By Jake Donovan
Let it be known, in case the rest of the light heavyweight division hasn’t already been made aware.
Tavoris Cloud doesn’t care how hard you train. He’s going to train harder.
He doesn’t care how good you are or how good you think you are. He’s going to show you that he’s better than you.
He doesn’t care what you think of him as a fighter, nor will he ask for your respect. He’s going to step to you in the ring and demand it from bell to bell.
The southern gentleman is a soft-spoken athlete, but the message he has to deliver is always heard loud and clear.
Next on the list of those who need to be informed is former light heavyweight titlist Gabriel Campillo, as the hard-luck Spaniard challenges for Cloud’s alphabet belt on February 18 in a Showtime televised co-feature live from Corpus Christi, Texas.
The bout marks Cloud’s fourth defense of the belt he won in Aug. ’09, but his first in about 18 months to come in front of a worldwide audience. The opportunity was supposed to come about seven weeks earlier against a different opponent, as he was set to headline a special New Year’s Eve edition of Showtime Championship Boxing against former lineal champ Zsolt Erdei.
While those plans fell through after Erdei claimed injury, Cloud never stopped training. Even when the idea was pitched of facing Campillo as a replacement before such plans were brushed aside, the unbeaten Floridian remained in the gym, confident that something would come along soon.
“Come the 18th (of February), I’ll have been in camp for four months,” Cloud (23-0, 19KO) reveals of how he’s spent his time all winter and even most of last fall season. “I’m in great shape and ready and willing to deal with all challenges.”
To date, none of the challengers have been able to deal with no-nonsense Cloud, who simply doesn’t know how to fight in reverse. The sculpted titlist is all action from the moment the bell rings, a huge part of his appeal when coming up on the Chicagoland circuit early in his career during his time spent with leading Midwest promotional outfit 8 Count Productions.
The rest of the boxing world was privileged to take notice in the summer of 2008, when Cloud – after having worked his way up the rankings – was one fight away from challenging for a major title. Standing in his path was another former lineal champ in Julio Gonzalez, whom Cloud overwhelmed en route to a 10th round stoppage, becoming the first – and only - to stop the durable Mexican.
Fame and accolades soon followed. What didn’t come along with the package, unfortunately, was ring activity.
A big part of it was Cloud’s undoing, as he was in position to engage in a two-fight series on HBO that would have led to a showdown with then-unbeaten champ Chad Dawson. Instead, his handlers whispered in his ear that he’d be better off forcing a vacancy and going on his own path.
The move led to an inactive period of more than a year before facing former titlist Clinton Woods in a vacant title fight, a bout that came on ESPN2 as opposed to the far more lucrative deal he would have enjoyed appearing on HBO. Cloud won the fight and the belt, but was forced to go the 12-round distance, ending a 13-fight knockout streak that spanned four years.
The decision win marked the first of three straight fights in which Cloud was forced to await the judge’s decision, rather than delivering a more definitive ending to his fights. Chief among them was his eventual HBO debut, outlasting veteran Glen Johnson on the undercard of Devon Alexander’s narrow and controversial points win over Andriy Kotelnik. It was the first fight under his new deal with Hall of Fame promoter Don King, a bond that remains strong to this day despite having fought just three times in the two years they’ve been together.
“I believe in Tavoris,” states King of his relationship with his light heavyweight beast, one he insists has been challenged by jealous rivals. “They’ll do everything they can to separate him from me. This is the way they play the game now, with duplicity and deception. This is what I like about him, his loyalty to me and what he brings to the table. He comes to fight. This is why they call them fighters.”
There’s no question that Cloud comes to fight. That three straight fights went to the scorecards was hardly pleasing to the unbeaten 30-year old, even though he clearly won each bout. Cloud even drew high praise from HBO color commentator Larry Merchant after his win over Johnson, revealing one week later (following Jean Pascal’s upset win over Chad Dawson on HBO) that he’d much rather watch fighters like Cloud than boxers like the guys that had just graced the television screen.
As hard to please as Merchant often is, it appears that there remains out there an even harsher critic for what takes place in the ring – Cloud himself.
“It’s always important to put a stamp on the fights. I just believe people respect knockouts more than they respect decisions,” Cloud reveals of what makes him tick. Such was on display in his last fight, an 8th round knockout of Yusaf Mack last June.
Cloud struggled out the gate in his HBO-televised title defense, as Mack boxed smartly in taking most of the early rounds. That’s when the champion bit down and imposed his will on the perennial contender, breaking him down midway through as he dramatically turned the tide in his favor.
Still, it wasn’t enough for veteran cornerman Al Bonnani, who prior to the start of the eighth round vocally demanded that his charge end the fight right then and there. Cloud obliged, scoring with a violent left hook to ignite a rally and leave Mack nearly defenseless. A right hand to the body was enough to end the fight. Mack rose from the canvas but was in no condition to continue.
The crowd was given its money’s worth – again – but Cloud was left with radio silence when it came time to secure his next fight.
Eight months later, his career is taken off pause as he gets to showcase his abilities against Campillo, a rangy southpaw who knows his way around the ring. His downside is bad luck, where perceived wins over Beibut Shumenov in their rematch and Karo Murat in each of their two fights instead saw the Spaniard collectively go 0-2-1.
Cloud is well aware of what his opponent brings to the table and the potential problems he poses.
Guess what? He doesn’t really care about anything other than stepping into the ring.
“I don’t have a problem with fighting southpaws,” Cloud insists. “The result will be the same. I’ll be victorious and keep my title in the end. I have the best (team) in the world to get me ready. I don’t care how hard they train, who their trainer is or the sacrifices they’ve made. I feel like I trained harder, that my trainer is better than them.”
The mentality Cloud carries into the ring is the same as what he brings to the gym while staying ready for his next opportunity comes along. In recent times, those opportunities have been few and far between. But it doesn’t mean he has to ease off the gas.
That’s not who he is, or ever wishes to become.
“You get these guys claiming they’ve trained harder than they ever did before. They have to understand that the mind of a champ – I’m extreme. I just don’t give a damn. I just can’t put into words what I plan to do my opponent.
“I’m going out there to win and put on a good show. Just ring the bell. All I want to do is fight.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]