Skills: Pascal is a decent 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 somewhat awkward stick-and-move tactics, however he 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. Although 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 the future hall of famer’s 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, and the former undisputed middleweight champ does it all with traditional fundamentals.
Power: Though he began his career as a feared right-hand puncher, Hopkins developed into a versatile technician by the late 1990s. The veteran has only scored four stoppages in the past 10 years (a span that includes 19 fights). His last stoppage was his beautifully placed body shot KO of De La Hoya in September of 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. The majority draw that enabled Pascal to retain his RING and WBC light heavyweight titles in their first bout was due largely to the two early rounds knockdowns the Haitian-Canadian scored against Hopkins.
Speed and athletic ability: Pascal does not come close to equaling the natural ability of one of his ring idols, Roy Jones Jr., but he’s gifted with more of the former four-division titleholder’s amazing athletic prowess than Hopkins ever had. Pascal’s speed, power, reflexes and hand-eye coordination are all top of the line. Hopkins has to be a special athlete to be able 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 usually tucked behind his left shoulder and he always keeps his hands up and elbows in. He makes sure to keep his body at an angle’ his feet and shoulders are never squared up in front of his opponent. 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 best middleweights and light heavyweights of the past two decades: Calzaghe, Johnson, Tarver, Jones, Wright, Pavlik, Taylor, Joppy, and 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. Neither man has been stopped. Pascal’s beard was tested during his brawl with Froch, his first bout with Diaconu, and his victory over Dawson, and apart from brief wobbly moments against Froch and Dawson, it passed. Prior to the two knockdowns he suffered against Pascal, Hopkins, who has never shied away from punchers, had not been down from a legal shot since he was twice dropped by Segundo Mercado in Ecuador back in December of 2004. Hopkins, who has faced the hard-punching likes of the middleweight version of Jones (who was 21-0 with 20 knockouts coming into their first bout), Trinidad, Echols and Taylor, has the more battle-tested set of whiskers but his last two fights — against Jones in their rematch and Pascal — suggests that his ability to take a shot is beginning to wane with age. Hopkins was sent sprawling to the canvas, where he remained in apparent agony for minutes, when Jones tagged him with rabbit punches (shots that land to the back of the head, which is a foul) in the sixth and eighth rounds of their otherwise uneventful rematch last April. Hopkins went down from a right hand to his ear in the first round of the Pascal fight. He complained that the punch was to the back of his head but it was a borderline shot. Hopkins went down again in the third round when Pascal connected with a left hook directly to the chin.
Conditioning: Both fighters are fanatical about their conditioning. Pascal gears his training towards strength and explosiveness while Hopkins’ preparation stresses strategy and stamina, 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, who turned 46 in January, is well preserved 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. Hopkins, who fought in 23 consecutive middleweight title bouts from December of 1994 to December of 2005, has gone 432 rounds since turning pro in 1988. Pascal, who has been a pro for 5½ years and has only engaged two tough bouts (versus Froch and Hopkins), has only logged 194.
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 cousin Karl Dargan to a 2007 Pan-Am Games gold medal) and elite professional fighters that include Shane Mosley and Steve Cunningham.
Outcome: Spurred on by his hometown crowd and the early success he had in their first bout, Pascal will start fast and look to connect with hard head shots. However, the young champ’s zeal and lack of defensive technique will combine to allow Hopkins to score with jabs, counter right hands, and one-two combinations to the body whenever he lunges in with lead power punches in the early rounds. Hopkins will attempt to apply his rough and swarming brand of pressure earlier than he did in the first fight, thus pressing the action beginning in the fourth round. Hopkins will have success as Pascal allows himself to be pinned along the ropes where the grizzled veteran works him over in rounds five and six. However, the hometown hero will bring the capacity crowd to its feet when he connects with a hook to the chin (off the ropes) that drops Hopkins to the seat of his pants at the start of the seventh round. The wily former two-division champ will grab and mug Pascal in order to survive the round and resume his holding tactics in the eighth. The crowd will boo and the referee will warn Hopkins of the excessive holding but the middle-aged fighter will succeed in frustrating and wearing down his younger adversary. By the start of the ninth, Pascal will be visibly tired and an inspired Hopkins will seek to take full advantage of the champ’s fatigue by resuming his attack. The two will engage in numerous exchanges during the final three rounds. Pascal will land the cleaner power punches, but Hopkins, will put his put together body-head combinations as he marches forward and connect with more shots. Hopkins will be docked a point for his trademark roughhouse tactics during a clinch in one of the final rounds that puts the outcome of the bout in doubt even though most ringside observers believe the old man did enough to earn a decision.
Prediction: Hopkins by close by unanimous, perhaps majority, decision.