It was inevitable. As the rounds added up and Bernard Hopkins continued putting on the pressure, landing combinations and shutting down Jean Pascal's offense, the thought crept in: Is he going to be able to get a decision here in Montreal?
We all know the answer. The problem Hopkins has now that the rematch is officially on is can he improve on his performance? Can he leave no doubt?
Early on, it looked like Hopkins was in serious trouble, possibly on his way to being stopped. His usually stout defense and balance were missing; he was dropped twice, seemingly by shots that he should have been able to stay up for. He was hesitant and ineffective offensively.
It was only after about five rounds, with his uncanny ability to adjust, coupled with the fact that he may have the best trainer in the world in Nazim Richardson, that he started to change the fight.
Of course, after he did adjust, he was spectacular. Pascal's left hook, which was finding its mark with frightening regularity early on, was completely shut down. Hopkins baited and then countered Pascal, rendering him a confused and gun-shy fighter. Pascal met the REAL Bernard Hopkins.
It's not really surprising that Hopkins started slow and then came on at the end. He seems to be content with saving some energy up in those middle-aged bones until the last part of the fight. His problem on the night he fought Pascal was that it is extremely hard to survive multiple knockdowns (clean or not) and come out with a decision. Compound that with the fact that the fight was in Pascal's backyard, and the odds were horribly stacked against B-Hop.
Now that he is getting a well-deserved rematch, can he come out firing early instead of in the middle rounds? Has he figured out Pascal enough that he can dominate the entire fight? What about Jean Pascal, who in the first few rounds looked better than any fighter against Hopkins in recent memory?
Pascal has loads of talent. He's obviously equipped to beat Hopkins. But does he have the will, the fortitude to step on the gas full throttle for all 12 rounds? He took stretches of the fight against Chad Dawson off, which made the fight closer than it should have been, as Dawson looked like a fighter whose pre-fight regimen involved eating an enormous turkey and shooting some heroin.
Against Hopkins, Pascal looked like the older fighter at the end. He needs to find a way to land accurately with the left hook again, as he did so well early on in the first fight. He needs to find a way to outwork the old guy, to force the fight and pressure Hopkins enough to make him uncomfortable.
Hopkins may have given his last great effort. At his age, getting old overnight isn't just a danger—it's inevitable. But if you were Jean Pascal, would you count on it?