Leave it to Hopkins to surprise us once again.
What most thought would be either a one-sided ode to youth or an ugly tussle wound up an intriguing and at times entertaining bout at the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City last night.
The immortal Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins appeared to win more rounds than he lost in the fight, but visited the canvas twice early, only managing to salvage a majority draw in a fight many felt he won. The lack of enthusiasm in crying "robbery" perhaps speaks to the old man's inability to entertain and win decisively in recent fights.
But the Philadelphia native supplied most of the entertainment in front of an obviously pro-Pascal crowd last night. Even in tying with Pascal and failing to grab his title (as he did during a recent press conference), Hopkins still put forth maybe his best performance since dominating Antonio Tarver to become the lineal 175 lb. champion.
The aforementioned surprises came early and often, with Hopkins out-working Pascal in the first round, backing the young man up with body shots and attempting to cut off the ring and impose himself physically. Towards the end of the round, Pascal countered one of Hopkins' lunges with a wide right hand that landed on the back of Hopkins' head and put him down. Up almost immediately, Hopkins pleaded his case to referee Michael Griffin, who administered a count regardless. What might have been an even round or one-point round either way likely became 10-8 in favor of Pascal.
Bernard Hopkins had not been legitimately down since, coincidentally, battling Segundo Mercado to a draw in Ecuador 16 years ago.
Both men were a bit more tentative in the 2nd, Hopkins again coming forward, but not landing a lot as Pascal used his legs to maneuver his way out of danger. The 45-year old Hopkins continued to invest in body work, landing a stiff right to the midsection, but was countered by a sweeping hook late in the round.
Round 3 began with Hopkins appearing to be having trouble with Pascal's handspeed, as he was unable to avoid Jean's lead hooks early on. As the fighters flurried on the ropes, Pascal landed another left hook that landed near Hopkins' throat as he tried to defend and Hopkins fell to the canvas for only the third time in his career. Bernard didn't argue with Griffin when he began to count this time, and the old man finally started looking his age. When action resumed, Hopkins stayed away until the 10-second mark, where he proceeded to try and maul Pascal, even after the bell.
The 4th started out as if it were Hopkins' last stand, and he ripped hooks to the body and began landing his own left hook up top, both countering and leading with it well. Pascal looked to be taking a round off, and didn't land much of significance. The 5th stanza was mostly more of the same, though the Haitian-born Pascal clearly threw more than in the previous round and managed to generally keep up, despite fighting Hopkins' fight.
Pascal's overall inactivity and movement about the ring in the 6th was a mixture of nonchalance and a young guy fighting like he already had it in the bag. In reality, Hopkins was turning the tide and narrowing the scorecards with hooks and right hands upstairs and down that pushed Pascal back whether they landed or not. Pascal fought back and landed a left hook in the final moments, but not big enough to snag the round.
In classic Hopkins fashion, the former middleweight champ killed Pascal to the body in the 7th, and Jean didn't do much about it aside from a few whiffed hooks and rights. The old man made a clear statement to open up the second half of the fight, and Pascal's corner implored him to punch more following the round.
The champ did indeed get more active in round 8, keeping up with Hopkins in the clinch - even using the veteran's signature tricks against him at a few points with sneaky punches to the ear and a couple of shots to the hip. The momentum had stalled briefly with a close round.
Given this same situation, Hopkins might have eased up and coasted in other recent fights. But last night he instead opened the 9th round with quick lead right hands and a few hooks, walking into a few hooks himself, but continuing forward. Pascal fought back well and stood his ground a bit more than in previous rounds, but still took a number of body shots flush in close.
Another close round in the 10th could've gone either way, though. Pascal did more than in the middle rounds, but wasn't active enough to clearly take the round and Hopkins went ahead with his plan to rip shots to the body, which continued into the 11th. Pascal fended off a few of Hopkins' rushes, and was even able to land a series of uppercuts on the inside near the end of the round, but still found himself on the wrong end of hard hooks to the body that may have had him hurt.
This interesting affair turned into a dogfight in the opening moments of the 12th and final round, both men winging shots and not letting up. Hopkins landed more to the body, Pascal found success with uppercuts to Hopkins' chest and mouth, but when Pascal would let up and look for room, Hopkins wouldn't relent. Both guys had the crowd on their feet at the final bell, and both men threw more in the last round than any other round of the fight.
"The Executioner" circled the ring following the bell, glaring at just about everyone at ringside, relishing his performance in the last half of the fight and eagerly awaiting a decision he felt he deserved.
As for Pascal, he quietly stood in his corner and had the look of disappointment and frustration.
The first scorecard read 114-112 for Pascal, but the younger man's expression never changed as the crowd booed scores of 113-113 and 114-114 that added up to a majority draw.
In post-fight interviews, both guys said they deserved the decision, though Hopkins plead his case much more convincingly and called for a rematch.
Who believed Hopkins would be able to overcome such a disastrous early going and move on to possibly win every other round from the 4th on? And who thought there would be moments, however brief, where both Hopkins and Pascal would punch it out and make a fight of it?
A case could be made that Pascal won the first three rounds and did enough in maybe 2 or 3 others two warrant a draw, but the real story of the night came from Hopkins, who defied age almost 10 years after he smashed the hourglass to dominate and knock out Felix Trinidad.
If fights were scored on the basis of who did more damage, who attempted to make the action and finish the fight, Hopkins would have easily had his hand raised after 12. But round by round, the early knockdowns made the difference and Hopkins once again found a way to edge himself away from a win he probably deserved.
Pascal walks away with his title and lives to fight another day, but he needs to realize that throwing fewer than 30 punches per round won't help him much in his quest to become Canada's biggest and best fighter.
Nevertheless, it sounds like the old man from Philly plans to munch his multi-vitamins and keep trucking through the sport, more surprises surely in store.
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