Immediately after the amazing 48-year-old Bernard Hopkins dethroned 31-year-old light heavyweight titlist Tavoris Cloud in rather easy fashion on Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., to break his own record of becoming the oldest fighter to win a world title, talk naturally turned to which youngster B-Hop might next pick on.
There was some discussion of super middleweight champion Andre Ward, who was ringside to call the fight for HBO, but Hopkins claimed he isn’t interest in the fight. A couple of hours later, I had a chance to talk shop with Hopkins at the hotel we were staying at. Hopkins was celebrating his historical accomplishment, but also looking to the future because he has no intention of quitting just yet (even though he claimed he would not still be fighting when he is 50).
Hopkins (53-6-2, 32 KOs) told me that he was willing and interested in traveling to the United Kingdom for a unification fight with titleholder Nathan Cleverly, who is 26. Cleverly (25-0, 12 KOs) is scheduled for a mandatory defense against Robin Krasniqi on April 20 in London, so he would have to win that fight.
But it’s not that easy. A unification bout is probably out of the question because in order for Cloud to face Hopkins, he had to get an exception from the IBF for an optional defense because his mandatory against Germany’s Karo Murat was due. Hopkins and Cloud knew going into their fight that the winner was obligated to fight Murat next.
So now Hopkins is saddled with the mandatory if he wants to hang onto his alphabet title, which he would like to do. But he also wants the biggest fight possible. Murat is not a big fight.
Unless Hopkins somehow gets the IBF to grant another exception -- highly unlikely, since the IBF is the one organization that steadfastly follows its rules -- he has to fight Murat or lose the belt. Without the belt, a Cleverly fight loses a lot of its steam.
Hopkins addressed the situation.
“There are numerous champions that have been calling me out after my historic victory on Saturday night. I am aware that I have a mandatory obligation under the IBF guidelines to fight Karo Murat, the mandatory challenger,” Hopkins said. “Out of respect to the IBF, it is my intention to honor my commitment to the mandatory challenger at this point of the game just as I have done throughout my 25-year career, namely through 20 straight defenses of the middleweight title.
“However, the fans, including my supporters, have made it very clear that at this point of my career they want ‘The Executioner’ in big fights. In fact, 12,300 fans in Brooklyn have sent that message very loud and clear across the boxing world. I look forward to getting back in the ring and continuing with my legacy.”
Murat (25-1-1, 15 KOs), 29, is unknown to U.S. fans. His lone loss was a 10th-round TKO to Cleverly in a 2010 title eliminator. The draw came in 2011 against former titlist Gabriel Campillo in another title eliminator.
Before facing Cloud, Hopkins was also asked about Cleverly.
“I'm very aware of him,” Hopkins said. “But right now it's Tavoris Cloud, and that's what's on my mind right now and that is my focus. After the fight they have another press conference late in the night, and (Cleverly’s) name might come up, his name might not come up. But I'll be sure that it will come up on our end. I'm all about unifying the championship. I've done it in the middleweight division. I tried to do it when I had the title in the light heavyweight division, twice.”
While Chad Dawson -- who beat Hopkins last April -- holds an alphabet title and remains the lineal champion, Hopkins would like to collect as many of the belts as he can. (Forget about a third Dawson-Hopkins fight. It won’t happen and nobody wants to see it.)
“If you're a champion and you have a title in the light heavyweight division, why wouldn't you want to be the undisputed champion,” Hopkins said. “I don't want to walk around and three other people wear the same title of light heavyweight champion. To me it's an embarrassment. To me I think every division should have one king, like a village, and so at the end, yes, I mean, I'm glad that Cleverly is thinking on the same line that I'm thinking. I mean, you know, why not? And that's the way it should be.”
Although the probability of a Hopkins-Cleverly unification bout appears slim, given the politics, Cleverly also hopes it happens.
“I’ve been calling him out for a while and he’s the name that I want on my record more than any other,” Cleverly said. “He’s a great fighter, a definite Hall of Famer and the name that will take my career to the next level, but I’m confident in my skill and ability and know that if he fought me it would be his last fight.
“It’s my aim to unify titles and I agree with what Hopkins said about every division should have one king and not wanting to walk around with three other people carrying world titles.”