Jean Pascal vs. Bernard Hopkins: Preview and How Each Man Can Win
Birthplace: Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Resides: Laval, Quebec, Canada
Current World Titles Held: The Ring Magazine, WBC light heavyweight (175 lbs.)
Former World Titles Held: None
Professional Record: 26-1, 16 KOs
Record in World Title Fights: 4-1, 1 KO
Record in Fights Going 12 Rounds: 5-1
Record at 175 Pounds: 5-0, 2 KOs
Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Resides: Hockessin, Delaware
Height: 6' 1"
Current World Titles Held: None
Former World Titles Held: The Ring Magazine, WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO Middleweight (160 lbs.)
Professional Record: 51-5-1, 32 KOs
Record in World Title Fights: 20-2-1, 13 KOs
Record in Fights Going 12 Rounds: 15-4-1
Record at 175 Pounds: 3-2
As the world prepares to flip the calendar forward to 2011, one of the sport's ageless wonders will make one more attempt to turn back the clock. That would be Bernard Hopkins, who will find himself in decidedly hostile territory on Saturday when he journeys north to try to dethrone light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal.
Though born in Haiti, Pascal has made quite a name for himself in his adopted home of Quebec. All but two of his professional fights have taken place on his home turf, including his most recent victory over highly-regarded Chad Dawson four months ago.
Hopkins is no stranger to hostile crowds, though this is his first trip to Canada in his long and illustrious career. It may be a bit cliche to say that Hopkins has forgotten more about boxing than Pascal has ever known, but the 45 year old has almost as many rounds under his belt in world title fights as his younger foe has as a pro.
Pascal need only ask Kelly Pavlik if he needs any convincing that Hopkins can teach boxing lessons to the unprepared. Yet the former undisputed middleweight champ finally started looking his age at times in his last two outings, and his two losses to Jermain Taylor provide proof that younger, stronger fighters can beat him even if they can't match him in pure pugilistic skill.
If there's an upset in the making, it may be if either man ends up winning by knockout. Pascal has some pop but is not an especially feared KO artist, and Hopkins has yet to stop anyone fighting above 160 pounds.
In the likely event the fight goes to the scorecards, it's worth noting that the bout is taking place in Quebec City and not Montreal. That may sound like a relatively small geographical distinction, but it should still help reassure those who have questioned some of the controversial decisions that have taken place in the latter city over the last few years.
Both men prefer to fight in spurts, and neither is known for aesthetically pleasing displays of the sweet science. But while the Pascal-Hopkins clash may indeed live up to every meaning of that word, it still has a chance to be intriguing.
Pascal's Winning Strategy: Move Around and Hit Hard
The key to beating Hopkins at his current age would seem to be to overwhelm him with punches. Though he's a master tactician, he's lost at least a half-step, and his slick counters aren't much use if he's forced to continually cover up.
Even though Pascal has very fast hands, simply out-working opponents isn't his game. He prefers to throw combinations while fighting off the ropes or jumping in suddenly in the middle of the ring, and he definitely picks his spots.
Pascal's legs may be his best weapons against Hopkins, both offensively and defensively. He'll need to hop inside of his foe's longer arms to get off his strong hooks and uppercuts, and he'll want to stay mobile late in the fight in case Hopkins comes looking for him to win the late rounds.
And while Pascal probably won't want to swing for the fences trying for an unlikely knockout, he will want to make his punches count. Hopkins is more prone to taking flush shots than he was even a few years ago, and landing more power shots will be important since The Executioner is likely to score with many more jabs.
Hopkins' Winning Strategy: Control the Distance and the Pace
Pascal was already fighting at super middleweight or above back when Hopkins was still the undisputed middleweight champ, so it may come as a bit of a surprise that B-Hop is taller and has longer arms. Don't think The Executioner won't keep that in mind right from the opening bell on Saturday night.
In terms of fundamentals, there's no question that Hopkins has the edge, and few aspects of boxing are as fundamental as the jab. Look for Hopkins to make his jab a prominent part of his arsenal, both to score points and to stay outside of Pascal's comfortable punching distance.
Hopkins is also a master of effective (some would say dirty) in-fighting, so he won't be completely opposed to engaging in some exchanges at close range. He just won't want to spend the whole night in a phone booth with someone 17 years younger, so he'll be well served to limit those times to just once or twice a round to make sure he can go the distance.
Earlier this year, Hopkins found success against an aging Roy Jones Jr. in a fight where neither man wanted to throw continuous punches. Pascal is much younger and more dangerous, but if Hopkins can fight him in a similar manner, he just might add one more world title to an already impressive resume.
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