By Jake Donovan
Bernard Hopkins knew well in advance that a win on Saturday over Tavoris Cloud in Brooklyn would mean his phone would be ringing non-stop immediately thereafter.
Sure enough, the once-again light heavyweight titlist now has a full voicemail inbox to sift through while deciding his next step. The 48-year old wunderkind became the oldest fighter in boxing history to capture a major belt, breaking his own record set at age 46 following his May ’11 rematch with over Jean Pascal.
Talks have swirled prior to last weekend’s encounter of a potential showdown with unbeaten Welshman – and current alphabet titlist – Nathan Cleverly. With any title win also comes mandatory challenges, especially when the dethroned titlists – such as Cloud – endures massive gaps of inactivity, thus not already honoring such obligations.
“There [are] champions that [have] been callin[g] me out after my historic victory,” Hopkins recently said through his Twitter account. “I'm aware that I [have] a mandatory obligation under the IBF rules. My mandatory challenger (is) Karo Murat.”
Cloud was supposed to face Murat late last year in Venezuela, only for the fight to fall through due to unspecified reasons. Cloud instead proceeded with plans to face Hopkins, heading into Saturday’s encounter having not fought since a controversial points win over Gabriel Campillo last February.
Hopkins, hardly a model of ring activity deep into the twilight of his career, turned back the clock with a virtuoso performance. A 17-year age difference was not at all apparent, as Cloud looked lost for much of the fight while Hopkins proudly marched on towards history.
The reign marks either his second or third tour atop the light heavyweight division, depending upon whom you ask. Hopkins’ win over Antonio Tarver in June 2006 netted him The Ring title (back when it still somewhat meant something), though historians still recognized Zsolt Erdei as the lineal champion. There was no dispute at the top when Hopkins topped Pascal in May ’11, though the reign was short lived – a no-contest against Chad Dawson in Oct. ’11, followed by a points loss to Dawson the following April.
Now that he’s back in the saddle, Hopkins would like to enjoy a reign mirroring that of his record-breaking middleweight tour when he took on all comers while satisfying alphabet obligations. However, a packed crowd at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn coupled with 1.2 million viewers tuning in live on HBO suggests that fans are interested in seeing Hopkins in events rather than just fights.
While everyone remains on his radar, dilemma he faces is in which order to face them.
“Out of respect [to] the IBF it's my intention [to] honor my commitment [to] the mandatory challenger [at] this stage [o]f the game just as I've done throughout my 25 [year] career namely thro[ugh] 20 str[aight] defense of the 160 (lb. title),” Hopkins said.
“However the fans have made it very clear that at this stage of my career they want Executioner in big fights – 12, 300 fans in Brooklyn [and] over 1 mil[lion] watched on [HBO Boxing] have sent that message loud [and] clear across the boxing world. I look forward [to] getting back in the ring and continuing with my legacy.”
With the IBF mandatory defense well past due, the camps for Hopkins and Murat have 30 days to negotiate terms for such a fight. If the two sides are unable to reach an agreement, a purse bid will be ordered, after which the fight must take place within 90 days.
Title unification bouts have often been cited as an exception, though not always immediately honored, especially when a mandatory is past due. Carl Froch was recently forced to give up his title* in order to pursue a rematch with fellow beltholder Mikkel Kessler, which in turn created a vacant title fight opportunity for mandatory challenger Adonis Stevenson.
[Editor's note: Froch is still IBF champ only for the sake of classifying the rematch with Kessler as a unification bout. The winner will be stripped of the title immediately thereafter - JD]
Hopkins would have such options to weigh should he proceed with a fight against Cleverly, Beibut Shumenov or even a third fight with Dawson.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox