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Bernard Hopkins: The End of the Road

By Geno McGahee

This Saturday on Showtime, the 45 year old former Middleweight Champion, Bernard Hopkins, 51-5-1, 32 KO’s, attempts to take the WBC Light Heavyweight Title from Canadian Jean Pascal, 26-1, 16 KO’s, in the champion’s backyard. Pascal is 28 years old and is coming off of his biggest win, a decision over Chad Dawson, a man that had been pushing for a showdown with Hopkins for years.

Out of all the old timers still lacing up the gloves, Hopkins has done the best, altering his style to be competitive with the younger fighters. He has put together three victories since his defeat to Joe Calzaghe in 2008, a fight that some contend that he won, with the biggest win being over an undefeated Kelly Pavlik.

At the time, Pavlik was a huge star in boxing. He worked hard to conquer boxing and had power in both hands and he had back to back wins over Jermain Taylor, a man that had back to back wins over Hopkins. Most thought that Pavlik would easily win, but were just curious to see if he could knock out Hopkins.

In a shocker, the older fighter schooled the younger champion, continually beating him to the punch and avoiding the incoming. The 34-0 power-puncher lost basically every round to the “Executioner,” and Hopkins’ career was rejuvenated. The victory became less impressive when drinking problems and training issues surfaced regarding Pavlik. The victories since Pavlik have been over a mediocrity in Enrique Ornelas and a totally shot Roy Jones, JR.

The majority that I speak with are leaning toward a Hopkins victory over Pascal because of the way that Dawson nearly had him out on his feet before it went to the cards. Hopkins quickly pounced on the opportunity to fight Pascal when he deemed Tomasz Adamek and Dawson too dangerous, or so it appeared. He sees Pascal as an easy mark, but for a 45 year old fighter, he will be anything but.

Pascal’s only defeat on his record was to Carl Froch in 2008. Froch is an incredibly big puncher but Pascal still went the distance in a losing effort. Since that defeat, Pascal has strung together five victories, including the one over Dawson and comes into this fight with a full head of steam.

Bernard Hopkins will need to bank on a knockout win. A close fight will lean toward the hometown fighter, and with the activity of Pascal, I can’t see an older Hopkins out-fighting him. Keep in mind too that Hopkins hasn’t had a knockout win since 2004. Even if Chad Dawson had leveled Pascal, it doesn’t mean anything here. Hopkins winning by stoppage is a long shot.

If you are only as good as your last fight, you have to favor Pascal in this match up. He will need to be more controlled then he was against Dawson, but he has that style. Some laughed at the comparison to a young Roy Jones, JR., but he does have some of the same tactics and style, and one of Hopkins early losses was to a prime Jones, JR.

Pascal will come out and move as Hopkins pursues. The only option at this point for Bernard is to wait for the inevitable clinch and rough up the champion, using the dirty tactics he’s been employing over the years. It is frustrating as a viewer to watch Hopkins foul, but it can’t be frustrating to Pascal. He must keep his head in there was the challenger attempts to rattle him with unsportsmanlike conduct.

Another factor going in the favor of Pascal is that Hopkins has not faced a fighter like him in years. A look at the list of Hopkins opponents tells a story. In 2005, he lost back to back fights to Jermain Taylor. Taylor is a boxer, boxing from the outside. Antonio Tarver, another outside boxer, Ronald Wright…outside boxer, and that is the basic model of all his opponents since Oscar De La Hoya in 2004. I don’t count Roy Jones, JR., because he was a dead man walking when he faced Hopkins. Roy, at his best, was amazing, but is totally shot at this point and was when he lost to Hopkins.

Oscar De La Hoya is a good comparison to Pascal as well. He boxes and moves, picking his spots, and never allowing his opponent to get set. De La Hoya was too small to be effective in the long run against the bigger Hopkins, but he did well initially. Pascal is stronger and a bigger puncher and will employ the same strategy. How will an old Hopkins cope with that?

In this match up, Hopkins will have to become the aggressor and he will, but Pascal is an accurate puncher with power and timing, and there is a great chance that he may not only defeat Hopkins, but will stop him. The stamina of “The Executioner” isn’t what it once was either. He faded horribly against Joe Calzaghe. If he’s not setting the tempo, he will tire badly, and that is what Pascal must do. He must push the old fighter, rattle him with his punches, and then push hard down the stretch to get him out of there.

The win over Dawson was a statement but a knockout win over Hopkins would be a huge success for the current champion. In the end, a decision win for Pascal seems most likely, but it will be interesting to see how it transpires. Can Hopkins deal with the younger, fresher, boxer/puncher, and how does the champion deal with the dirty tactics and puzzling game of the challenger? We’ll find out Saturday night.

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