Weekend Review: Hopkins gave us a night to remember
Bernard Hopkins: The Executioner has so many accomplishments in his nearly 23-year professional career. The record streak of 20 successful title defense. An 11-plus-year unbeaten streak. Victories over the likes of Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya, Antonio Tarver and Kelly Pavlik, the last two after he turned 40. Nothing was more dramatic than what he did on Saturday night, though. The clear victory over Jean Pascal in Pascal’s home country made the 46-year-old freak the oldest man ever to win a major title, one of the greatest accomplishments in boxing history. There was more, though. The calm, matter-of-fact mid-fight pronouncement in his corner that “I’m going to win this fight.” The taunting of a fighter 18 years his junior. The pushups between the sixth and seventh rounds. The whole thing couldn’t have been orchestrated any better. No one who saw it will ever forget it.
Jean Pascal: The Haitian-born Canadian looked lost at times on Saturday night. The now-former light heavyweight champion was able to stay in the fight by punching in flurries, doing some damage on occasion. However, he allowed Hopkins to control the fight from the middle rounds on with his inactivity. Of course, the old man had a lot to do with that. His skills and guile are difficult to cope with. As Pascal said afterward, “He’s tricky.” There was more to it than that, though. Pascal seemed to lack confidence at times. The look on his face said, “I don’t know what to do?” Or worse: “I don’t know if I’m good enough.” Best example: He had Hopkins hurt in final round but did nothing to follow up. Pascal is good fighter, strong, quick, athletic, but he doesn’t have great skills. And no fighter is going to have great success if he doesn’t believe in himself 100 percent. Pascal said afterward that he’ll be a better fighter after having twice faced a legend. We’ll see.
BIGGEST WINNER II
Chad Dawson: Dawson wasn’t the fiery, knockout-seeking warrior new trainer Emanuel Steward wanted him to be in his one-sided victory over Adrian Diaconu on the Pascal-Hopkins undercard Saturday. He was more or less the old Dawson, the supremely talented but mechanical boxer who seems content to win by decision. However, Dawson said afterward that he is still adjusting to Steward and will be better when (if?) he faces the Hopkins-Pascal winner in his next fight. Better presumably means more aggressive. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. As it was, the former light heavyweight champion bounced back from his first career loss – to Pascal last August – by dominating a good fighter in Diaconu. That’s not a bad night’s work. The guess here is that the best of Dawson is yet to come.
Hopkins-Dawson: This is going to sound like heresy given what we just witnessed but I’m not sure this is a good matchup for Hopkins. Pascal is strong, quick and athletic but has limited skills. He also doesn’t appear to be strong mentally. That combination – marginal skills, weak makeup – is tailor made for someone like Hopkins. Dawson is as quick as Pascal but a much better boxer, although it’s hard to read his mental makeup because he’s so low-key. Dawson lost to Pascal because he was too passive, which also could be a problem against Hopkins. However, I have a feeling motivator par excellence Steward will pump some life into his protégé for that fight. I predict Dawson will win a decision if the fight happens. Of course, I wouldn’t put anything past Hopkins.
Joel Julio: The former welterweight and then junior middleweight contender found only disappointment at 154 pounds so he did the smart thing: He went back to 147. Good move. The talented Colombian looked comfortable at welterweight against Anges Adjaho on Friday even though he hadn’t fought at 147 since 2006. He looked quick and strong from beginning to end en route to a near-shutout victory, which are good signs. Adjaho has become an “opponent,” a stepping stone for fighters better than he. He has now lost his last five fights. And the African wasn’t even active enough to give himself a chance to beat Julio. Still, Julio took a nice step forward on national television. He has a future at welterweight.
Williams vs. Lara: Paul Williams reportedly turned down a fight against Pawel Wolak, which is too bad. That would’ve been entertaining as hell. Williams-Erislandy Lara is a good consolation prize. The fighters, who will meet on July 9 in Atlantic City, N.J., are both coming off disappointing setbacks and can’t afford another disappointment. Williams, the former two-time welterweight titleholder, is trying to bounce back after his stunning one-punch knockout loss to Sergio Martinez in November. He initially had agreed to fight Nobuhiro Ishida (the conqueror of James Kirkland) but HBO rejected that matchup. Enter Lara, a Cuban southpaw with world-class talent. Lara inexplicably drew with Carlos Molina in his last fight, in March. He, too, needs an impressive performance. Whoever wins will take a significant step forward. The loser will be in trouble.
Decals on ring canvases: How many fighters have to slip on decals (or whatever they are) on the ring before the powers that be change them or ban them? Pascal and Hopkins were only the latest to slip and slide on the ads, a common occurrence that spoils the flow of fights, affects scoring and could lead to injury. I can see a fighter tearing a hamstring or taking a punch he otherwise would’ve have taken. Whatever it is, a fighter probably will have to get seriously hurt in some way before action is taken. That’s a shame. The authorities should recognize this obvious problem and eliminate it immediately; simple as that. I know that sponsors are an important source of income. Let’s put the fighters’ safety ahead of profits, though. This really isn’t very complicated.
Cleverly’s week: Nathan Cleverly, the talented young light heavyweight from Wales, was supposed to have challenged WBO titleholder Juergen Braehmer on Saturday in London but Braehmer pulled out citing an eye injury. The German was then stripped of his title and Cleverly was awarded the belt without throwing a punch. Braehmer was replaced by Tony Bellew, who then failed to make weight. Bellew was replaced by Aleksy Kuziemski, who actually stepped into the ring to face Cleverly. However, the strange events didn’t end there. A bad cut opened above Kuziemski’s left eye in the fourth round, prompting American referee Mark Nelson to end matters without consulting the ring doctor. Turns out the cut was caused by a head butt, which should’ve resulted in a no-contest ruling. Nelson missed the butt, though, and Cleverly was awarded a victory. I’m sure this wasn’t what Cleverly had in mind when he dreamed of winning a belt but it all worked out in the end. “I'm going home a world champion,” he said.
BIGGEST LOSER II
Roy Jones Jr.: I write the same thing every time Jones fights these days. Sad. Depressing. Disgusting. Wrong. Pick a word … they all fit. Jones apparently was at least somewhat competitive for most of his cruiserweight fight against Denis Lebedev on Saturday in Moscow but the ending was brutal. The one-time best fighter in the world took a series of point-blank punches in the closing seconds of the fight, causing him to fall flat on his face. He lay there unconscious for several minutes before he was revived. A woman (presumably his wife) could be seen in tears on the video. Bernard Hopkins said his daughter couldn't watch her father fight a few hours later because she was frightened by what she saw in the Jones fight. This is getting pathetic. Hopkins still has the skills to adequately defend himself; Jones simply doesn't. I'll reiterate that a man has a right to make a living as he chooses, including Jones. How about trying to find a job, though? A lot of people do it.
To Oscar De La Hoya: The former six-division titleholder acknowledged that he has entered a rehab facility to deal with substance abuse problems, although it’s not clear what substances are involved. “I have my flaws,” he said in a statement to TMZ.com, which was the first to report the story. The fact he admits that and took concrete steps to beat the problem should be applauded. De La Hoya was always among the friendliest fighters, even when his remarkable career was at his zenith. Most people who know him like him. Nobody wants to see him struggle with such challenging issues. He’s a fighter, though. And he has a very strong support system. He’ll get through this. We wish him the best.
George Foreman, 62: “Hopkins broke my record Saturday night. I'm making another comeback. Gotta recapture my title. Now where is the old Geritol? Don't tell my wife and kids. They'll put me away again.”