MONTREAL - As it turned out, Jean Pascal's guarantee to his fans that he would knock out Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins within four rounds on Saturday night turned out to be only the second-worst prediction for the day.
By the time Pascal, the WBC light-heavyweight champion, and Hopkins entered the ring in the Bell Centre a little after 11 p.m., Judgment Day, a precursor to the end of the world on Oct. 21, already should have happened, according to 89-year-old Harold Camping's interpretation of the Bible.
There were a lot of wannabe seers wrong about the way this third Saturday in May would unfold . . . like, for instance, the Las Vegas oddsmakers and wagering public who sent off Pascal as a 7-5 favorite, or a large majority of this charming city's boxing-record 17,560 spectators. They believed, or at least wanted to believe, that the Haitian-born Montreal resident would impose his own version of Judgment Day on the 46-year-old Hopkins, whose forced retirement from boxing again has been postponed until some hazy, future date.
Hopkins' 12-round, unanimous decision victory in his rematch with Pascal, who is 18 years his junior, not only earned him the WBC, IBO and The Ring magazine 175-pound belts, but the distinction of becoming the oldest fighter ever to win a widely recognized world championship, by 192 days over the previous claimant to that distinction, George Foreman. Big George was 45 when he wrested the WBA and IBF heavyweight titles from Michael Moorer on a 10th-round knockout on Nov. 5, 1994.
"Long live the king," Foreman, who was watching the HBO telecast from his home in Texas, texted Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, Hopkins' promoter, after B-Hop had erased Foreman's name from the record book and filled in his own.
Had he failed to make good on his own prediction, to come away with the victory he believed he deserved in his Dec. 18 matchup with Pascal (26-2-1, 16 KOs), which resulted in the Canadian retaining his titles on a controversial majority draw in Quebec City, Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 KOs) said he would have had no choice but to hang up his gloves. And that's pretty much the case whenever he fights again, for however long the North Philadelphia icon keeps taking on younger men and Father Time. The next matchup is likely to come in November against Chad Dawson (30-1, 17 KOs), who easily outpointed Adrian Diaconu (27-3, 15 KOs) in a WBC light-heavyweight elimination bout on the Pascal-Hopkins II undercard.
"If I don't win, it's over for me," a smiling and mostly unmarked Hopkins, wearing a newsboy cap and black-framed glasses, said at the postfight news conference. "I don't want to become an 'opponent.'
"I only got one bullet in the chamber, and I got to hit the mark. That's why I told Richard Schaefer, 'We got to go to Montreal' [after Golden Boy won the purse bid to stage the rematch]. He's like, 'What?' But I wanted to face that adversity. It's the tightrope with no safety net. I need that to be on top of my game.
"How many people would risk that? A lot of fighters are afraid to fail, so they don't try. I'm not afraid to try to do great things."
So skillfully did Hopkins lure the wild-swinging Pascal into his trap that even the now-former champ's most ardent supporters had little reason to leave the arena angry. Oh, sure, British referee Ian John-Lewis might have erred by not awarding the old master knockdowns in the ninth and 10th rounds, when a stumbling Pascal brushed the canvas with his glove, but those additional points would only have padded Hopkins' margin of victory. A panel of international judges - the Philippines' Reynante Danseco, Italy's Guido Cavalleri and Thailand's Anek Hongtongkam - saw B-Hop as the winner by respective margins of 116-112, 115-113 and 115-114, but the actual gap between the gasping-at-the-finish Pascal and a fresher Hopkins seemed wider than that.
Punch statistics compiled by CompuBox supported the judges' verdict, with Hopkins connecting on 131 of 409 (32 percent) to 70 of 377 (19 percent) for Pascal. That spread was more or less the same on power shots, with Hopkins outlanding Pascal 80 of 235 (34 percent) to 51 of 237 (22 percent).
When Pascal was slow leaving his corner for the seventh round, ostensibly so that loose tape on his glove could be replaced, Hopkins responded by dropping down and pumping out five pushups, as if to inform the younger man that he wasn't the one running on fumes.
"I had to show this guy that he was fading, and I was getting stronger," Hopkins said. "I wanted him to think, 'This guy's crazy.' "
Yeah, crazy like a fox, or maybe a wolf. Pascal hits hard, but his all-or-nothing style presented numerous opportunities for Hopkins to pick him apart with crisp counterpunches.
"The way Pascal swings so hard, if your 11-year-old niece hit you in the face like that, she'd buzz you," said Hopkins' trainer, Naazim Richardson. "He closes his eyes, ducks his head and tries to become champion of the Earth with one shot. When he brings his head up, he hopes that something good has happened."
Pascal did land a jolting punch here and there, but Hopkins knew what was coming and was able to evade most of what was sent his way.
"I got caught a couple of times," Hopkins confirmed. "I believe I have one of the best chins in boxing. Fortunately for me, I don't have to show that too often.
"Pascal will be a champion again. He has the goods to do it. I told him that in the ring. But he has to work on some things. He loads up on every shot because he knows he's a puncher. He wants to blow the house down, like the big, bad wolf. But if you sneak down the hill and take your time, you can get all the pigs. If he could put punches together, he'd be a dangerous guy."
So, will Pascal ever receive a third tutorial in the Hopkins College of Pugilistic Arts?
"If it makes sense. But I think Pascal should leave Pop-Pop alone," Hopkins said, eliciting chuckles from his media audience.
HBO again is holding a ticket to ride the B-Hop bandwagon for as long as it keeps rolling along, a turn of events that the pay-cable giant's executives find somewhat amazing.
"Absolutely," HBO Sports senior vice president Kery Davis responded when asked if Hopkins' latest bravura performance had surprised him. "After the Roy Jones fight [Hopkins won a desultory unanimous decision in the long-delayed rematch on April 3, 2010], I thought Bernard didn't have anything left in the tank. But this guy likes to prove people wrong. He proved us wrong. He proved me wrong.
"After tonight, I know Bernard has more great fights in him. What he did is an unbelievable athletic achievement."
'Moses' gets due
Bernard Hopkins took particular care to recognize longtime Philadelphia trainer Howard "Moses" Mosley, who filled in for B-Hop's regular trainer, Naazim Richardson, for nearly 2 months when Richardson was in Big Bear, Calif., training Shane Mosley. Moses is best known for his work with former light-heavyweight contender Eric Harding.