This man is extraordinary, this Bernard Hopkins. At age 46, he went to Montreal on Saturday night, once more to face a young, hungry, passionate light heavyweight champion named Jean Pascal on his home turf. Like the first time, Pascal gave him about as tough a fight as Hopkins had endured in his long career. But in the end, unlike the draw from the first encounter, Hopkins left the building with Pascal’s lineal championship belt after a unanimous decision victory, and with it, he will carry the history of being the oldest boxing champion in the sport, ever.
Whatever you think of Hopkins and his race-baiting antics, his in-ring accomplishments simply cannot be disputed. The idea of another 46-year-old man doing what Hopkins did anytime soon sounds far-fetched. Hopkins is sui generis among modern boxers, a fighter who thrives on pure intellect, meanness and guile when his body should long ago have made such an achievement impossible.
On the HBO undercard, Chad Dawson put himself in line to become Hopkins’ next opponent with a unanimous decision over Adrian Diaconu. It was the first occasion in the ring for Dawson’s tutelage under new trainer Manny Steward, and the results were mixed at best.
BERNARD HOPKINS-JEAN PASCAL II
In many ways, this fight was a carbon copy of the first. The majority of the early rounds belonged to Pascal, whose youth, speed and strength presented a formidable tactical problem for Hopkins’ unique brand of boxing genius. The Pascal success was temporarily interrupted in the 3rd, when a right hand from Hopkins had Pascal momentarily wobbled. In the 4th, Pascal hurt Hopkins about as badly as he’d ever been hurt, maybe even worse. Hopkins held on after the big right hook and rode out the flirtation with unconsciousness, though.
This time, when Hopkins took over after the early rounds, he didn’t have to contend with the early knockdowns he suffered in the first meeting. Of the opening stanzas, I scored the 2nd, 4th and 5th for Pascal. (In the 1st, virtually nothing happened, and the CompuBox figures suggested I had it wrong, but I thought Hopkins’ punches were more effective and that Hopkins was controlling the action compared to Pascal’s greater output.)
In the 6th, Hopkins rough-housed Pascal some, belting him in the kidneys during a clinch and thumbing him in the eye. What happened at the beginning of the next round was more noteworthy. Hopkins, waiting for Pascal to come out of his corner, began doing push-ups. In a fight with its share of histrionics beforehand, this was the coup de grace. Prior to their fight, Hopkins conducted an interview in a ski mask; prior to Michael Buffer’s introductions, breaking from tradition, Hopkins and Pascal got into each others’ faces and had to be separated by the referee. The two mugged at each other and argued with the referee and generally were as plucky as you could ever want two professionals to be. But the push-ups were laugh out loud material, an indicator by the older man to the younger man that he was just getting started.
Pascal’s stamina issues once more haunted him as the fight went on — during one clinch, with his eyes closed, it looked like he was attempting to take a nap. Hopkins, meanwhile, began to get into his rhythm. It wasn’t easy to do. From the beginning, Pascal had forced him into a firefight, where Hopkins in his old age has not usually been comfortable. But the nastiness that Hopkins exhibited early in his career reemerged, and he responded with a combination of a brawler’s passion and a technician’s timing to take control of the bout.
It wasn’t until the 9th that I again gave Pascal a round, although if the referee had ruled it properly, he would have been on the wrong end of a 10-8 score due to a knockdown according to the rules, if not their spirit. Hopkins landed a jab as Pascal was off balance, but the punch led Pascal to touch his glove to the canvas. In the 10th, a similar incident occurred, although that time I thought it was Pascal’s missed punch that led him to slip to the ground.
The 12th, like in the first fight, got really interesting. Pascal landed a right hand that had Hopkins in more trouble than the one in the 3rd. Hopkins held on for dear life as Pascal moved in for the kill, and post-clinch, with a still-wobbly Hopkins in front of him, Pascal simply stared at the old man. It was a near-tragic mistake. With the gap in technical skill — Pascal so crude, Hopkins so old-school — there were only so many chances Pascal was going to get to finish off B-Hop, and he didn’t even really go for it. It would have been a remarkable comeback win for Pascal.
But Hopkins winning is the better story. Pascal could, as he maintained, come out of this a better, more experienced fighter; Hopkins’ track record, alas, is to ruin his opponents’ confidence because of the way he meticulously picks them apart. Mainly he needs to solve the problem of his poor stamina, which is just as ruinous as anything Hopkins can do to him, and figure out a plan of attack other than “periodic crazed charge.”
Next up is, most likely, Dawson, and if that goes well, Hopkins said he’d like to take on Lucian Bute. Those sound like potentially low-offense affairs, but with the right opponent, Hopkins has showed he can make exciting fights. And we might be in for them for a while: afterward, Hopkins said he could see himself fighting until age 50. With the way Hopkins has defied his years so well so far, you’d be a fool to count out the possibility, absurd though it might sound when paired with the name of another fighter. If Hopkins hasn’t superseded Archie Moore and George Foreman as the best “old” fighter ever, I’m not sure how much more it would take. But I don’t put it past him that he keeps doing this over and over again, beyond all feasibility, and with a legend that grows to such proportions that the next “old” fighter will have to go to nearly-impossible lengths to pass him.
CHAD DAWSON-ADRIAN DIACONU
This is only one fight with Steward, but I don’t like the results. As much as it would be great for Dawson to be more exciting, I think it’s a terrible idea about what to do with a fighter whose power is negligible. Steward wants Dawson to be so exciting so badly that he lied to him at the end of the 7th round about whether he was winning or losing, and Dawson, eager to win over his new coach, went out aggressively in the 8th. He proceeded to lose that round.
Maybe it’s possible to make Dawson more exciting without losing what makes him who he is: speed, excellent defense, a big fighting heart that rises to the occasion on the rare occasions where he is hit cleanly. But it’s already crazy that Dawson is on his eighth trainer, and I think Steward is a bad fit. Maybe they’ll both prove me wrong. I love the idea, in concept. But I think a more exciting Dawson is a Dawson who’s going to lose more fights. He could be more marketable from an action standpoint, but I can’t imagine him being an action hero under any circumstances, and if that’s the direction he goes, he’s also going to pick up a few more losses, too. It’s not the end of the world to lose, but some boxing writers and fans are sadly hard on those who do.
I thought Dawson essentially dominated the fight; HBO’s Harold Lederman gave Diaconu a lot of rounds, including, bizarrely, the 12th. Three rounds was enough for Diaconu, who did land some right hands down the middle and might or might not have wobbled Dawson a couple times. Otherwise, Dawson landed a lot of straight lefts and counter shots, even wobbling the sturdy Diaconu once or twice in the early rounds. He was a bit more offensive-minded in spots, sometimes to his benefit and sometimes not. It wasn’t enough to score the knockout, however battered Diaconu’s face was.
Dawson is athletically gifted and has good boxing instincts, so any version of Dawson beats Diaconu, probably. Beating a legit top-10 light heavyweight as clearly as he did is a real indicator of that talent. Do I see Dawson beating Hopkins by trying to knock him out, the way Steward wants him to fight? Not really.