Bernard Hopkins embarrassed Jean Pascal last night before a crowd of over 17,000 at the Bell Centre in Montréal, notching a fairly easy unanimous decision over 12 ragged rounds and crashing the history books by becoming, at 46, the oldest man to win a generally acknowledged world title. The final scores were 116-112, 115-113, and 115-114, with the final two tallies uncomfortably close.
After Chad Dawson imitated a man in a waking coma against Adrian Diaconu in the semi, Hopkins-Pascal looked like the battle for Stalingrad by comparison. Without Dawson-Diaconu as a wretched baseline, however, Hopkins and Pascal put on a sloppy bout, filled with mauling, roughhousing, showboating, and the terrorizing presence of referee Ian- John Lewis, whose officiating manual must have been written by the crew of Monty Python.
There were a few blistering exchanges during the bout and plenty of bravado, a poor ratio for a fight aficionado. For Hopkins, at least, audacity is a genuine personality trait. Pascal, on the other hand, is pure bluster. After the fourth round of a closely contested bout, Pascal, 28, began to wilt and barely managed to land more than one or two clean punches for every three minutes of action. Rarely are “world champions” as inept as Pascal appeared to be last night. Without a jab, a consistent left hook, a straight right, a sustained body attack, or a even the hint of strategy, Pascal was no match for a grizzled Hall of Fame lock. Aside from a few isolated shots—two of which shook Hopkins to his boots—Pascal scored only with rabbit punches, headbutts, and the occasional yoke hold.
At times, Pascal pounded the occipital lobe with real malice, perhaps because it was the only spot he could hit with regularity. He also tried to butt Hopkins—without much success, alas—every time they broke from a clinch. Ian-John Lewis, oblivious to it all, simply conceded the unfair advantage of dirty work to Pascal and allowed the manic Quebecois to do as he pleased.
After some overblown ring entrances, Pascal and Hopkins, who fought to a disputed draw last December, met at ring center to continue hostilities. Pascal, Laval, Quebec, Canada, via Haiti, seemed to edge the opening rounds, keeping his distance from Hopkins in the first and flurrying in spots during the second. Late in the third, however, Hopkins landed a crackerjack right that forced Pascal to hold. And hold. And hold some more. Ian-John Lewis rassled with both fighters to break the clinch and practiced his carny barker routine during the struggle. Pascal recovered, but Hopkins, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, continued to apply pressure for the remainder of the round.
Showing no ill-effects from being buzzed, Pascal did some of his best work in the fourth, trading evenly with Hopkins throughout and ripping shots to the body. Just before the bell rang to end the round, Pascal rattled Hopkins with a hard right that left the old man, for a moment, looking like he needed a bib and some oatmeal, but time ran out before Pascal could capitalize. In the fifth round, however, Hopkins began to sense that he was gaining control and comically stuck his tongue out at Pascal as the round came to a close. He did the same in the sixth, and before the bell for the seventh, began doing push-ups in his corner to spook Pascal. Then he ripped Pascal with lead rights and left hooks as Pascal seemed to yield mentally.
The next four rounds saw Hopkins switch up on Pascal, boxing from the perimeter when he felt like it, counterpunching when Pascal lunged, and forcing the fight when Pascal, confused, laid back. Hopkins appeared to score a knockdown in the ninth, but it was discounted by an addled John Lewis. From time to time Pascal would leap in with wild shots, but he rarely landed them with any authority, and, more often than not, he would fall into a grappling session with Hopkins. If Pascal was working with some sort of battle plan in mind, it was about as discernible to the naked eye as a molecule is. Straight rights bounced off his noggin regularly, noogies greeted him in the trenches, and well-timed counters straightened him up repeatedly.
Pascal worked harder in the 11th, which was not a difficult thing to do for a fighter who was averaging about 10 punches per minute. In the final round, Pascal, now 26-2-1 (16), came out with a little more urgency, and forced an exchange that ended when he caught Hopkins with a booming right that left the veteran reeling. But Pascal was as sloppy as ever in pursuit and threw dozens of errant shots before falling into a clinch. When the action resumed, Hopkins backed away, Pascal looked spent, and the two mauled until the final bell.
Bernard Hopkins, now 52-5-2-1 (32), can beat fighters like Jean Pascal until he begins cashing social security checks, the same way Jack Dempsey knocked out a pair of muggers who tried to ambush him on a New York City street during the 1970s. All fighters deserve respect, but Pascal would be turned away at the gates of a Potemkin Village even if he offered to volunteer as an unpaid intern.
Although his chin is starting to show cracks, Hopkins remains a physical marvel, and his technique—combined with a ring IQ that all but forced Pascal into a meltdown—acts as an equalizer against younger opponents. Hopkins, smelted by some otherworldly metallurgist, is one of the only true throwback fighters to come around in decades. Even in this soggy era of phony weight classes, numberless titles, and skittish paper champions, what Hopkins accomplished last night is extraordinary. No doubt he will tell us all about it…over and over again.