George Foreman has some advice for Bernard Hopkins, who will attempt to break the former heavyweight champ’s record of being the oldest fighter his history to hold a major title when he faces Jean Pascal in a rematch on May 21:
Go for the knockout.
Hopkins almost broke Foreman's record — set by knocking out Michael Moorer at age 45 back in 1994 — when he first faced Pascal in the light heavyweight champ’s adopted region of Quebec, Canada last December.
Hopkins, who turned 46 in January, got up from two early-rounds knockdowns and outworked Pascal over the second half of the bout to earn a majority draw in an entertaining fight that most observers believed he should have won.
Foreman’s sagely recommendation to Hopkins is not to leave the rematch, which takes place in Pascal’s hometown of Montreal, in the hands of the judges again.
“These fights are not won by decisions,” Foreman, now 62, said during an international media call on Tuesday. “Hopkins has got to realize that he must get a knockout. This record will not be broken on a unanimous decision. I wouldn’t have won the title if I didn’t knock (Moorer) out.”
Foreman’s one-punch 10th-round KO of Moorer, who had taken the heavyweight title from Evander Holyfield in his previous bout, is one of the indelible images of boxing, and arguably all sports, from the 1990s.
The moment, captured live on HBO, which will televise Pascal-Hopkins II in the U.S., was the pinnacle of an improbable comeback that began in 1987, 10 years after he retired from the sport following a unanimous-decision loss to Jimmy Young.
Foreman, who defeated Joe Frazier in 1972 to win the championship and lost it to Muhammad Ali in ‘74, said he would not have regained the title at such an advanced age had he considered himself to be “old.”
“When you attempt something like that, you can’t look in the mirror and think age,” said Foreman, an ordained minister who has made a fortune outside of boxing selling grills and other products. “You can read about your age and listen to other people talk about it, but you can’t think about it. In my mind, I was a 25- or 35-year-old fighter. All I thought about was that I had to go out there and score a knockout.”
Foreman points to Hopkins’ steely mindset and the brilliant boxing mind behind it as the reason the Philadelphia native has been able to prolong his career for so long, and why he believes the former middleweight and light heavyweight champ will break his 17-year-old record.
“Bernard is a thinking man’s fighter,” said Foreman, who called the action to many of Hopkins' bouts as a member of HBO's commentary team. “I didn’t realize it until the (Felix) Trinidad fight. I always thought he was just a rough and rugged fighter, but he showed that he was a thinking fighter against Trinidad. He used his jab and movement to set up punches and to control the entire fight.
“This man thinks while he’s active in the ring.”
Hopkins, who had a puncher’s reputation early in his career but gradually developed into a complete boxer, embraces his identity as a thinking fighter. The future hall of famer, who joined Tuesday’s conference call after Foreman held court, admitted that he’s no longer a knockout puncher.
“I would love to go in there and get a knockout,” Hopkins (51-5-2, 32 KOs) said. “The last time I’ve got a knockout was Oscar De La Hoya (in 2004), so there’s been a drought, but I‘ll be happy to give (Pascal) a beat down.”
Hopkins, who made 20 defenses of the middleweight title before losing it to Jermain Taylor via controversial split decision in 2005, said his opponents absorb more damage from his physical brand of boxing over the course of 12 rounds than they would if the were knocked out in the early or middle rounds.
“I’m more of a technician than a knockout puncher but I will give my opponents a beating,” Hopkins said. “By me not being a knockout puncher, it‘s worse for (my opponents) because it’s not just physical with me. I leave a mental beat down. I take your spirit.
“A lot of the young guys I’ve fought that were champions or could have been champions were never the same after I fought them. (Kelly) Pavlik (who Hopkins defeated in 2008) in one of the recent ones. Taylor, who I fought twice, was never the same. The 20-plus rounds we went didn’t do him any good. Trinidad was never the same. Robert Allen, (nicknamed) ‘Armed and Dangerous,’ out of Atlanta, Georgia, probably could have won a middleweight title if he hadn‘t faced me three times. Antwun Echols, who I fought twice, probably could have become middleweight champ if he hadn’t met me.”
Hopkins isn’t sure if he laid down a career-shortening beating on Pascal (26-1-1, 16 KOs), who mouthed off a lot during their kick-off press conferences in Montreal and New York, but he vowed to administer one to the athletic 28-year-old Haitian in the rematch.
However, with all due respect to Foreman, who THE RING rated No. 9 among the 100 greatest punchers of all time, Hopkins said he won’t press for the knockout.
“You don’t go in there looking for a knockout,” he said. “You have to set it up. You have to take smart risks. You go in there and press your opponent, but you don’t press the envelope so much that you get knocked out. If I get a guy hurt, trust me, I won’t back up, I won’t let him survive. That’s my instinct. That’s what a seasoned veteran does and a veteran knows that you don’t force a knockout. You create a knockout.”
Knockout or not, Hopkins said fans can expect another entertaining fight, one that is perhaps even more intense than the first bout was.
“If you thought I fought out of character for the first fight I can tell you that I will fight way out of character for this one,” he said. “I’m still going to be smart but I’m going to bring that old Philadelphia-type fight back for this fight.
“I promise you’re going to see the old Philadelphia Bernard Hopkins bringing that old Philly style back from the Bennie Briscoes and Willie ‘The Worm’ Monroes.”
Hopkins, who recently signed a three-bout deal with HBO that begins with the Pascal rematch, also promised to stick around for a few more fights after he makes history.
“The plan is to win the title and defend it at least two times in the span of one year, provided that I don’t sustain any injuries or bad cuts or things like that,” he said. “First Pascal, and then Chad Dawson (who fights former beltholder Adrian Diaconu in the HBO-televised co-feature on May 21) in the fall. I’d love to go back to Canada early next year and fight (undefeated super middleweight titleholder Lucian) Bute if his contract is up over at Showtime. And after that I’d love to fight the winner of the Super Six (super middleweight tournament).”