Unbeaten light heavyweight titlist Tavoris Cloud is far from being in awe of Bernard Hopkins and everything the 48-year-old legend has accomplished.
Sure, Cloud (24-0, 19 KOs), 31, holds a loose and somewhat leery respect for the opponent he'll face Saturday (9:30 p.m. ET, HBO) at the Barclays Center in New York. But the aggressive slugger knows full well the one area he needs to be careful of when dealing with the wily Hopkins.
"Bernard Hopkins is a slick fighter -- a dirty fighter -- and he knows every trick in the book," Cloud told ESPN.com. "But the challenge that I think he brings to the table is that if you let this man get inside your head, it can be a long night for you. You can wind up losing the title if you let a man take you out of your game. That's one of the main weapons that I believe Bernard Hopkins is going to try to use."
Cloud doesn't need to look any further than the mistakes made by former champion Jean Pascal when he dropped the title to Hopkins in May 2011.
The fight not only proved to be a masterpiece for Hopkins inside the ring -- arguably the most impressive performance of his career -- but it also was his starkest demonstration of outclassing another fighter mentally. From the moment the promotion of the match kicked off, up until the final bell to end the historic bout, Hopkins had the fighter 18 years his junior rattled and second-guessing every decision he made.
It was Pascal, in fact, who twice had Hopkins hurt after landing heavy right hands -- including once during the final 90 seconds of Round 12 -- but cautiously held back instead of going for the finish, saying after the fight that he was apprehensive due to Hopkins' tricks and defensive skills.
It's simply not in Cloud's personality to think that way or to hold off on attacking at any given point. That attribute makes this fight with Hopkins so intriguing: It's either going to lead Cloud to become the first fighter to stop Hopkins or it will play directly into the veteran fighter's hands.
Either way, Cloud isn't willing to follow the blueprint sketched out by Pascal detailing how to simply hang with Hopkins for 12 rounds. The Tallahassee, Fla.-bred fighter, who credits his impoverished youth with creating a boxer who "fights hard and wants to hurt you," is focused exclusively on finishing Hopkins -- and, more specifically, sending him off into retirement.
"I think Jean Pascal just had too much respect for him from the start," Cloud said of Hopkins. "Pascal was like, 'Oh, I love you. You like my idol. I finally get to fight you.' And Hopkins just fed off it, because in Pascal's head, this man was his idol already and he worshipped this man in his head.
"In Cloud's head, I don't worship no motherf---ing body. So [Hopkins] definitely won't have an advantage over me. He is a chess player, [but] I been playing chess for a while. I'm prepared for him."