Modern ring legend Bernard ”The Executioner” Hopkins attempts to become the oldest boxer to win a world title in history when he challenges WBC light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal for his title at the Bell Center in Pascal’s backyard of Quebec City on Saturday night.
If Hopkins, 46 next month, defeats the powerful Pascal, he will break the record set by George Foreman with his WBA heavyweight title winning tenth round knockout of Michael Moore in 1994 by 38 days.
As fate would have it, Hopkins will attempt to make history at the same weight class, in the same month and in the same Canadian province that held the greatest light heavyweight title fight of all time; Archie Moore’s eleventh round knockout of French Canadian challenger Yvon Durelle in December 1958.
Ironically, that fight also pitted a much older ring legend in the twilight of his career (defending champion Moore was 42 years old) against a much younger, rawer, awkward slugger.
By 1958, Moore was already rated by many experts as the greatest light heavyweight of all time, and was also a two-time world heavyweight title challenger. Moore was taking part in his tenth fight of that year (won eight, drawn one), and had clearly underestimated an opponent who despite being something of a local legend, already had 19 losses on his record.
Coming out confidently and looking to add to what would ultimately amount to the greatest knockout haul in boxing history (131), Moore was tagged by a huge straight right from Durelle that floored him heavily. Moore would later say that his head hit the canvas before the rest of him did, so bad was the knockdown.
Moore rose on shaky legs, and was floored again soon after. He got back up and tried to take the fight to Durelle, only to be floored by another vicious right hand, just beating the count and hanging on until the bell.
Amazingly, Moore managed to get back into the fight, and by the fifth it was an even contest until Durelle floored him again. It looked curtains for ”Ancient Archie” as he desperately hung on under a relentless barrage from Durelle, but hang on he did.
The sixth was the turning point as Durelle threw the kitchen sink at Moore, but couldn’t floor him.
In the seventh it was Durelle’s turn to hit the canvas, and by the tenth he was in in desperate trouble, going down again and only being saved by the bell. In the eleventh Moore ended the fight with two crushing knockdowns before a stunned crowd.
Fast forward 42 years, and the stage is set for a similar thriller; for the ageing legend Moore read Hopkins, for big punching local favorite Durelle, read Pascal.
Most fight fans know a little of Bernard Hopkins amazing story. A former jailbird who turned to boxing as a means of staying out of prison, Philadelphian Hopkins lost his 1988 pro debut but would win his next 22 fights, sixteen by KO, eleven in the first round. He took to calling himself the ‘Executioner’ and entering the ring wearing a black axeman hood. He quickly rose up the middleweight rankings to become a top contender and the most feared fighter in the division.
In 1993, Hopkins lost a decision to Roy Jones Jr for the vacant IBF middleweight title, his first defeat in five years. He wouldn’t lose again for twelve years.
Hopkins captured the IBF middleweight title in 1995, and went on to defend it a record twenty times, breaking the previous record held by the great Carlos Monzon by six.
By 2004, Hopkins held all four middleweight belts – WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO – the first fighter in history to do so.
In his career he would beat such stellar names as Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, Roy Jones Jr, Ronald ‘Winky’ Wright, Antonio Tarver, Kelly Pavlik, Glen Johnson, Antwun Echols, William Joppy and Keith Holmes among others. His two losses to Jermain Taylor in 2005 were so close they could have gone either way, and his 2008 split decision defeat to Joe Calzaghe was seen as controversial by many. He has not been beaten comprehensively since the first Roy Jones fight.
Hopkins last two outings were a decision over Mexican fringe contender Enrique Ornelas in December 2009, and a revenge win over a 41 year old Roy Jones in March of this year. In that fight Hopkins looked less than impressive as he stalked Jones all night, looking for a knockout that never came.
Hopkins last standout performance was his breathtaking display against the then undefeated world middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik in October 2008, when Hopkins schooled the Youngstown puncher, giving him a boxing lesson, scoring repeatedly with crisp combinations from the first round till the last and putting on his career best performance, at least in this writers opinion.
Will Hopkins still have some of that magic left for Pascal?
Jean Pascal was born in Haiti 27 years ago. At the age of four, his mother decided to take him and his older brother to Laval, a town on the outskirts of Quebec City.
Pascal’s interest in boxing was born after seeing his older brother become the Quebec amateur boxing champion in 1996.
The younger Pascal began to attend the same gym as his brother, and embarked on an amateur career that saw him take the Canadian National title at light middleweight in 2001, Gold in the light middleweight class at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, Bronze in the middleweights at 2003 Pan American Games as well as representing Canada in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Pascal turned pro in February 2005 with a two round knockout over Justin Hahn, and soon developed a reputation as a knockout artist, stopping twelve of his first fourteen victims.
By the time Pascal traveled to Nottingham in December 2008 to take on Britain’s Carl Froch for the vacant WBC super middleweight title, Pascal had put together an impressive 21-0 record with 15 kayoes, but his ledger was devoid of any standout names, and he had been taken the distance by the average pair of Brian Norman and Omar ”Pitbull” Pittman in his two previous fights.
If Pascal was virtually unknown to the Nottingham crowd that night, it didn’t take long for him to introduce himself, as he took the fight right to the WBC’s no.1 contender, displaying tremendous tenacity, a granite chin and dangerous punching power. Only a lack of top-level technique, a strong finish from the equally tough and tenacious Froch prevented Pascal from lifting the title, Froch winning the crown that had previously been held by Welshman Joe Calzaghe on a unanimous decision.
In 2009 Pascal made the decision to move up to 175 lbs, and that June outpointed Montreal based Romanian tough guy Adrian Diaconu for the WBC light heavyweight title.
He put his crown on the line just three months later, stopping 43 year old Italian Silvio Branco, a former WBA light heavyweight champion, in ten rounds.
In December 2009, Pascal met Diaconu in a rematch, and showed astonishing courage and determination, beating the Romanian on points again, despite twice suffering the agony of a dislocation of his right shoulder.
In September of this year, Pascal proved he was indeed the real-deal when he defended his crown against the man rated as the best light heavyweight in the business; the undefeated former WBC champion Chad Dawson.
In a thriller, bookies underdog Pascal threw the form guide out of the window by taking the fight right to the 6′ 2” southpaw stylist Dawson, and landing repeatedly with crunching shots, bewildering Dawson and building up a huge lead on points.
However, by the tenth round Pascal looked to be tiring, and Dawson began teeing off with bombs of his own. In the eleventh, an accidental clash of heads resulted in a severe cut over Dawson’s right eye, forcing referee Jack Woodburn to stop the fight and taking it to the scorecards, where Pascal was declared a unanimous winner by scores of 108-101 and 106-103 twice.
Pascal had looked sensational for the first two thirds of the fight, though at the time of the referees intervention, Dawson was definitely in the ascendancy. Will he make the adjustments needed to outlast Hopkins it what may turn into a war of attrition?
Will Hopkins be able to draw inspiration from the achievement of ”Old Mongoose” Archie Moore in Quebec City? He will certainly need all the help he can get against an opponent who is looking better and better in every outing.
This is an extremely tough fight to call. Under ordinary circumstances, a powerful 27 year old champion at the top of his game defending his belt against a 45 year old man would be regarded as a gross mismatch, but Bernard Hopkins is no ordinary man.
For years Hopkins has followed a credo that has insured his amazing longevity in his chosen sport. A follower of Islam since his penitentiary days, Hopkins never drinks or smokes, is in bed by eight every night and up doing his road work by five am.
Some interesting stats; Hopkins has score just one stoppage in his last twelve fights going back seven years, and that was against Oscar De La Hoya in 2003. His three losses in that period were to Jermain Taylor (twice) and Joe Calzaghe, both master boxers. His most impressive performance in recent years was against Kelly Pavlik, an out and out slugger.
Hopkins loves a fighter who comes at him, as both Pavlik and De La Hoya did, because he is both extremely hard to nail and an excellent counter puncher. This is why I feel he will have just too much ring savvy for Pascal. Sometime early in the fight, Hopkins right will start to connect with Pascal’s jaw, and after several rounds the cumulative effect could force the Canadian to be more cautious and box, and if that happens there will be only one winner.
If Pascal decides to wage war, he will get tagged more, but will have a punchers chance of connecting hard enough and often enough to end Hopkins career.
I feel Pascal will realize early that he cannot win a boxing match against Hopkins, and will instead elect to brawl, bravely going for the knockout. Pascal will have some success, but will be drilled time and again by sharp lefts and rights from Hopkins. By the eleventh round, Pascal will be in a world of trouble and the referee will have no choice but to call it off.
Hopkins by TKO in eleven.