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Pascal-Hopkins: Last dance for a fading ex-maestro
Lyle Fitzsimmons

By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor


Ocala, FL (Sports Network) - Who else could it have been?

When the e-mail tagged "Watch Press Conference Scuffle" arrived courtesy of the always-efficient Showtime publicity machine this week, its contents were foreseeable in less time than it takes a fading 45-year-old to make one last swipe at professional sports relevance.

Admittedly, the pushing and shoving and gesturing and threatening are about par for the course within 72 hours of a big-time boxing match. And to think the boys at the network didn't approve the harmless scrum's occurrence with a knowing wink is to show naivet? of the highest degree.

But somehow as the elder principal trotted out the requisite "get in his head" routine with a little playful belt-knapping -- after what's seemed like decades of stomping on flags and serving last meals and ranting on skin colors -- it got old for me all at once.

And I felt kind of guilty because of it.

Don't get me wrong, I've grown to appreciate Bernard Hopkins.

Maybe not so much to be called a "fan" or to root for him on the fringe of my journalistic ethics, but enough to realize what the guy's done since turning 41 has put a remarkable stamp of legitimacy on a career that beforehand was so much filler and not much meat.

A 2006 decision over Antonio Tarver wasn't as mind-boggling as the ease by which it came.

A follow-up win over Winky Wright, though coma-inducing, cemented its prior result.

And even a 12-round loss to Joe Calzaghe was narrow enough to yield drama at the close.

The tipping point to these 41-year-old eyes, though, came in the old man's whitewash of a previously pristine Kelly Pavlik -- a tactical soliloquy that left good friend Marquis Richardson to liken Kelly's plight to a blind man entering a familiar home where furniture's been moved to different rooms.

"If he could get out of there right now," Marquis said after the first round, "he would."

Hopkins' nearly AARP-level run should rightfully have ended with that stirring victory.

But it didn't.

Instead he's continued for two more years, appearing intermittently to whip overmatched Enrique Ornelas for the home folks in Philly last December and out-grapple long-past-vintage nemesis Roy Jones Jr. in a dreadful Las Vegas sleepwalk this spring.

Now it's Canada and relative upstart Jean Pascal, who'll go before a friendly house at the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City -- where fans snapped up 16,000 seats in 48 hours -- and risk the IBO belt he grabbed in the summer along with the WBC light heavyweight title he's had for 18 months.

When the Showtime-televised bell rings Saturday night around 10, Pascal might dance around him. He might push and shove him. He might overpower him. Or he might employ a hybrid mix in which he ultimately takes advantage of a veteran accustomed to setting his own pace.

Regardless, the palpable drama I'd tapped into for Tarver, Wright and Pavlik -- and doggedly tried to invent in justifying the match with Jones -- simply doesn't seem to be there this time when considering a largely unknown 28-year- old and a chronically dull foe 17 years his senior.

And contrary to the purpose for which it was intended, the podium-side antics didn't help matters any.

I've never been a connoisseur of the canned pre-fight drama. Not with loudmouths like Mayorga and Vargas, whose thumb-to-throat gestures always yielded KO losses. Not with genuine brutes like Tyson, who too often terrified the mettle out of foes before they climbed the steps.

And not with slow-motion sots like Hopkins, who more often than not wins the battles he incites, but sadly never in a manner that approaches in the ring the tumult he creates outside.

When he's gone for good, I'll miss the sublime strategy that I eventually came to respect.

But I'll surely not mourn the boredom.

* * * * * * * * * *

TV TOPICS (Some fights may not be televised) SATURDAY Showtime -- Quebec City, Canada

Jean Pascal (26-1, 16 KO) vs. Bernard Hopkins (51-5-1, 32 KO) -- IBO/WBC light heavyweight titles

Peter Quillin (21-0, 15 KO) vs. Martin Desjardins (7-18-4, 3 KO) -- 10 rounds/middleweights

Paul Malignaggi (27-4, 5 KO) vs. Michael Lozada (36-6-1, 29 KO) -- 10 rounds/welterweights

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 fitzbitz@msn.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.

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