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A pretty fierce debate was waged after Jean Pascal sprung a call for pre-fight drug screening on Bernard Hopkins at their March 28th press conference in Montreal, and Hopkins finally snapped after absorbing the Canadian's verbal abuse, resulting in a shoving match between the men who will fight a sequel to their December clash on May 21.
Some folks gave Pascal props for "getting into Hopkins' head," getting under his skin, making the crafty vet, who is 99% of the time the one doing the under-the-skin-burrowing, lose his cool. I myself gave this round to Pascal, as I didn't recall any press conference skirmish occurring when Hopkins wasn't the ringleader, the one responsible for stirring up the pot to a mad boil.
But after talking to the 46 year old hitter on Tuesday afternoon, I've changed my tune, for two reasons.
First, as Hopkins pointed out, nobody should be carelessly throwing around accusations, or insinuations, as Pascal did ("Take the test! take the test!") in Montreal. Without proof--and I mean true proof, not suspicion, based on what one expects a 46 year old man, or a little Filipino chap who has rocketed up the weight class ladder like a Tomahawk missile, should look like in the squared circle--folks would be best served to keep their suspicions to themselves.
"I think it's a copout for guys to say it without having proof," Hopkins told me. "My company is getting sued for it, that's a matter of public record. You can't say it without having proof to say something. My lawyers know how they'll handle (the Pascal accusation)."
So I stand corrected. Even if I think Pascal did well to get under Hopkins' skin, the method he used was foul, and out of bounds.
In chatting more with Hopkins, my take on the Pascal trash talk episode veered even more. Hopkins told me that he intends to pull a Muhammad Ali, and make "Pascal apologize in the ring" for insinuating that he used banned substances to get an unfair advantage. You might recall Ali took his time against Ernie Terrell in the Astrodome in their Feb. 6, 1967 fight. Terrell in the buildup to the fight had continued to call the Greatest "Clay," though he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali three years before. During the bout, Ali kept yelling, "What's my name?" as he raked the 6-6 underdog with snappy pokes. Yes, it appears that while Pascal might have gotten a momentary charge from causing Hopkins' blood pressure to rise, he may just have handed helped Hopkins an extra dose of motivation as he gets into the heart of his training camp.
"He didn't get me heated, he motivated me," Hopkins told me. "He woke the lion up. He was walking past the lion with piece of steak in his pocket. Red meat.
"I'm already in his head. It's reverse psychology. If he thinks I'm on something maybe he's saying it so he can take something himself. He's thinking, 'Is he or isn't he?' He's in denial about how the first fight went."
I mentioned that I've been surprised to hear Pascal defend his outing, that he didn't seem to be questioning his strategy in the first fight, and admitted that if I were a betting man, I'd be leaning that much harder towards Bernard in the rematch, because I need to hear Pascal at least consider that his plan went awry in the middle of the bout. In my inexpert opinion, I told Hopkins that it seems wise to me if Pascal tried to adopt a volume strategy in the rematch, make the older man work his tail off, and hope he acts his age. "If he fights like Calzaghe did, Pascal will get tired in fifth round and get knocked out," Hopkins answered. "He's muscled, built up. His muscles get depleted later in the fight. If I keep pace with you and you do run out of gas, I will beat you down, I will methodically beat you down and take your heart away."
As I told Hopkins, I believe. I will never again predict against him, not even if he decides he wants to test a Klitschko at age 50.
Finally, congrats go out to Bernard and his missus. She is pregnant, and due May 5.