Hopkins makes history yet again with latest age-defying victory
The record will reflect that 46-year-old Bernard Hopkins became the oldest world champion in boxing history Saturday night, thoroughly dominating Jean Pascal for the light heavyweight title in a unanimous decision.
But the agate type will only tell half the story.
Hopkins not only outpointed, outboxed and outthought the younger champion, but he pulled it off with nearly every intangible breaking against him.
He did it in Pascal's hometown, before a hostile sellout crowd of 17,560 at Montreal's Bell Centre, where many observers thought it'd be nearly impossible for him to win a decision.
He did it despite not one, but
And he did it all fighting against type: eschewing the measured and cautious defensive approach that's become his post-millennial calling card for a more exciting, attacking style.
"I'm going to keep fighting like this until I leave this game and, trust me, I will not be punch drunk, beat up or broke," said a beaming Hopkins during his in-ring interview.
The whole night was vintage Hopkins: from the black executioner's mask he wore during the ringwalk (to his own version of Frank Sinatra's "My Way"), to the penitentiary stare during the final instructions, to the slippery and artful defense that's been the foundation of the Philadelphia icon's improbable Hall of Fame career.
Yes, the scores were close: Rey Denesco of the Philippines had Hopkins winning comfortably (116-112), while Italy's Guido Cavalleri (115-113) and Thailand's Anek Hontongkam (115-114) had it much closer.
But Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 KOs) was clearly the better fighter, just as many had thought when the two battled to a controversial majority draw on Dec. 18 in Quebec City. He outlanded Pascal, 131 to 70, and imposed his will on the Haitian-born champion more effectively as the fight progressed.
This was Hopkins' masterpiece and it's difficult to imagine him ever topping it. Tactics, conditioning, ring generalship, mental fortitude: he was superior in every category. And it came less than a year after many fans and pundits wrote the old man off after a pair of fully deserved but hardly impressive wins over fringe contender Enrique Ornelas and a shopworn Roy Jones Jr.
Pascal (26-2-1, 16 KOs) was simply out of his depth against the slicker challenger, whose notional reputation as greatest thinking-man's fighter of our time is now beyond debate.
The first two rounds saw Hopkins sitting back, waiting for the Pascal's sporadic but consistent bumrushes. Hopkins landed the first big shot of the fight in the third, snapping the champ's head back with a well-timed right hand. Bu Hopkins -- gladly engaging in a young man's fight -- absorbed an even bigger shot near the end of the fourth, prompting an adjustment in strategy from Hopkins and corner man Naazim Richardson.
From the fifth round it was all Hopkins, whose right-hand leads began connecting upstairs with alarming efficiency. As Pascal continued to spend an excessive amount of time on the stool between rounds, Hopkins made sure to probe the mental weakness, doing push-ups during the delay before the seventh. Minutes later, chants of "B-Hop! B-Hop!" could be heard pulsing throughout the pro-Pascal crowd.
Just like their first meeting, Hopkins dominated the latter half of the fight and pulled Pascal to the finish on a rope. In the ninth, Hopkins connected with a quick right hand that wobbled the champ, whose glove brushed the canvas as he righted himself. But John-Lewis didn't rule it a knockdown. A similar but less obvious call was missed in the 10th.
Pascal went down swinging in the final round, knowing he likely needed at least a knockdown to retain his belts. But Hopkins absorbed the champion's best shot and made it to the finish line, where the verdict was merely a formality.
Hopkins is an original -- an unforgettable personality in a sport with no shortage of characters. Who else can name-check Tina Turner and Graterford State Prison during a post-fight interview?
He spent most of his career under the radar, even as he racked up a record 20 straight middleweight title defenses from 1995 through 2005. He didn't cross over into the mainstream until beating Felix Trinidad in 2001, when he was considered too old (at 36!) to upset the flashy Puerto Rican. He didn't make a seven-figure purse until stopping Oscar De La Hoya in 2004.
Hopkins, who reportedly earned $1.5 million for Saturday's fight, had already locked up first-ballot Hall of Fame status before his 40th birthday. Since then, he's managed to surpass Foreman and Archie Moore as the greatest quadragenarian fighter in history.
He's fought 11 times since turning 40, including: a unanimous decision over Howard Eastman to set the division record for title defenses; a lopsided unanimous decision over Antonio Tarver for the
Now it's a win over Pascal -- an opponent
And he's not done yet.
Saturday marked the first bout of Hopkins' three-fight deal with HBO. Next up is most likely a long-awaited showdown with Chad Dawson, the former light heavyweight titlist who won on Saturday's undercard.
"I would love to beat [Lucian] Bute after Chad Dawson, and then I will go on to something bigger and better," Hopkins said. "I will not retire until I get close to 50, that's about four or five years from now."
George Foreman was 45 years and 299 days when he knocked out Michael Moorer to regain the heavyweight title in 1994. Hopkins was 192 days older Saturday in Montreal.
Foreman watched on HBO from his home in Houston as Hopkins eclipsed a record many thought unassailable, even in today's alphabet soup of sanctioning-body titles.
"I was on the edge of my seat every round. It was such an exciting fight," Foreman said. "Bernard was the better athlete, the smarter fighter and in the better condition. Now that 46 has done it, next a 47, 48, 49 and 50 will do it. And if somebody does it at 60 then I'll have to get back in there. Look, Hopkins is doing push-ups. What great conditioning. And he did it in Pascal's hometown. Isn't that something? He was just so much better. I'm happy for Hopkins and I'm happy for mature athletes."
While the whole night felt like the punctuation of a panoramic 23-year career, Hopkins insisted his best is yet to come.
"If you thought tonight was something you ain't seen nothing," Hopkins said. "There's a lot of fight left in me."