By Gary Purfield
The light heavyweight showdown between Ring Magazine and WBC champ Jean Pascal and former middleweight and light heavyweight champ Bernard Hopkins had almost everything you could ask for in a fight between a young gun and wily veteran. They fought in front of a loud and raucous sellout crowd of more than 16,000 in Pascal’s adopted hometown of Quebec. A fight that many expected would be slow, boring, and full of clinches turned out to be intriguing and entertaining. Unfortunately it lacked a clear ending. When all was said and done we had no winner to the contest but a majority draw. Judge Steven Morrow gave it to Hopkins 114-112 while Claude Pacquette had it 113-113 and Daniel Van De Wielle had it 114-114 (I had the close contest 114-112 for Hopkins).
From the start the fight had several factors that were unexpected. Beginning in round one Hopkins was the aggressor moving forward pushing Pascal backwards. Hopkins who can be outworked by a young or busy fighter threw and landed more punches in the fight (Hopkins connecting on 171 of 445 with Pascal landing 105 of 353). Maybe most surprising Pascal was in control early but the much older (by eighteen years) Hopkins had the better stamina and was the fighter closing in the late rounds.
A cagey opening round that was close became all Pascal when he landed a shot to Hopkins head putting the executioner to the canvas right before the bell. Bernard felt the punch was behind the head but it was ruled a knockdown. Then again in round three Pascal dropped Hopkins with a left hook against the ropes. Hopkins had not been down in sixteen years and suddenly found himself down twice in the first three rounds. In addition Pascal’s speed and awkward style seemed to be troubling the forty five year old future hall of famer. Pascal appeared to have the answers for Hopkins great defense by keeping his distance, circling, and bull rushing in spurts.
Then Hopkins came alive in round four. He began doing everything you expect out of Bernard Hopkins but did so with a higher work rate than usual. Hopkins used his jab effectively and controlled the ring. He made a committed effort to attack the body especially with his left hook. Momentum would continue to swing in the middle rounds with Hopkins gaining ground he had lost in the first three rounds.
Hopkins continued to control the fight in the later rounds. He was effectively landing the jab and overhand right while still working the body. Hopkins never badly hurt Pascal but did stun him with a straight right in the ninth and took his air several times with body shots. Pascal had several rounds with extremely low work rates where he seemed confused and unable to get his offense rolling. Prior to the fight Pascal’s trainer had described his fighter as an F1 race car but for large stretches the car was stalled in the driveway. It was stalled due to the cagey veteran’s ability to dictate the fight at his style, his pace, and his terms. Showtime color man Antonio Tarver said it best when he stated Bernard is taking Pascal to school. As the late rounds went on Hopkins controlled the right and the momentum. He had also quieted the large crowd that was booming early after the knockdowns.
The twelfth round was a toe to toe shootout with both fighters trying to win the round at all costs. Both had their moments landing hard shots to the delight of the excited audience. When the bell sounded Hopkins raised his hands in victory believing he had taken the titles as Pascal walked back to his corner.
When the cards were read and the majority draw announced it was an anti-climactic ending to what turned out to be a good fight. Hopkins expressed a great deal of outrage with the scores feeling he had clearly won the fight. Pascal also stated he felt he was the winner but with much less authority than his outspoken opponent. As I said above I had Hopkins winning 114-112 but can’t argue with the decision, it was a close fight. Hopkins won more rounds but the early knockdowns saved Pascal when the scores were counted. Hopkins (now 51-5-2 32 KO) leaves Canada without making history as the oldest person to win a major title while Pascal (now 26-1-1 16 KO) retains his titles. Pascal also leaves with a good learning experience that should make him a better fighter. He fought the smartest fighter he has ever faced, had his moments, and managed to get through the tough times when he was being taught a lesson from the aging master.
As a final note I have to say putting the decision aside this was a remarkable achievement for a man nearly forty six years of age. At a time in life when many people are fighting off health issues and simply trying to maintain some level of fitness (or long ago gave up on maintaining fitness if they ever bothered) Bernard Hopkins put on a performance that most fighters in their twenties could not hope to achieve. Congratulations to him for defying the odds and father time once more.
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