By Cliff Rold
Matchmaking need not be magic.
Sometimes, it’s pretty basic.
Take one pressuring, heavy-handed fighter with a good beard and mix with a genuine one-punch nuclear weapon whose chin remains a question mark. Shake. Stir.
Two weeks after a great show, fight fans have a potentially great main event on Saturday night. And in one of those funny boxing oddities, one fight after losing a belt in the class, the challenger has a chance to become history’s Light Heavyweight king.
Let’s go the report cards.
Title/Previous Titles: Lineal World/TBRB/Ring/WBC Light Heavyweight (2012-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Weight: 173.8 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 169.4 lbs.
Hails from: Longueuil, Quebec, Canada (Born in Haiti)
Record: 21-1, 18 KO, 1 KOBY
Record in Major Title Fights: 1-0, 1 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 1 (Chad Dawson KO1)
Previous Titles: IBF Light Heavyweight (2009-12, 4 Defenses)
Weight: 174.6 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 174.65 lbs.
Hails from: Tallahassee, Florida
Record: 24-1, 19 KO
Rankings: #3 (Ring), #4 (ESPN), #5 (Boxing Scene), #6 (TBRB, BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 5-1, 1 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 5 (Julio Gonzalez TKO10; Clinton Woods UD12; Glen Johnson UD12; Gabriel Campillo SD12, Bernard Hopkins L12)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Stevenson B+; Cloud B
Pre-Fight: Power – Stevenson A; Cloud B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Stevenson C+; Cloud C
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Stevenson B; Cloud B
Cloud comes into this fight knowing his back is against the wall. How will the Hopkins loss affect him? Does he dig deep and go for broke? Or has a career mired in inactivity over the years already passed him by?
We know, at the least, that he doesn’t have the same style issues he had against Hopkins. Stevenson is there to punch. He does it as well as anyone in boxing. Stevenson appears to have the sort of pop you only see every once in a while; Earnie Shavers or Julian Jackson kind of pop.
And his pop carries. The Dawson win that gave Stevenson the Light Heavyweight crown came in the first. He’s also scored knockouts in the 6th, 9th, and 12th in his career. He’s dangerous all night. He may be vulnerable all night too. That’s part of the fun.
While he has rebounded well, Stevenson was stopped in two by journeyman Darnell Boone in 2010. Cloud has at least enough power to turn the same trick. He had Gabriel Campillo down early and started his career with a slew of knockouts over subpar competition.
What Cloud’s done since moving up in competition against Julio Gonzalez says it’s not the same kind of power as Stevenson. Cloud is heavy handed, with a puncher’s mentality, but he’s had to dish out an accumulation of punishment to scores stops. Glen Johnson and Clinton Woods both took him the route, though he rocked Johnson as good as anyone has in recent recall.
If Stevenson gives Cloud angles, he can make it hard to the shorter man, by about an inch, to get inside. Cloud is best just coming forward. Stevenson will have chances to walk him into shots off his long jab. And Stevenson can deliver those shots suddenly; he has deceptive, explosive speed.
What the champion doesn’t have is Cloud’s experience. Cloud has seen a range of tested veterans at the world-class level even given his sporadic ring appearances. Stevenson has Dawson and a lot of the fringe. The Dawson fight was so sudden we never got a chance to see what happens when Stevenson gets drug into a scrap with a real world-class guy. Cloud has never shown a bad chin and forces everyone to work.
And what of size? Stevenson certainly fills out at Light Heavyweight, but he spent most of his career at Super Middleweight. He hasn’t faced an aggressive, career Light Heavyweight like Cloud yet. If Cloud finds success getting inside, who will be the stronger man?
It could be what decides the fight.
This is a fascinating match. Cloud has looked befuddled his last two outings, but both came against masterful boxers. So he can be outboxed; no one has outfought Cloud yet. His chin has always been good and Stevenson will test it again. He’s got the power to test it in on a whole new level. But Cloud will test Stevenson's chin as well and it’s been dented before. The Dawson win was great but he's got a different man to deal with here, and one with much to prove. Cloud's shorter shots and infighting will be a match for the crackling power of Stevenson. It’s a classic puncher's duel and with suspense before the opening bell and more to come. Experience is hard to ignore. While Cloud hasn’t seen something like the power of Stevenson, he’s seen a wider range of styles. He’ll have more answers as the fight heats up. When the suspense is finally broken, the pick here is Cloud getting inside and wearing Stevenson down over time, winning by knockout any time after the eighth round.
Report Card Picks 2013: 36-21
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]