Hopkins brimming with confidence as second shot at history looms
It is a record that figured to stand the test of time, like Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak or Jerry Rice's 274 straight games with a reception.
George Foreman was 45 years old, a grandfather, when his heavy right hand put Michael Moorer down in 1994, ending Moorer's brief title reign and making Foreman the oldest world champion in the history of the sport.
Yet here is Bernard Hopkins, 46 years young and poised to put Foreman's record on mothballs. There will be an 18-year age gap between Hopkins and Jean Pascal when the two step in the ring to fight for Pascal's WBC light heavyweight title at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Saturday (10 p.m. ET, HBO). But that same gap was there last December, when Hopkins battled Pascal to a hotly contested draw.
Hopkins believed he won that fight but has learned from it, moved on. He calls Pascal a four-round fighter and insists he doesn't have the stamina to bang with him for 12. He talks about delivering a "Willim Joppy-type beatdown" on Pascal, a nod to his one-sided demolition of the former middleweight champion in 2003.
"It would probably be better for Pascal to get knocked out than take a 12-round beating," Hopkins said. "We know that ... most of the young fighters that were in the ring with me for more than eight to 10 rounds weren't the same after that."
There isn't a trace of doubt in Hopkins' voice, not a single dent in his confidence. "Clean living" is how Hopkins answers questions about how he has fought back Father Time, though you can throw slick defense, high intelligence and a maniacal work ethic in there, too. Hopkins has a trainer, Naazim Richardson, but really he trains himself. He runs, hits the bag and dissects film with very little assistance. "I basically run my own thing," Hopkins said. A Clubber Lang in a sport full of Ivan Dragos.
Hopkins has carved out a 23-year career with an ability to avoid punishment. But against Pascal, he promises to invite it. No clutching, no grabbing, no making the referee work, Hopkins says. The flaw in Pascal is that he can't fight backing up, Hopkins told reporters, and he intends to make him do just that.
"I'm going to bring on some Philadelphia fight to that town and that ring in Montreal," Hopkins said. "I'm going to press and I'm going to back him up. I'm going to make him fight, that's why this fight is going to be one of the best fights that HBO has had on World Championship Boxing. I know they're going to do major ratings because it's going to be a fight that people are going to talk about."
Winning big, in fact, may be the only way for Hopkins to win at all. Once again he will venture into Pascal's backyard, where 18,000-plus fans will roar with every Pascal punch and nonchalantly sniff at Hopkins combinations. Judges are supposed to be unbiased but they are human, too. A couple of shots by a hard-charging Pascal may carry more weight than a well-timed flurry by Hopkins.
"Understand, these fights generally are not won by decisions," Foreman said. "In the latter rounds he should look for a knockout, like I did. There was no way I could have been in the record books without that one-two knockout punch. Bernard Hopkins, he's got it, but he's going to have to get it by way of knockout."
Knockouts aren't Hopkins' style -- his last KO came nearly seven years ago -- and there is a danger in being too aggressive. Pascal put Hopkins down twice in the first four rounds in the last fight and, had his conditioning been better, might have been able to finish the job. Presumably he has worked harder, is more prepared to go the distance. If Hopkins exposes his chin too often, there is a good chance Pascal will find it.
Hopkins isn't concerned. He believes he is in Pascal's head and, come Saturday night, he will have many opportunities to hit it. A win would set up a showdown with the winner of the undercard fight between Chad Dawson and Adrian Diaconu and, from there, lucrative matchups with Lucian Bute and the winner of Showtime's Super Six tournament await. The man who once promised his mother he would retire at 40 could easily be active at 50.
"You can't sneeze at knowledge that comes with time," Hopkins said. "Especially from a person that craves knowledge and that's me. I just take it as [Pascal] is really scared to death but in the same token, because of ignorance, he can be extremely dangerous. So, I do not underestimate him. I do not look at it as an easy fight. I look at it as a scared, young guy who is high on himself and he wants to be great, but he doesn't want to pay the time."