Saturday, May 21, 2011
Updated: May 23, 1:30 AM ET
Hopkins makes history in beating Pascal
By Dan Rafael
MONTREAL -- Bernard Hopkins has made so much history in his storied 23-year career, but nothing will rank with what he did Saturday night.
Hopkins -- with guile, grit and a fighting spirit still going strong at age 46 -- won a unanimous decision against Jean Pascal to win the light heavyweight championship and become the oldest man in boxing history to capture a world title.
"I didn't feel like I was 46 tonight. I felt closer to 36," Hopkins said. "I can say I am a great fighter. It was exciting. I think everybody enjoyed themselves.
"It feels great. I set out to do exactly what I wanted to do, which was to break this record. I knew it was going to be a tough fight, but I wasn't going to be denied."
Hopkins not only won the title, eclipsing the record set by legend George Foreman -- who was 45 when he knocked out Michael Moorer in the 10th round in a stunning upset to reclaim the heavyweight title in 1994 -- he did it on enemy turf.
Hopkins came to the Bell Centre, filled to the rafters and rocking all night with a sellout crowd of 17,560 -- an indoor record for a fight in Canada, according to the promoters -- and won in Pascal's hometown. He took the fight, 116-112, 115-113 and 115-114, from a panel of the neutral judges he made a stipulation for returning to Canada. ESPN.com had it 114-114.
Hopkins' history-making accomplishments include a record 20 middleweight title defenses, knocking out Felix Trinidad to become the undisputed champion at 160 pounds and winning the lineal light heavyweight title for the first time by upsetting Antonio Tarver in 2006, among other huge wins.
This one ranks at the top with the Trinidad win.
"You don't get a chance to do this too often," Hopkins said. "You're supposed to win titles when you are younger, in your 20s, not when you are 46. This is in the top two moments of my career, right there alongside beating Trinidad."
In defeating Pascal, 28, the Philadelphia icon erased the foul odor of what happened on Dec. 18 in Quebec City, when Hopkins was the recipient of a highly controversial draw in a fight many believed he clearly won. In that fight, Pascal scored knockdowns in the first and third rounds -- the first one was highly questionable because Hopkins was cuffed behind the head -- but Hopkins rallied to dominate most of the rest of the fight.
Pascal (26-2-1, 16 KOs), who was making his fifth title defense, did not come close to any knockdowns Saturday, but Hopkins may have been robbed of at least two of his own -- one in the ninth and one in the 10th round -- when he connected with punches that apparently forced Pascal to touch his gloves to the canvas. Referee Ian John-Lewis called both slips.
Hopkins, basking in the glow of victory, did not complain.
"He slipped. I know he took a punch, but he slipped," Hopkins said.
It was a hard fight to score, with numerous close rounds, but Hopkins was very physical and worked well on the inside. John-Lewis had to warn them several times for not releasing from clinches, but when they were not on the inside, both fighters did land some hard shots that rocked the other man. Hopkins, however, looked like he was having fun.
While waiting for Pascal to come out of the corner for the start of the seventh round, he dropped to the canvas and began doing push-ups.
It was clear that the fight was on the table going to the final round, and the crowd was deafening as both fighters tried to close with a flourish.
For Hopkins to look so fresh and to fight with such energy so late in the bout at his age was simply amazing, dismissing Pascal's insinuations during the promotional tour that he uses performance-enhancing drugs.
"I always fight with my heart and courage, but I had to be careful, too," Hopkins said. "I knew this guy was dangerous. He punches hard. But I knew I had to be strong, too. I saved the best for last, giving you a blockbuster performance.
"I'm going to keep fighting like this until I leave this game and, trust me, I will not be punch drunk, beat up or broke."
Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, Hopkins' promoter, was emotional.
"Historic night in Montreal. It's an amazing performance, a legendary night," Schaefer said. "I know it's the Rose Bowl, but Bernard is the granddaddy of them all. I am tremendously proud of Bernard. He blew me away. I think he blew everyone away."
Pascal had no quarrel with the decision.
"Bernard fought a great fight," Pascal said. "He is a great champion. He has a really good defense and a lot of tricks. I'm a young fighter and I'm green. I was a young champion. These two fights [against Hopkins] will lead me to the next level. I learned a lot from Bernard and his style."
Before the fight, Foreman said he was rooting for Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 KOs) to break his record, although he believed Hopkins would need a knockout to win.
After the fight, Foreman, who watched on HBO, congratulated "The Executioner."
"I was on the edge of my seat every round. It was such an exciting fight," Foreman said. "Bernard was the better athlete, the smarter fighter and in the better condition. Now that a 46 has done it, next a 47, 48, 49 and 50 will do it. And if somebody does it at 60, then I'll have to get back in there. Look, Hopkins is doing push-ups. What great conditioning. And he did it in Pascal's hometown. Isn't that something? He was just so much better. I'm happy for Hopkins and I'm happy for mature athletes."
Hopkins said he will certainly continue his career. He has a contractual obligation to face former titlist Chad Dawson, who won on the undercard, in his next fight.
"I want to box as well as I can and I think there are still great fights out of me to come before I leave this game," he said. "I give you breathtaking. I think Canada will welcome me back to fight [super middleweight titlist and Montreal resident Lucian] Bute. I want Bute or Dawson. I want either one. I am going to keep on fighting."
Foreman, so gracious as his record went down, sees no reason for Hopkins to hang 'em up.
"If my record goes down, you want to see it go down that way," he said. "If it was the Olympics, Bernard gets the gold medal and breaks the record for the world championship. This was the best I've seen, the way Bernard took charge of the fight with a young strong champion like Pascal.
"Long live the king."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.