QUEBEC CITY - One of these years, Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins will finally get around to acting his age. He'll throw a punch and find his slowing reflexes are such that he'll miss a target he previously would have found. He will try to slip a shot squeezed off by an opponent who no doubt will be at least a decade younger, and that punch will land where once it hit nothing but air. Every aging athlete who tries to hang on too long learns what it's like to have his skills ebb, his pride wounded, his stature diminished.
For Hopkins, who turns 46 on Jan. 15, that time is not now, or at least it shouldn't be. Physically, he is closer to his peak than any fighter born this deep into his career has any right to expect.
But there are other ways for an old warrior to have what remains of his vitality sapped. There are people with pencils who can inflict wounds more painful than any delivered by a gloved fist. There are administrators with the power to advance what remains of a remarkable career, or to help it recede.
Hopkins has yelped about being on the wrong end of controversial decisions before, but maybe never one so obviously incorrect as the majority draw he was obliged to accept in Saturday night's matchup with 28-year-old WBC light-heavyweight champion Jean Pascal in the Pepsi Coliseum.
Although Hopkins was knocked down twice - the first times he's visited the canvas since his 1994 draw with Segundo Mercado - it can be argued that he won every round from the sixth on, flummoxing the younger man with guile and an energy an old coot like him isn't supposed to have.
"I fought a young man's fight in a young man's sport," Hopkins said at the postfight press conference. "[Pascal] was gasping every time I went to the body, and he held every time I'd get close. He was holding on for dear life."
At the final bell, a jubilant Hopkins leaped upon the ring ropes, made his crossed-arms "X" sign for the Showtime cameras and yelled to no one in particular, "Forty-five years old! Forty-five years old! Who else could do what I just did at my age?"
Well, nobody. But whatever credit Hopkins (51-5-2, 32 KOs) ought to receive for taking another big gulp from his personal Fountain of Youth apparently was negated by the fact that Pascal (26-1-1, 16 KOs) was a Quebecois fighting on friendly turf and in front of 16,000-plus of his raucously supportive fans, the sort of homefield advantage that can sway the opinions of the only people with the power to determine who wins or who loses - or, in some cases, does neither.
Although punch statistics revealed that Hopkins connected on 171 of 445 punches (38 percent) to 105 of 353 (30 percent) for the Haitian-born champion, including an even wider gap in power punches (141 of 270, 52 percent, to 85 of 196, 43 percent), only American judge Steve Morrow submitted a scorecard favoring B-Hop, by a 114-112 margin. Canadian judge Claude Paquette (113-113) and Belgian judge Daniel Van De Wiele (114-114) were unable to mathematically separate the fighters. As a result, Pascal retained his titles (he also holds the IBO and Ring magazine 175-pound belts) with the draw that, to many, could be construed as an early Chrismas present.
The Daily News card rewarded Hopkins' strong finish with a 115-112 tally.
"Of course I won the fight," Pascal offered after the decision had been read. "I dropped him twice. I'm disappointed. I am a winner. A draw is not good enough for me."
But Pascal's displeasure with the standoff paled in comparison to the outrage expressed by Hopkins and Richard Schaefer, CEO of his promotional company, Golden Boy.
"It's a shame for Canada, it's a shame for boxing to have a decision like that," Schaefer fumed. "We had Canadian fans come up to us and say, 'You won, Bernard.' This is what is wrong with boxing. It's a disgrace.
"We will file a protest. The WBC will order an immediate rematch, and we will see what other legal remedies we have because this is just wrong."
There is also the matter of two white-out entries on the composite scorecard, although that is a matter that pertains more to Canadian neatness than larceny. Yes, there was a white-out of the eighth round, which appeared that Paquette, the Canadian judge, switched from a 10-9 round for Hopkins to a 10-9 round for Pascal, but that owed to a clerical error as the individual score slips turned in after every round showed him giving that round to Pascal. Another white-out entry had Van De Wiele changing his score for the first round, in which Pascal scored a flash knockdown from what might have been an illegal punch to the back of the head, from 10-8 for Pascal to 10-9.
So what happens next?
Schaefer said he spoke to WBC president Jose Sulaiman, who indicated he would order an immediate rematch, but that could prove dicey since Pascal already had a rematch clause with Chad Dawson, whom he defeated on Aug. 14. If Pascal proceeds with a second fight with Dawson, Schaefer said he would lobby for the WBC to strip Pascal and have Hopkins fight someone else for the vacated title.
Even if that obstacle to Pascal-Hopkins II was removed, there is the question of venue. Asked if he'd be willing to return to Pascal's country for a rematch, Hopkins said, "The closest I'll come to Canada is Niagara Falls." Nor is it likely Pascal and his promoter, Yvon Michel, would head south to take on Hopkins in, say, Atlantic City.
B-Hop's trainer, Naazim Richardson, said any mandated rematch can't scrub clean the stain of justice denied or delayed.
"How many times can you go to the well like that at Bernard's age?" Richardson said. "We got to get what we're supposed to get when it's time to get it. If I had Pascal, I'd be saying kiss my behind if anybody brought up a rematch. I'd be saying, 'We got past that old-timer, we ain't never looking at him again.' "
Richardson said he had no idea how much longer Hopkins can go on, but he said he was with him for the duration.
"At 50 years old, there'll still be somebody in the top 10 Bernard Hopkins could beat," he opined. "Should he be doing it? Hell, no. But he could."