Photos by Sumio Yamada
BERNARD HOPKINS W12 JEAN PASCAL
Maybe he’s a brother from another planet. What Bernard Hopkins did on Saturday night in Montreal was unearthly. For the second time in a row he fought like the younger man in the ring when taking Jean Pascal to school in their light-heavyweight title rematch.
When Hopkins missed making weight on Friday — by mere ounces, true, but nevertheless something that once would have been unthinkable by his rigid-discipline standards — it seemed to offer a hint that the 46-year-old modern-day marvel might finally be starting to feel his age like any human would.
Instead, Hopkins went out and fought an even better fight than he did when boxing a draw with Pascal last December.
Searching for signs of Hopkins aging is a frustrating exercise. His balance didn’t look quite right in the early rounds of the first fight with Pascal, when he went down twice. This time his legs looked stable for all 12 rounds. He had more energy and vitality than a man 19 years younger than himself.
I think that Pascal once more allowed himself to be beaten mentally. He was doing an awful lot of moving without punching, as if reluctant to engage with the ancient warrior.
Worse than this, Pascal seemed to freeze mentally, allowing himself to be caught time and again by sneaky right-hand leads. The glum visage of his promoter Yvon Michel, at ringside, was worth a thousand words. In contrast, Hopkins’s promoter, Richard Schaefer, seemed to be on his feet for most of the fight, animated and enthusiastic: It is a gratifying feeling to know that one’s horse is streaking home a winner.
Pascal didn’t do at all badly when he attacked Hopkins, but he wouldn’t or couldn’t keep up the charges. The Quebec boxer seemed to hurt Hopkins with heavy right hands in the fourth and final rounds and there were moments when his helter-skelter rushes had the older man a bit unsettled, but for the most part the impression one had was that Hopkins wanted to fight and Pascal wanted just to get through the fight. However, an HBO replay showed Pascal getting a thumb in the eye, and at the post-fight press conference Pascal said that in the middle of the fight he was seeing double and in one or two rounds he was seeing with only one eye. “Bernard is an old fox and he knows all the tricks,” Pascal said, which seemed to be an allusion to ungentlemanly conduct on Hopkins’s part. Pascal’s biggest problem, though, was that he was in a fight with a master of his craft who knows how to win, and once again the contest between them was like master versus pupil.
Having a vision problem clearly was a handicap, but Pascal in truth never seemed to have the willingness to fight the fearless, physical fight that could have led to victory.
Jermain Taylor twice got the decision over Hopkins in very close fights by going at him in a positive way. Joe Calzaghe hustled and bustled and refused to let Hopkins dictate the tempo. Pascal, though, seemed to want to fight for only 30 seconds of every round. It was enough to make the bout close on the scorecards — but Hopkins clearly owned most of the fight. There was a stretch of six consecutive rounds in which I found it impossible to give Pascal a round. When Hopkins dropped to the canvas to do a set of pushups before the start of round seven it was sending the clear message that he had energy to burn and was having fun; Pascal, in contrast, looked a dejected figure as he sat forlornly in his corner, with his seconds getting increasingly agitated.
Hopkins’s winning margin would have been much wider had referee Ian John-Lewis counted to eight when Pascal’s gloves twice touched the canvas. Each time Hopkins landed a right hand, and each time Pascal’s feet seemed to slide out from under him. These were judgement calls by the referee but had no bearing on the result — Hopkins didn’t need the cushion of the extra points.
What Hopkins has done, by becoming the oldest fighter in history to win a world title, defies belief and flies in the face of boxing logic. George Foreman became heavyweight champion at the age of 45 with a one-punch win, but, at 46, Hopkins won his title by outboxing, outspeeding, outpunching, outlasting and almost outclassing his much younger opponent. There has never been a fighter like him, and I very much doubt that the boxing world will see his like again.