Bernard Hopkins came within one point of realizing his goal of becoming the oldest boxer in history to win a major world title by holding light heavyweight champ Jean Pascal to a majority draw in a surprisingly good fight in Quebec City on Saturday.
Hopkins (51-5-2, 32 knockouts), the aggressor for much of the fight, was dropped by a right cross to the ear in the first round and again by a hook to the chin in the third. Those two knockdowns prevented Hopkins, who turns 46 in January, from replacing George Foreman as the oldest to win a title.
Foreman was 45 years and 10 months old when he knocked out Michael Moorer to claim the heavyweight championship in 1994. Hopkins is arguably a better technical fighter than Foreman was at 45 (or any age for that matter) but he doesn’t have the power Foreman possessed, which cost him against Pascal.
Hopkins amazingly outworked Pascal in the majority of rounds, landing 171 of 445 total punches, according to punch statistics. Many of Hopkins’ best shots landed to the body of the Haiti-born Canadian, who connected with 105 of 353 total punches. However, Pascal, who elected to move and attack in spots for most of the fight, landed the harder punches.
Hopkins put forth a consistent-enough offense to win by a 114-112 tally on one scorecard but he had to settle for even totals of 113-113 and 114-114 on the other two official cards. Had the first knockdown (which Hopkins disputed because the punch landed toward the back of his head) not counted against him, the grizzled Philadelphia native would have won the bout by a razor-thin unanimous decision and made boxing history.
“I don’t think the first knockdown was legitimate,” said Hopkins. “I dominated the fight. I threw the crisper shots. He was doing all the holding. This was a sure-enough robbery. I took him to school.
“He knows he lost. Look at his face. He’s not happy.”
Pascal (26-1-1, 16 KOs), who was out-hustled by a fighter 18 years his elder, admitted that he had a difficult time.
“It wasn’t my best fight but Bernard likes to fight dirty,” said Pascal, who lives and fights out of Montreal. “I thought I did enough to win the fight.”
That’s debatable. Pascal, who won THE RING light heavyweight title with an 11-round technical decision over then-undefeated Chad Dawson in August, started very strong, scoring the two knockdowns and generally getting the better of Hopkins during their exchanges.
However, Hopkins applied steady pressure to his constantly moving foe and began to get into his rhythm as early as the fourth round when he scored repeatedly with lefts to Pascal’s body. The two traded on even terms in the fifth round.
Hopkins steadily increased his aggression over the second half of the bout. The wily technician backed Pascal to the ropes, where he landed short combinations in the sixth round. He took the fight directly to Pascal in the seventh round, landing hooks to the body and counter rights to the head.
Hopkins’ confidence was high in the eighth round, even though Pascal scored with the cleaner punches. The old man smiled and blew the befuddled Canadian attraction a kiss after getting hit with a counter left hook early in the round.
Hopkins continued to outwork Pascal in the late rounds, but the young champ rallied as best he could. That sparked a number of entertaining exchanges in rounds 10, 11 and 12, which thrilled the sellout crowd of 16,333 at the Pepsi Coliseum and probably surprised fans who watched the fight on Showtime in the U.S.
Even fans who thought Hopkins would give Pascal a tough time expected an ugly bout. Few predicted that Hopkins would press the action or fight as furiously as he did in the final round, when he mauled Pascal along the ropes and encouraged the young buck to bring it on after getting nailed with hard counter punches.
“The 12th round was vicious,” Hopkins said. “He looked to be tired from the sixth round. He was gasping. He held every time I got close. And I just kept coming forward throwing punches. He was holding on for dear life.”
Pascal, who denied being as exhausted, said he is willing to face the legendary fighter again.
It’s doubtful Hopkins would travel to Canada for a rematch after getting what he believes was a bad call by Montreal-based referee Michael Griffin and one of the draw scorecards in Saturday’s bout came from Canadian judge Claude Paquette. But in a testament to the future hall of famer’s excellence if he did fight Pascal again, he would probably be favored to win.
Hopkins’ performance against Pascal was the gutsiest effort by a fighter in his mid-40s since Archie Moore got up from four early rounds knockdowns to drop and stop much-younger Yvon Durelle in the 11th-round of a great bout that coincidentally took place in Quebec (Montreal) back in 1958.
Had Hopkins beat Pascal to claim THE RING light heavyweight title, it could have been argued that he’s the best fighter to fight into his mid-40s in the sport’s history. As it is, Hopkins’ late-career accomplishments put him in the all-time great company of both Foreman and Moore.