JEAN PASCAL vs. BERNARD HOPKINS
When: Saturday, Dec. 18
Where: Pepsi Coliseum, Quebec City
TV: Showtime, 10 p.m. ET / PT
Weight: Light heavyweight (175 pounds)
Title(s) at stake: Pascal's RING and WBC light heavyweight
Also on the card: Paulie Malignaggi vs. Michael Lozada, 10 rounds, welterweights; Daniel Jacobs vs. Jessie Orta, 8 rounds, super middleweights
Height / Reach: 6-1 (185cm) / 75 (191cm)
Nickname: The Executioner
Turned pro: 1988
Record: 51-5-1 (32 knockouts)
Trainer: Naazim Richardson
Fight-by-fight: Click here
The Ring rating: No. 4 light heavyweight
Titles: IBF middleweight (1995-2005; 20 defenses; lost it to Jermain Taylor); WBC middleweight (2001-05); WBA middleweight (2001-2005); RING middleweight (2001-05; lost it to Taylor); WBO middleweight (2004-05); RING light heavyweight (2006-2008; lost it to Joe Calzaghe).
Biggest victories: Segundo Mercado, April 29, 1995, KO 7 (wins first title); Glen Johnson, July 20, 1997, KO 11; Felix Trinidad, Sept. 29, 2001, KO 12; Oscar De La Hoya, Sept. 18, 2004; Antonio Tarver, June 10, 2006, UD 12; Winky Wright, July 21, 2007, UD 12; Kelly Pavlik, Oct. 18, 2008, UD 12; Roy Jones Jr., April 3, 2010, UD 12
Biggest losses: Jones, May 22, UD 12; Taylor, July 6, 2005, SD, 12; Taylor, Dec. 3, 2005, UD 12; Calzaghe, April 19, 2008, SD 12.
Skills: Pascal is a good boxer but he relies more on his considerable athleticism than skill or technique. The 28-year-old light heavyweight champion likes to dictate the pace of his bouts by employing stick-and-move tactics but rarely sets traps with his speed and movement. Pascal is an accurate puncher but he shoots from the hip and sometimes forgoes his jab and combinations when on the attack. And though he is a mobile boxer, his balance leaves something to be desired. Hopkins never possessed the raw athletic gifts Pascal is blessed with, even in his 20s and 30s, but his technique is the most textbook in the sport and he’s a true ring general. Every move he makes is with purpose. Few fighters are as effective at dissecting an opponent and breaking him down over the course of a 12-round bout as Hopkins. The future hall of famer does it all with traditional fundamentals.
Power: Though he began his career as a feared right-handed puncher, Hopkins developed into a versatile technician by the late 1990s. The veteran has only scored four knockouts in the past 10 years (a span that includes 18 fights). His last stoppage was his beautifully placed body shot KO of De La Hoya in 2004. Pascal, a boxer by nature, is not known for his power but his physical strength, hand speed and accuracy sometimes combine to cause sensational one-punch knockouts such as his fifth-round stoppage of normally durable Pablo Daniel Zamora Nievas courtesy of a perfect counter left hook off the ropes. He also scored a nice third-round body shot KO of Esteban Camou in 2007.
Speed and athletic ability: Pascal is no Roy Jones Jr. in terms of natural ability but he comes closer than any active fighter — aside from Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire — to emulating the former four-division titleholder’s amazing athletic ring prowess. He’s certainly among the most-gifted fighters above the welterweight division. Pascal’s speed, power, reflexes and hand-eye coordination are all top of the line. Hopkins has to be a special athlete to compete on the world-class level into his mid-40s, but much of his longevity is due to his Spartan lifestyle, dedicated work ethic and technical ring generalship.
Defense: Pascal’s athleticism is his defense. The champ uses his quick reflexes to evade punches by literally jumping out of the way of incoming shots. Technically speaking, Pascal is open for most punches because of his habit of holding his hands low and his tendency to pull straight back. Hopkins is seldom open for punches. His chin is always down and tucked behind his left shoulder, and he always keeps his hands up and elbows in. His feet are never squared up. He’s adept at not only blocking punches but also parrying incoming shots with his gloves. Hopkins can be hit but it’s extremely difficult for his opponents to land a clean shot to his chin because of his traditional stance and tight technique.
Experience: Pascal gained invaluable world-class experience against young, undefeated opposition during his 12-round loss to Froch at super middleweight and his light heavyweight title bouts against Diaconu and Dawson, but Hopkins’ resume reads like a who’s who of the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions during the past decade: Calzaghe, Johnson, Jones, Tarver, Wright, Pavlik, Taylor, William Joppy and Keith Holmes. Trinidad and De La Hoya were naturally smaller opponents but both are also first-ballot hall of famers.
Chin: Both men can take a good shot. Pascal’s beard was tested during his brawl with Froch and his first bout with the heavy-handed Diaconu. Hopkins, who has never shied away from punchers, has not been down since suffering two knockdowns against Segundo Mercado in Ecuador back in December of 2004. Although neither man has been stopped, Hopkins’ chin is more battle tested. Pascal had brief wobbly moments late in his fights with Froch and Dawson.
Conditioning: Both fighters are fanatical about their conditioning. Pascal gears his training towards strength and explosiveness while Hopkins’ preparation stresses strategy, but both men pride themselves on always being in tip-top shape for their fights.
Wear and tear: This category isn’t hard to figure out. Hopkins is a relatively well-preserved 45 because of his healthy lifestyle and his ability to avoid slugfests in the ring, but he’s still been a pro boxer for more than 20 years and he’s competed on the world-class level since 1993. Pascal has been a pro for 5½ years and has only engaged in one grueling fight (versus Froch).
Corner: Marc Ramsay, who has trained Pascal since the fighter’s amateur days, has done a terrific job with the raw talent from Haiti. Ramsay, who also trains former junior welterweight contender and title challenger Herman Ngoudjo, has helped Pascal develop his unique style without detracting from the fighter’s many strengths. The Montreal native, who serves as the matchmaker for GYM (Groupe Yvon Michel, Pascal‘s promoter), also has a keen eye for how styles match-up in the ring. So does Nazim Richardson, Hopkins’ longtime trainer. The Philadelphia native, who was an understudy of Hopkins’ original trainer Bouie Fisher, has had success with both amateur boxers (he guided his son Rock Allen to the 2004 Olympics and Karl Dargan to a Pan-Am Games gold medal) and elite professional fighters.
Outcome: Pascal’s enthusiasm and lack of technique will combine to allow Hopkins to score with jabs and counter right hands whenever the young champ lunges in with lead power punches in the early rounds. However, the hometown hero will settle down by the middle rounds and trouble the old veteran with lateral movement, feints and quick jab-right hand combinations. Hopkins will try to catch Pascal coming in as he did in the earlier rounds but he will have to settle for occasionally clipping the athletic boxer with hooks and straight rights as he tries to back out of range with his hands down. Hopkins will grab and hold Pascal on the inside whenever he can in hopes of wearing the champ down with his trademark roughhouse tactics but he’ll find that Pascal is willing and adept at fighting in close. Pascal will score well to Hopkins’ body as the two battle in the trenches during the late rounds of the bout. Pascal will begin to tire a bit down the stretch but he’ll still outwork Hopkins who will focus mainly on counter punching and only let his hands go in spots (usually during a clinch).
Prediction: Pascal by close but unanimous decision.
Michael Rosenthal contributed to this feature.