New champ Hopkins calls for another Canadian return
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
Montreal, QC (Sports Network) -
One good encore deserves another.
Barely showered, dried and dressed after his stirring defeat of local favorite Jean Pascal before a record fight crowd at the Bell Centre, newly-minted WBC light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins was already floating the idea of a return trip to pursue other popular Canadian quarry.
"I might as well let the cat out of the bag," said Hopkins, in a post-midnight media conference deep in the bowels of an arena that had been packed with 17,560 mostly partisan fans just a while earlier. "I'm going to give you all some shows before I'm done.
"I'm going to remind you all of Ray Robinson and Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles and show you what some old-school boxing can look like."
Hopkins specifically mentioned a match with Lucien Bute, the WBC's 168-pound title-holder who was born in Romania but now resides in Montreal. His appearance on the video screens before Saturday night's main event prompted some of the loudest cheers of the night.
Bute is 28-0 with 23 knockouts in a pro career that began in 2003 and has fought in either Montreal or Quebec City 24 times - including 18 appearances and seven title fights at the Bell Centre.
After the fight Bernard Hopkins was already floating an idea for another one.
The win over Pascal improved Hopkins to 52-5-2 and was his second title victory in three tries at 175 pounds after a multi-year reign as IBF/WBA/WBC/WBO champion at middleweight.
He defeated IBO light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver in Atlantic City in 2006, but settled for a draw in his first meeting with Pascal five months ago in Quebec City.
Now 31, Bute was just 8 years old when Hopkins made his pro debut in 1988.
"I think any city in Canada would support (me). I think I have a lot of fans in Canada," Hopkins said, after a particularly fiery pre-fight run-up to the Pascal rematch and a Saturday night introduction that saw the Philadelphian enter the ring to an adapted version of the Frank Sinatra classic "My Way."
The crowd booed lustily as Hopkins paced in a black executioner's mask then erupted with cheers upon the subsequent arrival of the 28-year-old Pascal, a transplanted Haitian who lives in nearby Laval, Quebec and was appearing in Montreal for the 22nd time in 29 fights.
"I wanted to come to the other guy's hometown, to Montreal, so I could stay focused," Hopkins said. "That's the man in me. That's the courage in me. That means I have to be on my game. I'm not bragging, but how many people do you know who would rise to that challenge? I'm an overachiever."
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Saturday's scorecards were hardly one-sided, but they did put a new spin on the script of Pascal-Hopkins I, in which the younger fighter scored two knockdowns but faded en route to the draw.
Two judges saw the first fight dead even, while a third gave it to Hopkins by two points.
At the midway point of the rematch, Hopkins was ahead by two points on two cards and by one on the third. He stretched those leads to four, five and two points by the end of nine rounds and was able to hold the advantage in spite of losing two of the final three rounds in the eyes of all three judges.
The Sports Network card - while it ended with the same 115-113 verdict as judge Guido Cavaleri - had the new champ down by two points through six rounds Saturday before giving him rounds 7-11 in succession and awarding Pascal the 12th.
Punch-count statistics ultimately validated the scorecards, with Hopkins throwing more (409-377), landing more (131-70) and compiling a better overall connect percentage (32-19).
Hopkins landed 51 of 174 jabs (29 percent) and 80 of 235 power punches (34 percent), compared to Pascal?s 19 of 140 jabs (14 percent) and 51 of 237 power shots (22 percent).
"The way Pascal winds up and swings, if your 11-year-old niece swings like that and hits you you're going to get buzzed," said Naazim Richardson, Hopkins's lead trainer. "He's going for the light heavyweight championship of the Earth on every punch, just closing his eyes and hoping for something good.
"We saw that. So I told Bernard to throw the straight right hand, wipe his nose with the hook and let?s go to the press conference."
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While the ageless wonder angle is getting loads of play with Hopkins eclipsing George Foreman's mark as the sport's oldest world champion, Richardson said he had an inkling many years ago that it was going to be tough to get his man to hang up the gloves.
"We were in Atlantic City for the fight against Simon Brown (in 1998, when Hopkins was 33) and I told his wife, 'I don't know how we're going to retire this guy,'" Richardson said.
"At 50 years old, there will still be four guys in the top 10 that he can beat.
"It's like Marvin Hagler. You look at Marvin (who turns 57 today) now and you know there are four or five guys in the top 20 that he could still handle."
Hopkins did quit the sport for a short spell after the 2006 defeat of Tarver, saying it was to follow-through on a promise to his mother not to fight past a certain age. He choked up a bit while recalling that story Saturday and donning a chain with her picture in the charm.
"If I'd have stayed retired, you would have never seen the fights I've had and the things I've accomplished since breaking the promise - like the Kelly Pavlik fight and tonight's fight," he said.
"And I would have been miserable as hell, sitting on the sidelines and knowing there were guys out there that I could beat.
"As for the promise, I figure I'll take my chances later in life with God and my mother. And even though I didn't stay in retirement, I have a feeling somebody up there still loves me."
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter.