(Jean Pascal at left, Bernard Hopkins at right; credit: Tom Casino, Showtime)
Maybe the ravages of age couldn’t take away 45-year-old Bernard Hopkins’ chances of becoming the oldest man to win a world championship belt, but the judges could. Three of them collectively scored a draw Saturday between Hopkins and light heavyweight champ Jean Pascal in a fight most everyone else tends to think Hopkins won. Despite two knockdowns, Hopkins won almost every round on my scorecard, which should have been good enough for a comfortable 115-111 decision. With as many as five close rounds, a draw isn’t entirely out of the question. It seems, though, that the judges gave Pascal the benefit of the doubt in many of those rounds even though Hopkins was the aggressor landing more punches and landing them more cleanly. The loud Quebec City crowd cheering on local man Pascal evidently had some sway, perhaps convincing the judges that Pascal was doing more harm than he actually was. Even press row scoring was pretty close.
Hopkins fought extremely well to dig himself out of his early hole. He suffered a knockdown in the 1st that was a borderline rabbit punch, but I thought the knockdown ruling was fair. He lost the close 2nd round on my card, then suffered an even less questionable knockdown in the 3rd — two 10-8 rounds and one 10-9 round to start. From there, Hopkins settled down, backed down Pascal, handled Pascal’s charges better and began ripping body shots. Pascal, meanwhile, allowed himself to get outworked by the older man, apparently thinking he could win the fight by landing periodic hard single shots. The Showtime bout was a bit more exciting than most expected, but the end result was disappointing because of the decision. Hopkins almost made history Saturday night. He deserved to, but the judges didn’t see it that way, unfortunately.
I marked the 2nd, 8th, 10th, 11th and 12th as close, and two of the judges gave the 5th to Pascal. Ultimately I had Hopkins winning every round from the 4th onward. Showtime’s punch counters had Hopkins throwing 445 punches and landing 171, to 353 and 105 for Pascal. There were two other knockdowns in there — one for each man — that were not ruled as such, and both were correct calls. Even if you discount the punch stat numbers — and punch stat numbers are more anecdotal supporting evidence than hard science — Hopkins still outlanded Pascal to my eyes, and his punches were consistently crisper and more damaging than Pascal’s occasional hard blows. Still, two judges had it even on the scorecards — 113-113 and 114-114 — while a third saw it for Hopkins, 114-112. There was a brief scoring controversy related to a dab of correctional fluid, but Hopkins’ promoter Golden Boy said it checked out OK.
Where we go from here is hazy. Pascal is both the lineal Ring magazine champion and WBC titlist, and the WBC has ordered a rematch because of the dicey result. [UPDATE: Seems there’s some dispute about whether this rematch order occurred.] But Pascal has a contract for a rematch with Chad Dawson, the man against whom he won the championship belt. Another thorny aspect of any rematch between Pascal and Hopkins would be where it might happen; Hopkins said, “The closest I will ever come to Canada again is Niagra Falls.” But Pascal-Hopkins II is only a draw in Quebec, and nowhere else. There will also be the obligatory b.s. protest filed.
What I gleaned from all this is that those critiques about Dawson losing the fight to Pascal more than Pascal winning it have some truth to them; Pascal said he had an off-night, and while it speaks well of him that he kept it close with a living legend, it also wasn’t the kind of performance that validates Pascal as an elite fighter. The other thing probably everyone learned is that at least for one more night, despite two consecutive prior performances where Hopkins showed his age, the old man still had it.