It was surprising in August when the cocky light-heavyweight Jean Pascal, fresh off a career-making upset victory, called out 45-year-old Bernard Hopkins to be his next opponent.
Pascal, who'd just won a technical decision over previously undefeated Chad Dawson to retain the world light-heavyweight title, had other prospects. A native of Haiti who'd boxed for Canada in the 2004 Olympics, Pascal had become immensely popular in his adopted country, filling arenas in Montreal and elsewhere. The 28-year-old could have gone straight to a rematch against Dawson. There was a potential return bout vs. English super-middleweight Carl Froch, who'd handed Pascal (26-1, 16 KOs) his only defeat, in a wild 2008 slugfest. There was the possibility of an all-Canada megafight against Lucian Bute, a super-middleweight champ and Canada's top boxer.
But Froch is tied up in Showtime's Super Six tournament for at little longer, and prospects for a Pascal-Bute showdown won't suffer much by percolating a while.
So . . . Hopkins? Really?
"I want to become a legend myself one day," Pascal explained. "It's going to be a good start for me to beat a legend."
Saturday night, less than a month shy of his 46th birthday, Hopkins, will face Pascal and try to become the oldest man in boxing history to win a world title. (George Foreman set the record to climax his crazy comeback in 1994.) The fight will be in front of a partisan crowd in Quebec, only Hopkins' third fight outside the United States. But lately Hopkins (51-5-1, 32 KOs) has been defining himself as a youth-killer. He insists his punches essentially ended the careers of young fighters Kelly Pavlik and Jermain Taylor. Both fighters weighed in Friday at 174 pounds and change, just under the 175 pound light-heavyweight limit.
"Pascal will unfortunately fall into the ranks of the ones that took on me, and called me out," Hopkins said.
Many U.S. sports fans haven't seen Pascal fight, but when they do, they enjoy it. Hopkins calls him "a loosey-goosey, wild type of guy." Pascal doesn't clinch or cover up much. He swaggers around and lunges forward, fists flying, throwing long punches in bursts, often leaving his head exposed when he does. His idol as a developing boxer was Roy Jones.
"I watch this guy's defense," Hopkins analyzed. "I watch how he swings with his head down. I watch how he throws wide punches. And then I think of fighters I've fought over the years who fought the same way. . . . The guys who threw punches to knock you out from . . . here. Those punches don't hit Bernard Hopkins."
Pascal also has a good chin, and heart. In his second win over tough Canadian Adrian Diaconu (from whom Pascal won the WBC light-heavyweight belt in 2009), Pascal fought most of the bout with a separated shoulder.
Antonio Tarver, a former light-heavyweight champion who lost to Hopkins in 2006 and is Showtime's ringside analyst for this fight, suggests Pascal's unpredictable style could frustrate Hopkins.
"Pascal's not a rhythm type of fighter," Tarver said. "That'll give Hopkins trouble because Hopkins is usually able to break someone's constant rhythm."
Still, Hopkins suggests all the pressure will be on the young champion trying to look good for a home crowd against the old man - and maybe becoming overly aggressive and careless.
"If I was Pascal, I would jump on that old man and I would make him work. You got 12 rounds, and he's got to get tired!" Hopkins said. "His plan has to be that, because what other plan you got? . . . It's more pressure on him. He wants to put on a show."
Pascal disagrees: "He's going out there with all the pressure. Even if I lose, I'm still young. I can do it again. But Bernard, if he loses, that's going to be the end. This is it for him."
Jean Pascal vs.
WBC light-heavyweight championship, Saturday at the Pepsi Coliseum, Quebec.
TV: Showtime pay-per view, 10 p.m.