MONTREAL - He said he'd do it, and he did.
Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins became the oldest fighter to win a widely recognized world championship, controlling the action from the fourth round on to score a unanimous, 12-round decision over WBC light-heavyweight champion Jean Pascal.
The 46-year-old Hopkins is 192 days older than George Foreman was when he knocked out Michael Moorer in 10 rounds in 1994. His next target, for historical purposes: Archie Moore, who held the 175-pound title until he was nearly 48.
"I didn't feel like I was 46 tonight," said an ebullient Hopkins. "I showed him a little bit of (Thomas) Hearns, a little bit of (Sugar Ray) Robinson and a little bit of (Jersey Joe) Walcott. But mostly I showed him me."
Foreman, watching the HBO telecast from his home in Texas, was pulling for another golden oldie.
"I was on the edge of my seat every round," Foreman said. "It was such an exciting fight. Bernard was the better athlete, the smarter fighter and in better condition. He was so much better.
"This was the best Bernard I've seen in the way he took charge against a young, strong champion. Long live the king."
Hopkins' promoter, Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, had demanded an international crew to work the fight, which might not necessarily have helped, but it surely didn't hurt. British referee Ian John-Lewis didn't award Hopkins the two knockdowns he appeared to deserve, when B-Hop right hands in the ninth and 10th rounds sent Pascal reeling, his glove scraping the canvas. But Italian judge Guido Cavalleri, Filipino judge Reynante Danseco and Thai judge Anek Hongtonkkam all had Hopkins winning, by respective margins of 115-113, 116-112 and 115-114.
A Montreal record crowd for boxing, 17,560, gave the night the charged feel of a Canadiens Stanley Cup playoff game, which might have been helped along by the fact a Hopkins cornerman, holding an American flag above his head, wore a Flyers sweater into the ring. The lusty booing that ensued might have been as much for that guy's orange-and-black attire than anger directed at Hopkins, tastefully outfitted in a black ski mask and a royal blue-and-lime green robe, trunks and gloves.
After another relatively slow start by Hopkins, the action was more two-way in Round 3. Pascal landed a hard left hook upstairs, but B-Hop went hi one better with an overhand right that wobbled the champion, which he followed up a bit later with another zinging right. But the North Philadelphia icon didn't have enough time to press his advantage before the bell.
Nevertheless, the battle was joined and there would be no more tactical, feel-out rounds the rest of the way. Pascal (26-2-1, 16 KOs) was all youthful exuberance, throwing wild punches that sometimes connected and sometimes didn't, Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 KOs) more selectively targeting his shots, which landed at a higher percentage, and apparently with more telling force; Pascal was clearly hurt on several occasions.
Punch statistics compiled by CompuBox showed Hopkins landing 1312 of 409 (32 percent) to 70 of 377 (19 percent) for Pascal. Those numbers were more or less the same for power shots, Hopkins connecting on 80 of 235 (34 percent) to 51 of 237 (22 percent) for Pascal.
There were theatrics, too. Twice Hopkins stuck out his tongue at Pascal, and once _ before the seventh rounds, when there was a delay to retape one of Pascal's gloves, Hopkins dropped down to do a few impromptu pushups. Pascal wiggled his shoulders, all loosey-goosey, after being nailed with a solid right hand, a signal to Hopkins that he wasn't hurt. But he was.
"I can say I'm a great fighter," Hopkins said, as if that point needed additional clarification.
As for charges that his style is boring … well, so what? He's a world champion again, the recipient of a $1.5 million purse with a career that has a new lease on life.
"I've been accused of being boring, but I save the best for last," Hopkins said. "I still believe there's great fights out there for me before I leave this game. I'm going to keep fighting like this until I leave this game, but I'm not going to leave punch-drunk, beat-up or broke."
Pascal, who at 28 is nearly young enough to be Hopkins' son, did not dispute the decision against him.
"Bernard fought a great fight," he said. "He's a great champion. He has a really goods defense and a lot of tricks.
"I learned a lot from Bernard and his style."
In the other televised bout, former WBC and IBF light-heavyweight champion "Bad" Chad Dawson (30-1, 17 KOs) won a WBC light-heavy elimination bout and first dibs on Hopkins by scoring a controversy-free unanimous decision over Montreal-based Romanian Adrian Diaconu (27-3, 15 KOs).
Before the fight, Dawson's promoter, Gary Shaw, had complained about the assignment of a referee (Michael Griffin) and three judges (Claude Paquette, Benoit Roussel and Jack Woodburn from French-speaking Quebec province.
But Diaconu's lumpy, reddened face suggested that there would be no hometown decision on this night, and the scorecards _ Dawson won by margins of 118-110, 117-111 and 116-112 _ reflected what had taken place over 12 mostly one-sided rounds. So did the punch statistics, which showed Dawson landing 240 of 620 (33 percent) to 106 of 591 (18 percent) for Diaconu.
"I'm happy to be back in the ring and get the ring rust off," said Dawson, who was fighting for the first time since was stopped in 11 rounds by Pascal on Aug. 14, 2010. "Next time I'll be 100 percent better. I made the fight hard for myself. I've only been with Emanuel (Steward) 7 or 8 weeks, and it takes time to get used to a new trainer."
Dawson didn't know who would win the main event, but said, "I'll be ready for either one. Obviously, I want revenge on Jean (the only man to defeat him), but I want Bernard, too."