By Lyle Fitzsimmons
MONTREAL – Rumors of an imminent doomsday had been greatly exaggerated.
But you’d have never known from the somber post-fight mood at the Bell Centre Saturday, as hometown hero Jean Pascal was separated from his world title belts – if not his existence – when Bernard Hopkins scored a razor-thin unanimous decision in their light heavyweight rematch.
The announced crowd of 17,560 set a record for an indoor boxing event in the city.
The two had fought five months earlier in Quebec City, where Pascal, a transplanted Haitian, escaped with a majority draw to retain his WBC and IBO championships, in spite of a widespread feeling at ringside that Hopkins, then 45, had done enough to rally from two early knockdowns.
He finished the job in the eyes of the judges in the encore – which had no knockdowns, but several ebbs and flows – winning verdicts of 115-113, 116-112 and 115-114 in what will likely be viewed a midterm candidate for fight of the year.
BoxingScene.com also gave it to Hopkins, 115-113 – or 7-5 in rounds.
“I didn’t feel like I was 46 tonight. I felt more like 36,” Hopkins said. “I think there are more great fights left in me. Like an entertainer in his last performance, you’ve got to give it all you’ve got.
“I give you breathtaking.”
The win earned Hopkins the WBC crown at 175 pounds and made him the oldest fighter to win a widely recognized world championship – surpassing the mark a 45-year-old George Foreman had established when he KO’d heavyweight belt-holder Michael Moorer in 1994.
Hopkins did not, however, capture Pascal’s IBO title. He refused to pay the Florida-based organization’s pre-fight sanctioning fee, and, as a result, its championship will be declared vacant.
“Bernard fought a great fight and he’s a great champion,” Pascal said. “I’m a young fighter and I’m green. I was a young champion and these two fights will lead me to the next level.”
The drama was stoked through pre-fight run-up as the Philadelphian, now 46, insisted he’d show he had enough left in the tank to outduel foes far younger.
Pascal, now 28, was just 6 when Hopkins turned pro in 1988.
Atmosphere outdid action in the opening round, with the crowd’s initial chant of “Let’s Go Pascal” and follow-up rhythmic soccer melodies far outpacing the feel-out process between the fighters. Pascal initiated what amounted to an exchange late in the round, lunging in with looping right hands.
Pascal was more effective in pressing his foe in the second, driving Hopkins to the ropes and landing a left jab, right hook combination that landed – albeit not devastatingly – to the Philadelphia’s chin.
An overhand right from Hopkins at the halfway point of the third instantly changed momentum and prompted an obviously wobbled Pascal to hold through several attempted follow-up shots. Hopkins landed another right hand after a jab with 30 seconds left and split Pascal’s gloves with yet another in the final 10 seconds, elicit the first “B-Hop” chant of the night.
Pascal responded in a big way in the fourth, winning the early part of the round with effective flurries and movement before sending Hopkins reeling toward the ropes with a combination in the final 10 seconds.
A “Hopkins sucks” chant erupted in the fifth after Pascal continued effective work along the ropes and seemed willing to mix it up with the ornery veteran in the clinches.
Hopkins appeared frustrated to begin the sixth but finished with a flourish, scoring with a wide overhand right with five seconds left and briefly following Pascal to his corner at the bell. Pascal turned and met the stare, however, which immediately reenergized the crowd.
Another big overhand right from Hopkins punctuated the seventh and clearly impacted Pascal, though he responded to the crowd’s delight with a shake of the head and a wiggle of the hips. The two each missed wide rights at the bell and Pascal slipped to the floor from the momentum.
The Hopkins surge continued in the eighth with two more big rights at the 90-second and two-minute marks overriding an effective looping left that Pascal managed to land in the final 30 seconds.
Pascal looked close to regaining control through the opening half of the ninth before he was greeted this time with a nice left hand after Hopkins stepped in. Another signature overhand followed with 15 seconds left and was punctuated with a left hook off the hopes just before the bell.
The incumbent champ appeared in jeopardy at two instances in the 10th, when he was nearly driven to the canvas by right hands, though he indicated that he’d slipped. He scored with a left at the end of the round, but appeared tired upon reaching his stool after the round and in the 11th.
The final round was the fight’s most dramatic and best, with Pascal again looking beaten before landing a big right hand of his own that drove Hopkins to the ropes midway through. The challenger threw three jabs and body shot in response, but Pascal again got the better in the final 30 seconds.
“Trust me,” Hopkins said. “I won’t leave this game punch drunk, beat up or broke.”
On the undercard:
• The sequel was far better than the premiere for Chad Dawson. Fighting for the second straight time in Quebec’s signature city – site of his lone professional loss nine months ago – the New Haven light heavyweight roared back into title contention with a unanimous 12-round decision over fellow former champion Adrian Diaconu.
Dawson, who held the WBC’s belt at 175 pounds before later becoming the IBO’s recognized kingpin, reigned as the consensus No. 1 in the division until he was toppled by Jean Pascal in a desultory 11-round performance – lost by technical decision – last August.
He returned to Canada on the undercard of Pascal’s second go-round with veteran Bernard Hopkins and looked far more the part of a world-class competitor, intermittently dominating Diaconu, a transplanted Romanian loudly backed by a majority of the 17,560 fans in attendance.
The two fighters entered with a combined pro record of 56-3 – with all losses at the hands of Pascal.
Dawson swept the cards by scores of 118-110, 117-111 and 116-112.
BoxingScene.com also scored it 116-112 – or 8-4 in rounds – for Dawson.
“I felt good but I made things hard on myself,” said the 28-year-old Dawson, now 30-1, who was accompanied to the ring for the first time by new trainer Emanuel Steward. “I’ve only been with Emanuel for seven or eight weeks, and it takes a while to get used to a new trainer.
“I knew I won the fight.”
Dawson controlled what action there was in a feeling-out first round, sending out flicking right jabs and occasionally unloading with straight lefts that prompted Diaconu to cover up.
He followed the same formula with comparable results in the second, then landed the best punch of the early going – a stinging straight left that hit Diaconu on the forehead and prompted a wobbly step backward – in the final seconds of the round.
The pace lagged enough in the third to prompt the initial series of catcalls from a restless crowd. Dawson opened up slightly in the last 90 seconds, finishing a combination with a body shot and scoring with a clean left underneath Diaconu’s guard.
The local favorite finally got a rise from the fans in the fourth, answering a Dawson right to the body with a counter that drove his foe to the ropes for the first time and was followed by a good inside left that brought a spray of water from Dawson’s head.
Diaconu again started well in the fifth and was able to press the action to a less-active Dawson until the round’s final seconds, when a jolting left sent him to the ropes.
Dawson began jabbing and moving forward again in the sixth and scored well with a few lead lefts as well. He threw a five-punch combo that resulted in one scoring blow about two minutes into the session, then escaped damage when Diaconu tried to roughhouse in clinches late in the round.
A solid straight left backed Diaconu to the ropes and brought groans from the crowd in the first minute of the seventh, which Dawson controlled with effective work off the right jab. Diaconu charged forward but scored little in the final minute, though his replies again prompted fan reaction.
Dawson seemed in full control by the eighth, in which he scored at one point with three straight pawing lefts that were followed by a right to the body and another left in the opening half. He later just missed on a menacing-looking left uppercut against a perpetually charging Diaconu.
Adversity again came Dawson’s way in the ninth when, after controlling the first two minutes, he was caught along the ear by a Diaconu right and had to fight through a follow-up flurry. Though apparently dazed for a moment, he appeared to regain his edge by the close of the round.
Diaconu appeared both fatigued and tactically frustrated in the 10th as reddening alongside both eyes worsened and Dawson landed another straight left that drew groans. Diaconu extended his arms downward with about 30 seconds left and was tagged with a scoring right-left combination.
The pace again slowed dramatically in the 11th, with Dawson seemingly content to jab and Diaconu appearing too tired to rally. Dawson hit the floor on a slip at the 90-second mark and was the better of the two at initiating contact later in the round.
The most sustained action of the fight came in the final round, with each man briefly taking control of the exchanges and the crowd upping its volume in the final 30 seconds. Dawson was able to elude sustained damage, however, and never appeared seriously hurt.
“I never felt anything from him,” Dawson said. “The shots were landing on my gloves.
“I’m happy to be back in the ring and get the rust off. Next time, I’ll be 100 percent better.”
Steward replaced former lead cornerman Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, who was dispatched in the fallout of last summer’s disappointment with Pascal, seen by most as Dawson’s worst performance since arriving on the world stage when he defeated Tomasz Adamek for the WBC title in 2007.
He’d won six straight fights in the interim, including pairs of unanimous decisions over longtime division elites Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson. The dual trips to Canada are his only fights outside the U.S. since a third-round TKO of Jamie Hearn at the M.E.N. Arena in England in 2006.
Diaconu, now 27-3, had dropped decisions to Pascal in June and December 2009.
The 32-year-old had fought once since, winning a 10-round decision over Omar Sheika in October.
• Fan favorite Oscar Rivas scored the sixth win of his pro career in dominant style, dropping Hungarian heavyweight import Zsolt Zathureczky three times to get the TKO at 2:02 of the first round. Rivas, who’ll turn 24 next month, scored his third stoppage while making his third appearance at the Bell Centre and sixth straight in Montreal.
• Junior middleweight Kevin Bizier registered his fifth straight stoppage and his 15th straight win with a fifth-round KO of journeyman Mauro Lucero in their scheduled eight-rounder. Bizier, a highly-decorated Canadian amateur, was delivering a workmanlike beating to his 39-year-old foe for the first four rounds before a headbutt opened a bloody gash over the veteran’s right eye early in the fifth.
• Elieder Alvarez beat a gutty but overmatched David Whittom to a red lumpy mess en route to capturing a one-sided four-round decision in their cruiserweight bout. Alvarez, born in Colombia and a pro for less than two full years, went the distance for just the second time in improving to 5-0. He controlled the action in all four rounds and battered Whittom across the ring in the late stages of the fourth but was unable to register the stoppage.
• Precocious junior middleweight Mikael Zewski added the biggest name to his burgeoning victim list with a third-round KO of trialhorse Ruben Galvan in a scheduled eight-rounder. Zewski, just 22 years old, dropped his 38-year-old foe with a whistling left hook midway through the third, then watched as Galvan got up, reeled to the corner and took a knee for the remainder of the 10-count from referee Alain Villeneuve at 1:44.
• Light heavyweight Nicholson Poulard won his fourth straight bout by pounding out a unanimous 10-round decision over veteran Frankie Santos. Now 17-3, Poulard weathered a storm in the initial few rounds while his 32-year-old foe was trading, but gradually took more of the initiative en route to winning by three shutout counts of 100-90.
• Canadian heavyweight Didier Bence won his second straight as a pro, halting 41-year-old Dwayne Storey in the second round of a scheduled four-rounder in the opening bout of the night.