Pascal and Hopkins give fight fans a happy holiday
So if boxing is a declining sport riddle me this:
Oh wait, I can hear some of the skeptics now, suggesting that Friday's Star proves only that dying industries deserve each other.
But maybe people really do like boxing, or at least the idea of it and the characters that surround the sport. Even if suspect decisions and a string of superfights that haven't happened have turned you off of the action in the ring, its tough to deny that among major North American sports boxing provides the setting for some of the most interesting stories.
And one more will play out Saturday night in Quebec City, when Montreal's Jean Pascal defends his WBC Light Heavyweight title against rugged veteran and sporting senior citizen Bernard Hopkins.
If you saw Dawson's August title defense against Chad Dawson then you know the 27-year-old is athletic and aggressive but vulnerable to opponents who pressure him. Dawson discovered that flaw a few rounds too late help him win a decision in a bout that went to the scorecards when a headbutt cut Dawson in the 11th.
And if you follow boxing you know the scouting report on Hopkins -- smart, rugged unflappable.
Years ago the former middleweight champ promised his elderly mother that he would retire from fighting before he turned 41.
Less than a month after the Pascal bout he turns 46, and if he wins he becomes the oldest fighter ever to challenge successfully for a world title.
So much for promises.
The Philadelphia native has been a pro fighter for fully half his life, and over his 22 years in the game he has mastered both his ring craft and the mind games that precede every great fight.
When the two fighters matched wits at an October news conference in Toronto Hopkins battered Pascal with language, beating him to the verbal punch in every verbal exchange.
And at a news conference earlier this week Hopkins simply jacked Pascal's championship belt, holding it just beyond the Montrealer's reach, turning Pascal into the Tantalus of the prize ring.
A glance their birth certificates says Hopkins won't be able to keep pace. At 27 Pascal is in his athletic prime, and while Hopkins may be significantly younger than the last guy to fight Canadian heavyweight champ Neven Pajkic (seriously, look at him), at nearly 46 he's positively paleolithic by non-heavyweight standards.
The problem for Pascal is that B-hop is brilliant, and a specialist in upending fighters who appear to have every advantage over him.
Yes, he dropped a disputed 12-round decision to 168-pound champ Joe Calzaghe in 2008, and his official record does contain a pair of decision losses to the talented but tactically challenged Jermain Taylor. But the loss to Calzaghe was a long way from decisive, and Hopkins lost the Taylor bouts more than Taylor won them, frittering away the early rounds before late rallies fell short.
Beyond those fights Hopkins and trainer Nazim Richardson have a track record of surprising wins that stretches back nearly a decade.
Or did you forget the 12-round boxing lesson Hopkins handed to Felix "Tito" Trinidad in September 2001?
Or the one-sided win he collected over light-heavyweight champ Antonio Tarver in his first start following the Taylor losses.
Or the near-shutout he pitched against the previously undefeated Kelly Pavlik, a thorough beating from which "The Ghost" still hasn't recovered.
This isn't to say that Hopkins walks through Pascal like he did Pavlik, but if Hopkins' pressure keeps Pascal from setting up it'll be a long and taxing night for the champ.
And it could be a record-setting one for the old man.
Unless some crazy urge to work for free overtakes me, this is my last entry for 2010, but be sure to check back in early January when "Fighting Words" returns with the insights, interviews and interaction that have made the first year of this blog so much fun.
And if you want to check in during my time off, feel free to follow me on Twitter.
See you guys in the New Year.
Till then have a happy and safe holiday season...