Regardless of whether you thought the draw was just in last December’s fight between Bernard Hopkins and Jean Pascal, Hopkins, 51-5-2, won the event by shocking nearly everyone when he consistently pushed forward behind sharp body work and accurate right hands. Pascal, on his heels for two-thirds of the bout, did little to look like he was 18 years Hopkins’ junior.
It’s actually old hat for Hopkins, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Once upon a time, his transcendent technique was accompanied with punishing power and a respectable punch output, but his advanced age has dulled his aggression and has brought inconsistency. Dreary performances that spawn cries to hang them up are followed by eye-opening boxing lessons against heavily-favored adversaries. The draw with Pascal came after a lusterless win over Roy Jones, one of the worst fights in recent memory. Likewise, Kelly Pavlik’s spanking came after a loss to Joe Calzaghe, and a lopsided victory over Antonio Tarver came after the disappointing rematch with Jermain Taylor. While he clearly still has world class ability, perhaps he’s no longer capable of stringing together impressive feats.
Pascal, 26-1-1, isn’t exactly a model of consistency either. Prodigal speed and ebullient combination punching can be offset by shaky stamina and durability. He gassed in his lone loss to Carl Froch two and a half years ago, and even in victories— including his upset over Chad Dawson—his energy would slip as the rounds dragged on. This albatross reappeared against Hopkins six months ago. After a torrid start in which the dynamic Canadian knocked Hopkins down in the first and third rounds—the first time in 16 years that Hopkins was legitimately put on the canvas—Pacal became timid and unsure. Hopkins nearly swept the final nine rounds by dusting off the type of body work that we haven’t seen from the old man in years.
The Philadelphia legend has a chance to become the oldest champion in history, and a more determined effort will be needed from Pascal to avoid being a footnote in boxing lore. During an entertaining episode of HBO’s Face Off with Max Kellerman, Pascal, Laval, Quebec, Canada but originally from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, accurately noted that it’s been a long time since Hopkins has had a knockout. The onus is on 28-year-old to fight as if he’s not terrified of getting sparked out. While Hopkins shook him up a few times, Pascal needs to trust that he can survive the rough moments, and remain diligent in throwing the type of left hooks that briefly put the 46-year-old on his knee.
Hopkins, hopefully, will build on his successes in the first bout and continue to display an unyielding body attack, because it was a pleasure to watch. Beyond that, an active start would mitigate fears of poor judging, as well as making Pascal ripe for a rare knockout in the late rounds, taking the fight out of the judges’ hands altogether. It would also help him facilitate the improbable feat of two entertaining fights in a row.
The two genuinely don’t like each other, which at least has helped the build-up. Whenever he sees a microphone, Hopkins lets everyone know how much of an injustice the decision in the first bout was. Perhaps in an attempt to get under Hopkins’ skin, Pascal has become Floydian by broaching the subject of drug tests, tossing out insinuations that “The Executioner” may have been aided in December. In doing so, he’s managed to out-whine Hopkins. Not only is it a theatrical reach for excuses, it seems to be a roundabout admission that he got his ass kicked.
Hopkins will attempt to step back into the time machine on Saturday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. If both men fight as if they have no use for excuses, we can have another memorable event.