Jean Pascal-Bernard Hopkins this Saturday on Showtime in Quebec City will be ugly, and it will also be important. Pascal has been in fun fights yet is often awkward, and he is also the true, lineal Ring magazine light heavyweight champion. Bernard Hopkins hasn’t been in a fun two-way action fight for years, but he’s also vying to become the oldest world champion ever at age 45. Their pre-fight trash talking — both are gifted in the art — has almost certainly been more entertaining than what they will do in the ring itself, but it’s also the last highly meaningful fight of 2010.
Today the pre-fight comedy was thus: Hopkins refused to say anything at the news conference other than, “Enjoy the fight”; Pascal refused to speak any English, playing the in-Quebec-we-speak-French card; and Hopkins took Pascal’s belt from him and refused to give it back, so naturally they had a scuffle, as depicted in this video, as well as below by Tom Casino of Showtime:
Both men can make a case that they have been unjustly doubted. Pascal beat Chad Dawson, a top-5 pound-for-pound fighter, but many still focus on what Dawson did wrong in that fight. Hopkins will have stretches of his late career where he looks terrible, as he has in two consecutive bouts, then he’ll bounce back. Picking a winner isn’t easy for that reason.
When last we saw Hopkins, he was stinking it up against Roy Jones, Jr. in a spring rematch that was so far past it’s sell-by date that “newcomers” from “Alien Nation” would’ve gotten drunk off just a sip. As bad as Jones was in the loss, Hopkins turned in as ugly a winning performance as you’ll ever see. The time before that, he inexplicably struggled against undersized journeyman Enrique Ornelas. Of course, the time before that, he turned back the clock in a 2008 beat down of Kelly Pavlik. The Pavlik win somewhat erased an ugly showing against Joe Calzaghe, while the fights before THAT — wins over Winky Wright and Antonio Tarver — erased the ugly losses to Jermain Taylor. That is the entirety of what Hopkins has been up to since 2005.
The struggles against Taylor and Calzaghe, though, are more defensible than the struggles against Ornelas and a fully shot Jones. You can write the Ornelas struggles off to rust, and Hopkins himself said he fought against Jones for much of the bout with spots in his eyes because of a rabbit punch he suffered. Or you can assume, as others have before, that at age 46, Hopkins is finally acting his age. Relatedly, with the exception of Ornelas, three of the four men he’s struggled with in the last five years have had good or excellent speed. Pascal does, too. Many of the guys he’s beaten have been people moving up in weight, too. Pascal won’t be taller than Hopkins, but he will be as physically strong, or close, anyway.
You still have to figure that even an old, seemingly done version of Hopkins is going to be cagey, he’s going to be hard to hit cleanly, he’s going to wrestle and spoil, he’s going to pot shot and counter and he’s going to nullify what you do best. The really good older version of Hopkins can do all those things only without the faint whiff of someone barely scraping by, and instead with the odor of a finely aged wine. The old, seemingly done version might beat you anyway; the really good older version might well actually kick your whippersnapper ass.
Pascal started off as, and still retains the air of, a second-rate Jones. He is quick, but not as quick. He fights with his hands down like Jones, but he lacks the reflexes of a prime Jones, so he gets hit much more. Like Hopkins has in stretches, Pascal also has spent some time scraping on the edge, such as with his close loss to Carl Froch, his two close wins over Adrian Diaconu and his defeat of Dawson. The Froch loss, he blamed on having trouble making 168 pounds; one of the Diaconu wins was closer than it might have been because he fought with a separated shoulder for much of the bout; and he got bailed out by a fight-stopping cut in a fight where Dawson was charging hard for the knockout win.
But Pascal showed something against Dawson that few knew he had in him: He could actually box a little. Yes, it was awkward, and Dawson probably should have figured out Pascal’s bull-like charges earlier than he did. But Pascal also countered well, and he proved harder to hit than he had in the past. He was definitely in Dawson’s league speed-wise, and punched harder overall. He’s always had a big heart, as he showed against Froch and especially in that shoulder injury fight against Diaconu. I wonder whether his muscle-bound frame contributed to some late stamina issues against Dawson, or if it was simply a matter of Dawson turning it on late after investing in a body attack. If it’s a body attack thing, then Pascal could be in trouble, because Hopkins will hurt him to the body.
There’s simply no way to anyone can know what kind of Hopkins will show up. If I knew it was the really good older version, I’d pick him without hesitation, even though Pascal’s athleticism would theoretically give him trouble. Based on recent showings, I have little choice but to assume we’ll be getting the old, seemingly done version. And Pascal has the quickness, as well as enough smarts, to beat that version of Hopkins. It won’t be easy, and it sure won’t be pretty, but I’m going with Pascal by a close, difficult-to-score unanimous decision.
[TQBR Prediction Game 5.0 ends with this fight. Make your prediction wisely, and remember the rules.]