WBC light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal has the advantage of youth going for him tonight when he tries to frustrate Bernard Hopkins' effort to become the oldest man ever to win a significant world championship when they meet at the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City, Canada. What he doesn't have going for him is history or an understanding of the danger Hopkins can be for a prideful young man not yet aware of what he's gotten himself into.
"I'm the student," Pascal said mockingly of facing Hopkins. "I'm too green to each the teacher. I'm going there with everything to win and nothing to lose. If I lose I'm still young. I can do it again. But if he loses, that's going to be the end. This is it for him." There was some logic in what Pascal, who is more than 17 years younger than the soon to be 46-year-old Hopkins, said. But there was no real perspective.
Surely if he can make Hopkins look bad - or old and decrepit - he might well force his retirement. But Hopkins' record against bold but undereducated young pugilists like Pascal is not merely one of triumph it has been one of destruction.
Hopkins was supposedly already too old in 2001 the night he destroyed Felix Trinidad, leaving him battered on the ropes as Trinidad's father leapt into the ring to save his son from a thrashing in the final round. Trinidad was never the same after that fight.
He was supposedly already too old in 2004 when he stopped Oscar De La Hoya with a body shot and certainly too old to compete with Jermain Taylor, who was handed two controversial decisions against Hopkins but came out of both fights looking like he'd been mugged. Taylor was never the same after those fights.
By 2008, Hopkins was clearly too old when he gave then middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik such a one-sided drubbing he made him look like he had no idea how to box. Pavlik was never the same after that fight either.
That is what Hopkins (51-5-1, 32 KO) can do to young men like Pascal (26-1, 16 KO) if they are too much the student. If the gap in their fistic education is too wide, Bernard Hopkins pushes them into the abyss. That is what Jean Pascal and the people around him should fear most tonight - not simply losing but taking the kind of embarrassing beating that changes forever who you are inside the ring. "I think Pascal has to worry about what I'm bringing to the tableâ€¦which is a whole encyclopedia worth of stuff," Hopkins said. "I fooled a whole lot of people that didn't become champion because of Bernard Hopkins. You've seen the evidence I've left behind in the past." Certainly on the nights Hopkins dismantled Trinidad, Taylor and Pavlik he gave them nightmares from which they never fully awoke. He gave them beatings from which they never quite recovered.
Of course, it is nearly three years since the Pavlik fight and Hopkins has yet to look as dominating since. He lost a split decision to Joe Calzaghe badly, if one can say that when the decision is in dispute, and did not look particularly dominating even in one-sided wins over Pavlik in a rematch and faded Roy Jones, Jr. in his last outing eight months ago.
It is natural to assume that a guy who is trying to pass George Foreman in the record books for fistic longevity by winning the WBC title 28 days before he turns 46 has lost something. There is a growing body of evidence that is the case with Hopkins and frankly how could it not be?
Even Pascal hinted at that sentiment when he said, "Bernard Hopkins says the smartest guy will win. He says he is the intelligent man and I am the idiot. After the fight everyone will know who the dummy is. I'm going out there like the lion, with no pressure. Even if I'm the champion, he's the legend. Bernard has the pressure. A lot of people think Bernard is going to defeat me. He has to back up his history." The implication of Pascal's words is that Hopkins no longer can do that. Without saying as much, Pascal believes Hopkins is a skillful old fighter, emphasis on old. He believes he is dangerous but only if Pascal himself is reckless. If those things don't derail him, Pascal believes, neither will Hopkins.
Hopkins, on the other hand, believes by the end of the fight tonight Jean Pascal will look like a dummy and move like a mummy. Nearly 18 years his senior, Hopkins looks at Pascal and sees a young Canadian who doesn't know what he doesn't know but is about to learn in the harshest lecture hall in the world - the boxing ring.
"I've seen every style," Hopkins reminded. "I've heard everything from a fighter he could possibly say to me. No one ever had to write I got my ass handed to me in any fight out of 60 (professional) fights. That's the facts. The rules are different for me.
"I have faced youth. Pascal hasn't faced someone like me. When he looks in the opposite corner he's going to see greatness." Aging greatness perhaps, but greatness all the same. More importantly Jean Pascal is going to face a guy who forgot more about boxing than he knows. If Bernard Hopkins hasn't forgotten too much, another young student is in for a harsh final exam tonight.