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Feature Story

Can Hopkins live up to Legacy?

By Dave Spencer / Fightnews Canada
Photo: Vincent Ethier

Heading into most fights the most common pre-fight banter heard revolves around such words as battle, victory, and champion. With Bernard Hopkins promising to wear a jersey to the ring bearing the number 45, signifying his age, all the talk leading into Saturday’s showdown has revolved around words such as history and legacy.

Jean Pascal who goes into the fight as Champion is asking just one question: “Can he live up to his legacy?”

“When I was a kid, one of the stories I read was about Winnie the Pooh and how he got his nose caught in a beehive once, in search of honey. I liked that story and it parallels what will happen in this fight. Whether Hopkins should be concerned about his legacy if he stinks up the place, fight dirty, and then loses, this is his problem.”

Pascal was all of six years old when Bernard Hopkins made his pro debut in 1988 and it wasn’t until 2001 and his fight with Felix Trinidad that Pascal became aware of Hopkins. I remember Hopkins in his fight against Trinidad,” Pascal told Fightnews, “The fight was postponed with 9/11. When it eventually happened many people were surprised by the outcome – not me. Hopkins is the legend.”

The fact that he is facing that legend, all these years later, wasn’t something that Pascal had planned on, particularly at 175 pounds. When Pascal turned pro in 2005, Hopkins was coming off his knockout victory of his now promoter Oscar De La Hoya and was preparing for title defence number twenty with Howard Eastman.

But the question remains, which Bernard Hopkins is Jean Pascal preparing for? The one who unified all four title belts at middleweight, or somebody who despite being in great shape and completely prepared, cannot be the fighter at 45 years old he once was. IS there a difference between the two, can you differentiate between the two?

Pascal thinks that there is a difference, but even at 45, he still has a formidable challenge ahead. “It is not really my job to look at Hopkins in terms of his middleweight record – my focus is what is in front of me now,” says Pascal, “Hopkins is the light heavyweight is what we are preparing for. He has been on the P4P list in my weight division, so by the ratings he is the man to beat. I will fix that very soon.

“Experienced top class fighters are not defined by their age. If you look at Hopkins’ record, he has fought convincingly – even two years ago against Pavlik and Calzaghe. I never really considered fighting Hopkins. I always focus one fight at a time and when a fight is signed, only then do I start to consider what needs to happen and where my focus must be. When Hopkins became the target, that is when we started to focus on him. I am more than happy to fight Hopkins.

The rhetoric between the two has been somewhat subdued in the weeks leading up to the fight. Pascal has given as good as he’s got and Bernard has stated that his opponent is just to young and naïve for his words to resonate in any meaningful way.

“On one feature before the Calzaghe fight, he (Hopkins) explained that he likes to evoke a response out of his opponents,” said Pascal. “I don’t work that way. My focus is one me and press conferences are part of me readying for the fight – they are never about focusing on the other guy.”

“You really can’t get into Pascal’s head right now,” Hopkins admitted on a recent conference call. “You can’t get in his head because he’s young and you take the knowledge and the history of young people outside boxing, just young in life. When you’re young and you’re successful whether you got it because you earned it or because you got lucky, you’re put in a situation where now you’ve got to stay there. That’s where the time comes in and the experience comes in. That’s when you mold it into what you’re going to be.

“Pascal is so young and so energetic and caught up in this thing called hype and world champion. It’s a real intoxicating thing man. I was fortunate enough to be an old-thinking person in a young body when I got my first taste of it, and then again, I wasn’t that old.

“Pascal can’t even understand why his head can’t be getting in it, because he’s caught up in his own thing right now. That’s what young people do. They’re in complete denial about any history, about anything.”

Pascal clearly isn’t worrying about legacies, history or what was, only the task ahead. When asked if he thought since Hopkins is at a point where he can pick and choose his opponents, he clearly was not worried. “I don’t care much what Bernard Hopkins sees in me. The question for me is what me and my team see in him.

“I am a boxer and if I want to be the best, I have to beat the best. Diaconu is a very dangerous boxer, so he was a good one to start with. I had to step up my game after the Froch fight and with the support of my team, I continue to search for tough challenges and then, tackle each one. The Chad Dawson fight is a prime example of that philosophy. Boxing is never an easy road. Even when boxers are protected, that too, is not an easy road because those athletes lose confidence and never realize their potential.”

Hopkins himself believes that nobody retires on their own volition in boxing. “The ring retires boxers,” said The Executioner. Boxers don’t retire from the ring. Whether it is good or bad, the ring has to retire the fighter from the boxing ring. If somebody literally kicked my ass in the ring to the point where I can look in the mirror and tell myself that I’m going to retire because I can’t do it anymore physically or I should do it because I’m 45 years old.

“Making history, making and breaking and shattering records, to me, that’s one of the reasons I’m still in this game. I like making history.”

Pascal is hoping for some history of his own. “No boxer’s career lasts forever. Some boxers have broken hands in the ring and then persisted, and won. I had a shoulder dislocation that is now remedied. There is no urgency to fight the best as a result of any incumbent injury. My objective to fight the best is because I want to be regarded as a pound-for-pound boxer. To do that you need to fight the best.”

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