Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Jean Pascal-Bernard Hopkins near deal
By Dan Rafael
Light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal and former champion Bernard Hopkins are close to finalizing an agreement to meet in a rematch of their controversial draw, both sides told ESPN.com.
If the deal is finalized, they would meet May 21 on HBO's "World Championship Boxing" at a site to be determined, although Montreal (Pascal's hometown) and Quebec City (where they fought the first time) are the most likely hosts.
"The deal, as far as the fight itself, we have the date," Hopkins said, adding that he also had worked out his financial agreement with Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer. "Now we have to find a site. I'd love to fight in Montreal. I'd love to go where the best offer is for the fight. Montreal, fine. In Las Vegas, fine. I'm ready and I just want to settle the score. I want to set the record straight."
Said Schaefer, "Bernard is on board with everything. Now I just need to work out the venue with [Pascal promoter] Yvon Michel."
Michel said he was confident he would come to terms with Pascal on their side of the deal.
"We haven't finalized with Jean Pascal yet but we are working on the details," Michel said. "It will be a few days before we finish that. And we have to meet with Richard and talk about some other things, but overall we are pretty happy that we could do this."
Hopkins, who turned 46 last month, was bidding to break former heavyweight champion George Foreman's record as the oldest fighter ever to win a world championship when he met Pascal on Dec. 18. Although Pascal knocked him down in the first and third rounds, Hopkins came away with a controversial majority draw. One judge voted for Hopkins and the two others, including a Canadian, had it even despite Hopkins dominating most of the rest of the fight.
Hopkins, as did many, took exception to the scoring and Canadian referee Michael Griffin's call of the first-round knockdown, which video replays showed was the product of an illegal punch behind the head.
The WBC, whose belt Pascal holds, ordered an immediate rematch with the winner mandated to fight Chad Dawson next. However, there was the thorny issue of a contractual rematch that Pascal already owed Dawson, who lost to Pascal in August. The rematch clause allowed the 28-year-old Pascal (26-1-1, 16 KOs) to take an interim fight, which he did against Hopkins, before he would be obligated to face Dawson again.
However, Pascal-Hopkins II is a far more lucrative fight than Pascal-Dawson II. So Gary Shaw, Dawson's promoter, quietly worked with Golden Boy, Michel and HBO to work out a deal under which Dawson will pass on the rematch for the time being, fight on the televised undercard of Pascal-Hopkins II and then get a shot at the main event winner if he also wins.
"I believe Gary was able to get his own license fee from HBO to have a fight with Dawson on the show with the guaranteed license fee for Dawson to fight the winner of Pascal-Hopkins," Michel said. "Overall, I believe Gary Shaw understood what was the most popular thing to do and he negotiated for his side to make sure Dawson was taken care of. He was very cooperative. He fought for his guy, but he understood the complexity. I really appreciated how he worked on the agreement. He helped make sure we could do this rematch, which is the best for the weight division and for the fighters and the fans."
According to Schaefer and Michel, Dawson's undercard fight could come against either Montreal's Adrian Diaconu (a former titleholder) or Librado Andrade, the Southern California resident from Mexico who is popular in Quebec; he considers Quebec a second home. Andrade has challenged Montreal's Lucian Bute for his super middleweight title twice in the province.
Hopkins (51-5-2, 32 KOs) is happy that he is on track to get the rematch with Pascal.
"I believe that it's a historic situation for me and things worked out the way I expected," Hopkins said. "I think it's good for boxing and good for us to settle the score. I'm just very excited and looking forward to breaking George Foreman's record and making history. I can't wait [until] May 21 to show people I beat him the first time and I will beat him the second time. I'll be a few months older than I was last time, which should put [the record] even more out of reach."
After the December fight with Pascal, Hopkins said he would never return to Canada to fight. However, he has since changed his tune.
"I changed my opinion of fighting in Canada when it comes to Montreal," Hopkins said. "I'll go to Montreal. Everything is based on the referee and the judges. It wasn't the fans that voted in the fight. The Canadian people treated me very well in Quebec City. The thing was the referee and the judges, mainly the judges. The judges didn't do the right thing and the WBC agreed with us and ordered the rematch. I can't punish Canada for what the judges see or don't see. As long as the judges are straight and the referee is straight with the way he handles things, I will go back to Canada.
"Richard and I got the money done. That was not an issue with us. But looking for a fight sight, Richard asked me if I would go back to Canada. I said yes, as long as the judges and referee are neutral."
The first fight was televised on Showtime, where Hopkins had not fought in more than a decade. He had his career-defining fights on HBO and had been a staple of the network for years.
Showtime did its best boxing rating in about three years with the December fight and had an option on the rematch. However, the date of the rematch was important, Schaefer said. Hopkins, at 46, has no time to spare and Showtime had no room on its schedule, or money in its budget, until at least July.
"The date is very important to Bernard. He does not want to wait," Schaefer said.
When HBO showed interest and a willingness to pay in the $2.5 million-to-$3 million range for the rematch -- and had an earlier date available -- it got the fight while also working things out with Shaw to wait on the Pascal-Dawson rematch.
"I'm glad HBO invited me back home to end my historic career," he said. "I still have a few things I want to do. My dream hit list is Pascal, Chad Dawson if he wins and then I would like to clean out Canada by beating Bute at light heavyweight. That's an impressive list put together for an old man."
Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter.