QUEBEC CITY - A boxing match is a stand-alone event, but it also is like chess in that every move made influences the next. And tonight's Showtime-televised pairing of WBC and Ring magazine light-heavyweight champion Jean Pascal and longtime former middleweight titlist Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins is no different.
The 28-year-old Pascal (26-1-0, 16 KOs) hopes to use a victory over Hopkins as a springboard to greater renown, in his home province of Quebec, in all of Canada, and even internationally. Hopkins (51-5-1, 32 KOs), a future Hall of Famer still going strong at 45, regards the conquest of the younger, stronger titlist as a means to add to an already impressive legacy and to further extend a remarkable career that does not seem to have an expiration date.
What the two men have in common is a shared interest in - super middleweight champ Lucian Bute, a transplanted Romanian who now lives and fights out of Montreal.
Should Pascal get past Hopkins, expect the drums to begin beating louder for a showdown with Bute (27-0-0, 22 KOs ), a fight which would be to French-speaking Canada what, say, Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. would be to the rest of the world. Boxing is hugely popular in Quebec, second only to the national sport of ice hockey, and Bute and Pascal are its most accomplished headliners.
But Hopkins, who has suggested he could continue punching for pay until he's 50, also has ideas about getting it on with Bute, who might feel obliged to uphold Quebecois pride should the old master give Pascal a tutorial in the Sweet Science 101.
Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, in which Hopkins is a partner, has mentioned Bute as possibly being among those considered for Hopkins' next fight, provided he defeats Pascal and there is a next fight. Bute might even top that list.
But those are matters for another day. Neither Pascal nor Hopkins will be thinking of Lucian Bute or anyone else once the bell rings in the Pepsi Coliseum. If there is a cardinal rule in boxing, it holds that the quickest way for a fighter to become yesterday's news is to look to tomorrow when he is fully engaged in today. The sports annals are littered with the shattered dreams of those who took the next opponent lightly while daydreaming about a possibly bigger purse somewhere down the road.
To hear Pascal and Hopkins tell it, tonight's bout, so seemingly even on paper, will be a 12-round (or less) exercise in domination. Ah, but just who will dominate whom?
"Hopkins has a lot of experience, a lot of tricks, but I'm going to be prepared for anything," Pascal said. "Bernard is a smart guy, a smart fighter. But he always fights the same fight, over and over. He tries to look different, but I found some things I can exploit. I can't tell you what they are right now, but if you watch on Saturday, you will see his weaknesses.
"I won't give Bernard any clues as to what I am going to do. But one thing I can say: I have a big surprise for him, and maybe two or three."
Hopkins said there is nothing under the sun Pascal can show him that he hasn't already seen, and from better fighters than the Haitian-born champion.
"I believe I have the knowledge to counteract anything he tries," said Hopkins, who doesn't believe Pascal has much in his trick bag in any case. "Is he one of the top 10 guys I've fought? No. He just throws a lot of punches. He's young and energetic and caught up in this thing called hype, of being a world champion. It's a real intoxicating thing, man.
"I know what he's thinking. If I was him, I'd want to jump on that old man and make him work, work, work . . . tire him out, right? That's an easy strategy. What other plan could he have? He's 28 years old! He ain't gonna run. He doesn't expect me to match his energy, his punch rate. He's going to want to put on a show for his fans.
"But he's going to be anxious. As the rounds go by and his plan ain't working, he's going to get desperate and start swinging harder. That's when I dissect him and take him apart. I seen things in this kid that can be exploited early, not late."
Tonight, the talk stops and somebody is going to have to back it up. The world will be watching, and that includes Lucian Bute.