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Pascal vs Hopkins - Fightwriter preview


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If ever there was a youth versus experience fight it’s the one in Quebec City on Saturday when Jean Pascal defends his light-heavyweight title against Bernard Hopkins, with Showtime televising from the sold-out Pepsi Coliseum.


Pascal has the youthful energy and ambition of a 28-year-old champion who sees greatness in his future, but Hopkins, who turns 46 next month, has the wisdom and wiles of a fighter who has been boxing professionally for 22 years and has boxed in many title bouts in three weight divisions.


Hopkins is bidding to become the oldest fighter in ring history to win a world title. (George Foreman, of course, became heavyweight champion at 45 when he knocked out Michael Moorer, which was considered a remarkable achievement.)


Older fighters have made some stirring efforts to defeat Father Time as well as their opponent in the ring.


The fabulous Sugar Ray Robinson was 39 when he fought a 15-round draw with the awkward but strong Gene Fullmer when Sugar Ray attempted to become a four-time middleweight champion.


Old Man Archie Moore — like Sugar Ray one of my all-time favourite fighters — was believed to have been 39 when he made his memorable challenge against heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano, while Larry Holmes was 45 when he lost with honour against Oliver McCall.


Going right back in boxing history, Bob Fitzsimmons won recognition as light-heavyweight champion in 1903, at the age of 40.


Interestingly, when Jersey Joe Walcott became heavyweight champion at the age of 37 the writers of the day were describing him — with affection — as “the old pappy guy”. Now Hopkins tries to become a champion, almost a decade older than Walcott was when Jersey Joe knocked out Ezzard Charles.


It will be considered only a minor upset if Hopkins wins, because he is an astonishing individual, a soon-to-be-46-year-old with the body and sharpness of a much younger man.


Hopkins has earned the right to be called a great fighter. I can’t think of any champion in ring history who has scored as many upsets. Hopkins went into the ring as the clear underdog and came out the winner in big fights against Felix Trinidad, Antonio Tarver, Winky Wright and Kelly Pavlik. He not only won these fights, he outclassed the betting favourites with the possible exception of Wright. In none of his five losses has Hopkins been dominated.


Pascal, though, is in his fine form, having upset the odds against Chad Dawson, stopped veteran Silvio Branco and won two rousing fights against Quebec rival Adrian Diaconu in his last four contests. I believe that Pascal proved he had a good chin when losing on points in a war with Carl Froch, and he showed considerable grit when fighting through the pain of an injured right shoulder to defeat Diaconu in their rematch.


It did concern me when Hopkins seemed to gain a psychological advance at the last press conference in Quebec City, but Pascal was much more assertive at Friday’s weigh-in.


Hopkins must be respected, but I deconstructed his big upset wins in an in-depth preview on the subscription site. They were highly noteworthy victories but perhaps not in all cases as marvellous as they appeared to be.


I wasn’t impressed with Hopkins in his last two fights — the wins over Enrique Ornelas and Roy Jones Jr. I thought that Jones was there to be stopped, but Hopkins fought a shut-the-man-down, fight-in-spurts, type of bout. The way Hopkins collapsed to the canvas three times, complaining about being hit behind the head and hit low, was not what you would expect from a fighter who makes the throat-slitting gesture before his bouts.


Hopkins is a master of psychology and intimidation but I believe Pascal is confident enough in his own ability not to let Hopkins, to use a British expression, “old man” him out of the fight.


I view the taller Hopkins as the superior textbook technician, but Pascal has the speed, vigour and an athletic vitality that can overcome the older man’s measured method.


Pascal can win by jabbing with Hopkins — or, better yet, getting off first with the left hand — and by moving this way and that and darting in with fast punches.


I don’t think that Pascal needs always to be precise. He can pick up points with sudden explosions of activity.


The big danger for Pascal, I believe, is if he lets Hopkins dictate the tempo of the fight. Pascal, I feel, has to make it a young man’s fight, which means being speedy and even a bit showy, and fighting with the self-belief of youth. He must, I believe, keep Hopkins guessing, if he can, and try to put the older man into the position where he starts thinking defensively.


Hopkins can crack with the right hand, as he showed when dropping Joe Calzaghe in the first round and hurting the Welsh fighter in the seventh, but he hasn’t scored a stoppage win in his last nine bouts. I believe Hopkins can hurt Pascal, but the young champion from Quebec can bang a bit too — his overhand rights crumpled the normally durable Branco.


I am expecting Hopkins to pull the tricks we have become accustomed to seeing — the crafty nudges with his head, the punch-and-clinch tactics, the subtle rough stuff in the clinches. I would not be surprised to see Hopkins appealing to referee Michael Griffin about being hit low, or behind the head, anything to catch breathers, disrupt Pascal’s fighting and perhaps have the satisfaction of seeing his opponent get docked a point. It is up to Griffin not to let Hopkins referee the fight, because the old master of the ring will get away with whatever he can.


Interestingly, the odds have tightened this week as money has shown for Hopkins.


I can well understand why those of the gambling persuasion are getting on board the Hopkins train.

Hopkins has all the attributes of a well-balanced professional fighter — the moves and the punches. He is, though, nearer 50 than 40, and I don’t think he can put in the sort of consistent excellence that he will need to win this fight.


It appears to me that, at this stage of his long career, Hopkins is a great fighter for perhaps one minute a round, and I don’t think that will be enough on Saturday night.


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