tavoris Cloud at the Barclays Center, a match televised on HBO.

Hopkins' long-time trainer, North Philadelphia's Naazim Richardson, said Hopkins had left Brooklyn and returned home.

But Richardson said not to worry: The Executioner was there to fight.

As the Executioner, Hopkins defended his middleweight title a record 20 times and attacked foes with lethal body blows. He turned some of boxing's biggest names - Felix Trinidad, Antonio Tarver, Kelly Pavlik - into afterthoughts.

But in recent times, the only remnant of Hopkins' nickname has been the executioner hood he wears into the ring.

The 48-year-old has transitioned into a technical boxer, one who throws fewer punches, grinds down opponents with a strong defense, and hopes to win on the scorecards.

Hopkins still can fight, Richardson said. His success is not just built on smoke and mirrors and mental tricks.

"My athlete is back. The executioner is back," Richardson said.

The Executioner then rose from his seat, stood behind Richardson, and walked out of the arena without saying a word.

"Not Bernard Hopkins and not B-Hop. Saturday, you will see the return of the Executioner," Richardson said. "And for those of you that can remember, you know exactly what I'm talking about."

Hopkins has not scored a knockout in nearly nine years, and he said he is well aware of the drought. Against Cloud, Hopkins said, he is looking for that elusive knockout.

To get it, Hopkins said he might have to open himself up a little more and lure Cloud into open contact.

"Sometimes you have to have a scar or two," Hopkins said after a recent workout. "You have to get up off the canvas."

Cloud, 31, has shown that he is not afraid of action, as he is undefeated in 24 fights and has won 19 by knockout.

In his last fight, a controversial split decision over Gabriel Campillo, Cloud displayed his power early before fighting tentatively the rest of the way.

Cloud knocked Campillo flat with a straight right to the nose.

"This guy's coming right to you. He wants to be Mike Tyson," Hopkins said. "So I get a chance to show some craftsmanship. I get a chance to show some of Bernard Hopkins' talents that no one has probably ever seen in my whole career."

Cloud's right hand has grown stronger in his last few fights, and he said it has improved even more under a new trainer. The right hand combined with his already strong left hook could create problems for Hopkins.

Despite being 17 years older than Cloud, Hopkins said he knows he is smarter and better conditioned. And because of his age, Hopkins expects Cloud to underestimate him. It's only natural, Hopkins said.

Cloud said he has noticed Hopkins slowing down in recent fights and plans to attack him from the start.

"I don't think any fighter can stay young forever, no matter how hard they try," Cloud said.

Hopkin said he knows that his career "must stop soon," and after his last fight, a lackluster loss to Chad Dawson last April in Atlantic City, Hopkins had to face questions about retiring. But only he, Hopkins said, should dictate when his time is up.

If he listened to most people, Hopkins said, he would have never "made history in a lot of things."

"I'm going to make sure that I put some big boots on and I'm not going to open the door," Hopkins said. "I'm going to kick the door open."


Contact Matt Breen at mbreen@phillynews.com or @matt_breen on Twitter.

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