Ageless wonder and great Philadelphia champion Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins traveled to Quebec City Saturday night to fight WBC Light-Heavyweight champion Jean Pascal. Pascal is a Quebec native and the fight took place in front of an overwhelmingly pro-Pascal crowd of 16,000+. Bernard was attempting to become the oldest fighter in history to win a major championship belt, at age 45.
Hopkins entered the fight with a record of 51-5-1 with 32 knockouts. Pascal, 28 years old, posted a record of 26-1 with 16 wins by knockout. He had a streak of 4 consecutive title defenses. The tale of the tape was virtually even, with Hopkins standing 6 foot 1, weighing 174 pounds, and a 71 inch reach. Pascal stood 5' 10", 174, 72 inch reach.
The fight began ominously for the hall of fame bound Hopkins. Although he was pushing the action and looking pretty good, he suffered a knockdown late in the first round. The knockdown came on a borderline right hand punch that landed on the side/back of Hopkins head. Hopkins immediately got up, and just as quickly turned to the referee and exclaimed he was struck in the back of the head, an illegal blow. The ref allowed the knockdown to stand, and although it was close, the commentators agreed with the referee's decision. Hopkins was not hurt by the blow, but found himself in an early hole.
After a virtually even second round, things got worse for The Executioner in the third. He suffered another knockdown, and despite again not being hurt, was creating some major scorecard issues for himself. It looked as though Pascal, hungry for a signature victory and buoyed by a raucous home crowd, might be too much for the cagey veteran.
Hopkins was knocked down again in the fourth, but this time it was the result of a slip combined with yet another blow to the back of his head, and the referee disallowed it. The rest of the fourth and the fifth were very close rounds that could have been scored either way.
After the early round problems, the proud former champion began to assert himself and began to dominate the fight. Bernard was pushing the pace, creating the action, and looking like a man half of his age. He was landing powerful blows, doing much more damage than his counterpart. In rounds 8-10 Hopkins was dancing and moving, continuing to push, and regularly taunting his opponent to fight and responding to Pascal punches with a sly grin as if to say "you ain't hurting me."
While Hopkins continued his onslaught, Pascal looked like the the fighter who was 17 years the senior. He continuously backed away from Hopkins as Bernard continued to land crushing blows. As The Executioner danced and punched and looked to be the fresher fighter, and a fighter who was actually having fun, Pascal looked tired and miserable.
The 12th round was a thrilling back and forth, with the fighters trading blows. I know boxing in its current state isn't what it used to be, to say the least, but this was a pretty good fight and that 12th round was one of the most exciting rounds in recent memory. Both men remained on their feet as the final bell sounded, and we were headed to the scorecards.
At the bell Hopkins raised his arms, trotted around the ring, gestured to the crowd, exchanged pleasantries with his corner and with ringside personnel and spectators, and frankly didn't look like he had just gone 12 rounds with the light-heavyweight champion. Pascal, meanwhile, retreated quietly to his corner where he bent over and rested his head on the corner post. One of the commentators said something to the effect of "he just looks happy that it's over.
The decision was announced 114-112 Hopkins, 113-113, 114-114, a majority draw. Pascal retains the title. Hopkins was visibly distraught with the results. Now I will admit that I have a major bias in Hopkins' favor, but he won this fight. The three reporters who were scoring the fight on press row had it 115-112 Hopkins, 114-112 Pascal, 115-111 Hopkins. Hopkins out-threw and out-landed Pascal in every category...jabs, power punches, and combos. He dictated the pace and action of the fight. And at the end he was the fighter who was in physically better shape, with no major damage done and with exceptionally more energy. To me, a boxer who does those things deserves to win the fight. If you watched the fight, you felt that Bernard had gotten the better of his foe. I will concede that it was a very close fight, but I do think Hopkins did enough to win.
Even with the disappointing decision, it was another great performance from one of the all-time greats. It is absolutely incredible that a 45 year old man could look that fresh and energetic through 12 rounds of boxing, and he used his exceptional conditioning and his plethora of knowledge and experience to fight a beautiful fight, a fight his fans and his city can be proud of. I really hope that there is a rematch.