Significant mind games have entered the equation for this weekend's matchup between light heavyweights Jean Pascal and Bernard Hopkins.
Mind games are nothing new for the old mummy from Philly. This is the same guy who twice snatched a miniature Puerto Rican flag out of the hand of Felix Trinidad, once in San Juan. The same cranky fella who made a "cash in a duffel bag" side bet with William Joppy that he'd stop the former middlweight belt-holder, or pay him out 2-to-1. And the mischief took a turn for the comical when Hopkins blew up during the promotion for his bout with Joe Calzaghe, accusing British press of racism. We've come to expect the pre-fight antics from the old man.
Now, despite these attempts at sending the atmosphere surrounding the fights into chaos, and some desperate efforts during fights (feigning low blows and rabbit punches, excessive grappling, talking to opponents, etc.), Hopkins has largely looked flat and boring in his last few outings, win or lose.
Regardless, I've been confused by Team Pascal's decision to take on Hopkins since the day it was announced, not long after a big win over Chad Dawson that essentially saw the Haiti-born Pascal catapult himself to the top of 175 lbs.
Aside from the fact that Hopkins hasn't exactly been spitting out scintillating performances lately - or even just more than one performance a year for that matter, the 45-year old stays in the gym and has taken care of his body like very few fighters do. Even as Pascal's surprising out-maneuvering of the likely pound-for-pound level Dawson showcased the Montreal transplant's handspeed, adept footwork and ability to stick to a gameplan, the younger man still appeared to expose a few flaws for Hopkins to feed on.
Chad Dawson appeared to land well on Pascal when he actually threw shots in their August fight, but Jean consistently led and finished exchanges, using his relatively unorthodox footwork and in-and-out movement to nail Dawson with punches from odd angles that snapped the head of Dawson back and surely wooed the crowd. But as with a couple of other recent fights, Pascal faded down the stretch and his output clearly dropped. Unfortunately for Dawson, he didn't seem to be interested in rallying to keep his belt, taking his game to another level in potentially dire circumstances.
As many of us already know, Hopkins is a master at identifying his opponents' weaknesses and exploiting them all night long. And at his best, Hopkins is a late-rounds fighter. Once there, he's generally already set himself up to make a late round push with a generous heap of inside smothering, hip shots and forearms. Add on that Pascal's not-so-busy style means one less problem for Hopkins to solve, and it could spell a drawn-out disaster for Pascal on Saturday night in Quebec City.
As if I haven't helped to exaggerate Hopkins' chances enough, here's a video of a presser held today where Hopkins takes Pascal's belt from the mayor and refuses to give it back when Pascal confronts him:
Bernard thrives off this stuff.
It's only fair to point out that Hopkins could literally get old overnight, being that fighting once a year only makes it more likely that we're surprised by a dreadfully shot performance from the guy who promised his dying mother he'd retire before the age of 42. While Pascal doesn't usually throw with the type of volume that would probably put Hopkins on the full defensive and prevent him from finding a groove, he still seems to have a handspeed advantage over the former undisputed middleweight champ. And a punch or two at a time may be enough to take one from Hopkins.
It's an interesting fight, but highly dependent on whether or not Hopkins is past it enough for Pascal to defend his belt. There's no question Jean Pascal isn't on the same level as Hopkins in a handful of facets of the game, but Bernard's output has dropped enough that he's been relying on veteran shenanigans to help him out when he's not dominating.
If Pascal were more precise with his footwork and not quite as sloppy with his upper body movement, I'd cite those as reasons why I feel he'll win. But what Hopkins has lost in foot speed and reflexes, he's made up for in smart positioning. Instead, I think Pascal will outwork Hopkins and be just strong enough to avoid too much inside scuffling. And in a close, potentially ugly fight, Quebec City fans going berserk every time Pascal throws a shot should work in his favor.
Jean Pascal by unanimous decision, 7-5 or so, in a fight we don't want to see again.
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