by David P. Greisman
He head butts, seemingly unintentionally, definitely otherwise. He crashes the point of his hip into his opponent’s body before initiating a clinch. He punches his opponent’s legs while the referee stands on the opposite side.
Bernard Hopkins knows the tricks. He also knows the trade.
He is a technically proficient fighter whose timing is still there on offense, whose reflexes are still there on defense, who does all the little things that add science to the simple premise of hit and don’t get hit. He is tough. He is strong.
He is smart.
For all of his physical abilities, it is Hopkins’ mental game that has made him victorious, a lock for the Hall of Fame with more than 50 wins, with a run that saw him win a title belt at 160 pounds in 1995 and not relinquish it for a decade until 20 fights later, with a career that has included championships won at middleweight and light heavyweight.
It is his mental game that has made him durable, a 46-year-old man who can compete and defeat men two decades his junior in large part due to his conditioning and his strategy. He knows he must approach each training camp with discipline and dedication, and he knows that he must approach these fights differently than he would have when he was younger.
It is his mental game that has made him the oldest man ever to win a legitimate world championship, a distinction that came with his rematch win over top 175-pound fighter Jean Pascal.
He did it in the ring with his tricks and his trade, his skills and his smarts. But before then, he’d won this bout with the mental game outside of the ropes.
Bernard Hopkins won with table talk. He won with what he said, with confidence in concentrated bursts from the dais at press conferences promoting the fight, and with verbal jabs unleashed in a spoken salvo at a small table that HBO had set up for a filmed face-off with Pascal the network had shot in advance of the bout.
On the surface, Hopkins was breaking down what had happened in the first fight between himself and Jean Pascal. Between his lines, he was breaking Pascal’s façade down weeks before the first punch in their rematch had even landed.
Pascal had landed the first big shots in their first bout, knocking Hopkins down in the first and third rounds. Hopkins had come back and taken control down the stretch. The fight, however, would be scored a majority draw, with two of the three judges seeing the action even.
Pascal didn’t argue the result and accepted a rematch, willing to work for a different outcome the second-time around. Hopkins reminded him that the first fight still mattered. Sure, Pascal had shown that he could hurt Hopkins. But those two knockdowns didn’t deliver him to victory. Hopkins called Pascal a four-round fighter, a derogatory description in an era of title bouts scheduled for a maximum of 12.
“It’s not what happened, it’s what happens next,” Hopkins said at the face-off with Pascal, looking intensely across the table. “And what happened next is you bitched. You ran. You didn’t fight.
“I forced the fight, and from the fifth round to the 12th round I was in your ass and you was ready to quit and you was blowing and puffing and went to your corner like a rag doll, done, defeated and knew that you lost the fight. I guarantee that you won’t be able to do it because you don’t have it in you.”
Pascal had reached the top due to his power and speed. In the first bout with Hopkins, though, the cards didn’t turn out in his favor. He had already gotten a good idea in that first fight of what Hopkins would be bringing to the ring in the rematch. And while Pascal still had confidence in his hands, Hopkins had instilled some doubt in him.
The best boxers hold themselves in supreme esteem. No one can be better, and that is why post-fight interviews are often laden with excuses.
Before the first Hopkins fight, Pascal had beaten all but one person in his pro career, and at light heavyweight he had gone undefeated and ascended to the top. For a man nearly two decades his senior to fight him to a draw wasn’t only unexplainable – it was unnatural.
“It’s not me. It’s the fans asking: Are you willing to take the test?” Pascal asked Hopkins at one press conference several weeks before the fight.
Pascal was insinuating, less than subtly, that Hopkins could only have given him trouble in their first fight due to the use of performance enhancing drugs – not the tricks, trade, skills and smarts that others have credited for Hopkins’ success deep into his 40s.
Pascal had signed a contract for this rematch without insisting on extra drug testing. It was an attempt at a mind game, to bolster his own confidence and to get under Hopkins’ skin.
The premise ate at Pascal more than it ate at Hopkins.
“You’re a fucking cheater,” Pascal said at the press conference. “You’re a cheater.”
Pascal had given a crucial tell. Hopkins’ pre-fight talk, meanwhile, wasn’t bluffing.
Hopkins knew what he had in hand for Pascal. He said what he did to Pascal in the first fight, and then he did what he said he’d do in the second fight.
Pascal didn’t fight much in the first two rounds, landing 10 punches out of 69 thrown. He was hesitant as a continuation from how his first run-in with Hopkins had ended, and there was also Hopkins’ usual ability to shut down his opponent’s offensive effectiveness.
Hopkins did even less in those two rounds, landing six of 38. He out-landed Pascal in the third round, a reminder that he hadn’t gotten old in the interim, that a difficult and potentially long challenge was still ahead.
Pascal appeared to hurt Hopkins in the fourth with a looping right hand to the neck. From there, from that fourth round beyond, Hopkins asserted control.
In his losses to Jermain Taylor and Joe Calzaghe, Hopkins had minimized their landed punches but had been too frugal himself, falling behind on the scorecards. Against Pascal, Hopkins landed more punches than his opponent from the third round through the 12th and threw more punches than him in all but two of those rounds.
Hopkins made Pascal question himself outside of and within the ring. His feints had Pascal reacting rather than attacking, and his leads – straight rights, looping rights, jabs, quick flurries – left Pascal uncertain of what would come and when.
Pascal had a few moments, but they were short-lived, and the chips – and points – were quickly stacking against him.
Hopkins landed 131 punches, or about 11 per round, to Pascal’s 70, or about six per round. He landed more power shots, 80, to Pascal’s 51. And, most important, he won more rounds, getting tallies of 116-112, 115-114 and 115-113 from the judges at ringside.
It didn’t even seem as close as that.
Bernard Hopkins’ physical feats in the first fight had allowed for his mental game to be played out against Jean Pascal prior to their second bout. That mental game, in turn, allowed for Hopkins’ to beat Pascal in the rematch.
The 10 Count
1. Timothy Bradley refusing to agree to fight Amir Khan is one more reason why networks should buy fights, not fighters.
What has HBO gotten for its money so far?
Bradley vs. Luis Carlos Abregu. Bradley vs. Devon Alexander. And no Khan-Bradley despite that being the desired end result of millions of dollars in money invested over the years.
HBO had brought Bradley into the fold not just because he was making a name for himself at junior welterweight, but also apparently for an unofficial but de facto tournament of the best 140-pound fighters: Khan, Marcos Maidana, Bradley and Alexander.
Now HBO has treated Bradley to the lobster on the first two dates and has found out that it won’t get a third date with him unless it pays for the Kobe steak.
2. If Bernard Hopkins really wanted to heel it up in Montreal, rather than enter to the ring to a recording of himself singing a modified version of “My Way,” he could have come out to the tune of South Park’s “Blame Canada.”
3. Fighters get punched in the head. Fighters take damage. Fighters get knocked out. These are the brutal facts of the otherwise sweet science.
The problem is when fighters have taken too many punches to the head.
Or when fighters have taken too much damage.
Or when each subsequent knockout is more frightening than the one that preceded it.
Roy Jones’ one-punch stoppage loss against Antonio Tarver was the beginning of his downfall.
Jones being knocked out cold against Glen Johnson was scary.
Jones’ legs short-circuiting in the first round technical knockout loss against Danny Green was worrisome.
And Jones being rendered unconscious in the final seconds of a fight with a cruiserweight named Denis Lebedev was hard to watch.
This kind of progression was enough for Jermain Taylor to hang up his gloves, even though his knockout losses came to three upper-tier opponents in Kelly Pavlik, Carl Froch and Arthur Abraham.
Lou DiBella releasing Taylor from his promotional contract might’ve helped provide the push for Taylor to step away from the ring.
Someone close to Roy Jones needs to have a long, honest talk with him, and soon.
4. The drama of a fight can be more important than the action in a fight.
Chad Dawson landed more punches on Adrian Diaconu in 12 rounds than Bernard Hopkins and Jean Pascal landed on each other combined over the duration of their bout – 240 to 201.
The same holds true in the category of power punches – 157 to 131.
Everyone is talking about Hopkins beating Pascal. And many are trying to forget the sight of Dawson defeating Diaconu.
5. The HBO commentators brought up the perceived lack of intensity on Dawson’s part, the fact that he seemed to be handling Diaconu easily but never truly picked up the pace so he could dispatch of his opponent.
It’s also possible that Dawson was trying to put in rounds after a nine-month layoff and with this being just his first fight under new trainer Emanuel Steward.
Dawson was done in by the curse of living up to expectations. His tremendous talent is perceived as such that should allow him to stop Diaconu. But when Dawson began to open up, Diaconu was able to hurt him.
As we saw with Andre Ward’s fight with Arthur Abraham, steady offense and safe defense can be necessary when your foe isn’t throwing much beyond unconventional, powerful blows.
Dawson-Diaconu still wasn’t entertaining. It was a sparring session with one clearly superior fighter putting in work.
6. Did we really just make it through a week without another legal case being filed against Floyd Mayweather Jr.?
7. Boxers Behaving Badly: Former welterweight title challenger Michael Jennings has been charged with assault following an alleged incident with his girlfriend, according to British newspaper The (Chorley) Citizen.
Jennings, 33, has a court appearance scheduled for this Friday.
He is 36-3 with 17 wins by way of knockout. His last fight was in September 2010, a fifth-round stoppage loss to Kell Brook. On American shores, he’s best known for another fifth-round stoppage loss, this one to Miguel Cotto in February 2009.
8. Manny Pacquiao showed how he’d take on a tall fighter such as Paul Williams by flooring lanky comedian Daniel Tosh with a single right hook on a recent episode of Comedy Central show Tosh.0.
“Jackass: The Movie” had Butterbean vs. Johnny Knoxville. Tosh.0 had Pacquiao vs. Daniel Tosh. But “Jackass” did it first and did it better.
Meanwhile, what’s the irony in Tosh touching gloves with Pacquiao before being knocked down and then hugging him afterward? It was like the Shane Mosley fight all over again…
9. Dear Michael Buffer:
“Mesdames et Messieurs” is “Ladies and gentleman.” That’s not what you said, and that very much confused (and amused) the French teacher who was watching Pascal-Hopkins 2 with me.
What you said was “Mesdames et mes soeurs,” which translates to an important difference:
“Ladies and my sisters.”
10. Actual headline from respected news outlet Agence France Presse last week: “Philippine champ Pacquiao leads anti-condom fight.”
Oh, Manny, Manny, Manny…
You’re a boxer. Whatever happened to protect yourself at all times?
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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