Sunday, December 19, 2010

B-Hop the Eternal

Last night, Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins (51-5-2, 32 KOs) came off the canvas twice in route to a majority draw with Ring Magazine light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal (26-1-1, 16 KOs). Scores were 114-112 Hopkins, 113-113, and 114-114. I had it 115-111 Hopkins, and I firmly believe he won the fight.

Many of my friends in the boxing biz were rooting for Pascal this fight. It was nothing against Hopkins, they said. Rather, it was a simple calculation about what's good for the sport. Pascal has genuine superstar potential -- he's already getting there in Canada. He could be a draw. Whereas if Hopkins wins -- well, it's another big notch on his legacy, to be sure, but it doesn't do anything for the sport. I mean, how long can he go on?

A fair point, I said. But I was rooting for Hopkins. Why? Because Pascal beating Hopkins is just a younger guy beating an older guy. But every time Hopkins wins, you're seeing something legendary. And I like watching history happen.

Scorecards notwithstanding, I think few people were not awestruck by Hopkins performance last night. It didn't start off that way, to be sure. Hopkins was dropped in the first and third rounds -- albeit the first one appeared to my eyes a clear rabbit punch. A close second round meant that Pascal could easily be up 5 points just three rounds in -- and it seemed like father time may have finally caught up to the Executioner. Worse, the score gap effectively forced Hopkins out of his usual game plan. He couldn't fight a clinching, tight, inside game -- that leads to close rounds, and Hopkins couldn't afford close rounds while in a hole on his opponent's home turf.

So instead, Hopkins did something I think very few of us thought he could. He pressed the action offensively. He began effectively stalking Pascal across the ring, landing digging body shots that had Pascal afraid to let his hands go. After the fourth round, you really had to start reaching to find rounds to give to Pascal -- a clean sweep for Hopkins would be a very reasonable assessment. It was domination, nearly as sublime as the domination put on Pavlik. And in a sense, more so -- for Hopkins did it while overcoming severe early adversity.

Given that I think the first knockdown was a blown call, it's easy for me to say that was decisive on the scorecards -- it could have swung anywhere from 1-3 points to Hopkins on all cards, giving him a unanimous decision instead of a majority draw. But boxing is funny thing -- I think those two early knockdowns forced Hopkins to fight a more aggressive and ultimately more effective fight than he had been planning. Had he not tasted canvas, would have been so offense-minded? Who knows?

So what's next? It's an interesting question. The WBC has ordered an immediate rematch, but I believe Pascal is contractually obligated to rematch Chad Dawson in his next fight. So I can easily see the WBC stripping Pascal and putting Hopkins and some schlub in a bout for the vacant belt, thus letting Hopkins gain his place in history as the oldest fighter ever to win a title.

Even post-Dawson, a rematch between Pascal and Hopkins looks dodgy. Hopkins is never setting foot out of the United States again, and Pascal will be loathe to give up the money he earns while fighting out of Quebec. There aren't many places other than Canada that Hopkins/Pascal really draws (legend that he is, Hopkins has never really been a fan attraction). Plus, I think Pascal knows in his heart of hearts that hewas lucky to escape with a draw, and will be uninterested in tempting fate further. It's a shame, but this business will likely be unfinished.

Nonetheless, tonight was another incredible performance by a man who seems to laugh in the face of age. I don't know when Bernard Hopkins finally will become old, or when he'll finally elect to hang 'em up. But I do know it's a privilege to watch him fight. And I'm greatly appreciative I got the opportunity to do so.

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