What's left to be said about former middleweight and current light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins 52-5-2 (32)? It's been conveyed in this column for years that Hopkins is the most unique in and out of the ring all-time great in boxing history. His lifestyle, his approach to fighting/boxing, his toughness and his understanding of the sport of boxing in the ring and at the negotiating table far exceeds that of any past fighter or champion. And everything that took place in his title winning effort against Jean Pascal in his last bout further endorses that.
This past weekend Hopkins took apart former title-holder Pascal 26-2-1 (16) in a rematch following the draw they fought five months ago. With his unanimous decision victory, Hopkins at age 46 becomes the oldest professional boxer in history to win a world title. And don't let anyone say Pascal was some sort of cupcake or soft touch. Pascal posses faster hands than Hopkins at this stage and he's a bigger puncher, especially with his right hand. If Pascal was taught how to fight and upgraded his corner he'd be really good. And he'll no doubt be better the next time out due to his 24 rounds spent fighting the professor himself.
Hopkins fought a beautiful fight against Pascal, and like in their first fight, after the fifth round and having been down or shocked a few times, school was in session. After being down by a round after the fifth, Hopkins began to press the fight and disrupt Pascal with a punch that is unconventional for him, the right lead. Landing a right lead is like a hard jab and usually disrupts the opponent and forces him to have to reset. Mix in a few counter left-hooks and Pascal's style of attacking in waves and spurts waves virtually solved. As long as the fighter applying the strategy has a big enough chin to absorb the big counter-right that Pascal sometimes landed in return, everything will be alright. And one thing we know about Hopkins is his chin and toughness are equal to any fighter you'll ever see. Combine that with his boxing aptitude and determination and Hopkins adds another chapter to boxing history and his storied career.
In the next few days and weeks Hopkins will be praised and lauded like he's never been before by others. And that's great and well deserved by Hopkins. However, I've been there and said it all for years and am not a bit surprised by the event or accomplishment.
So I'll pour cold water on the night instead.
The broadcast team of Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman and Emanuel Steward had one of their worst nights. And the three of them had me wanting to mute the volume and watch Hopkins work in peace without sound. However, I enjoy getting annoyed sometimes and left the volume alone. Their bad night started with praising Steward for turning Chad Dawson into Thomas Hearns after spending one training camp working with him.
Before the main event, Dawson fought Adrian Diaconu in a light heavyweight elimination bout. Both Dawson and Diaconu had been defeated by Pascal and were looking forward to fighting the Hopkins-Pascal winner. From the onset of the bout Lampley and Kellerman were praising Dawson for his new found leverage and power. However, by the mid-point of the fight they backed off of saying Dawson was reborn and began saying it'll take Steward more than one fight to bring out Dawson's potential and make him fight with more urgency. Really, I wasn't aware of that, thanks Jim and Max.
Then the main event started and the now team of three (Lampley, Kellerman & Steward) continued insulting our intelligence by trying to tell us that Hopkins changed his style and is now a crowd pleasing attacker in the manner of Matthew Saad Muhammad. Wrong. Hopkins, fully realized that because of Pascal's greater hand speed and power, he couldn't wait on him. In fact waiting on Pascal was too risky for Hopkins and Bernard knew the only way to neutralize Pascal was to disrupt his sporadic attack. Hopkins, by asserting himself and getting off first, re-directed Pascal's wave of sudden punches. And once that happened and Pascal had to think his way through the fight he became desperate, and that's the last thing you want to show Hopkins, because he'll increase the pressure and keep feeding you what you don't want. Once that was the case Hopkins owned Pascal mentally, physically and stylistically. Hopkins saw everything Pascal was throwing or trying to throw. And once he had Pascal looking for the lottery punch the fight was his.
In addition to everything else Hopkins did to unsettle Pascal, thumbing the eyes and kidney punches, remember, he's not going to ruin you just by using the rule book. And the push-ups: Only a superstar has the prerogative to pull a stunt like that. The ref didn't even say anything about it. Imagine a four round fighter trying to pull that nonsense. Hopkins will use any extracurricular device to undo his opponent.
However, the broadcast team of Lampley, Kellerman and Steward were telling the audience that Hopkins at age 46 suddenly realized that boxing fans want exciting fights where fighters take risk, and Hopkins wants to give the fans what they want. How ridiculous is that? Hopkins wants to win and add to his legacy and cash a big check. He could care less if he has to stink the place out or go to war like former light heavyweight hall of famer Matthew Saad Muhammad – as long as he gets what he wants.
Hopkins didn't reinvent himself this past weekend against Jean Pascal. He changed his style and plan of attack because the situation and opponent demanded such. Just a year ago Hopkins was being torched for his rematch with Roy Jones and for it being a terrible fight. The difference is Hopkins couldn't fight Jones the way he did Pascal, because that would've been to Roy's advantage. And you better believe that if, and yes I said if, Hopkins fights Chad Dawson next, the fight will more resemble the type fights we've been seeing from Hopkins over the last decade more so than his last bout with Jean Pascal. And the same applies to a Hopkins-Bute fight. If they meet the fight will be fought at a measured and systematic pace. And no doubt the HBO broadcast team will tell us Hopkins is old and no longer a crowd pleaser.
When Kellerman talked about the “new” Hopkins during the interview, Bernard was quick to jump on the bandwagon. That doesn't mean he actually believes it, but he's smart enough to recognize a good PR pitch when he hears one.
I'll say it now. Hopkins is an old fighter and isn't a crowd pleaser, unless his opponents style dictates that he has to be in order to win. What Bernard has left is intelligence, toughness and conditioning, and with the talent pool being what it is in professional boxing, that's more than enough.