By Nick Tylwalk
Birthplace: Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Resides: Laval, Quebec, Canada
Height: 5' 10 1/2"
Current World Titles Held: The Ring Magazine, WBC Light Heavyweight (175 lbs.)
Former World Titles Held: None
Professional Record: 26-1-1, 16 KOs
Record in World Title Fights: 4-1-1, 1 KO
Record in Fights Going 12 Rounds: 5-1-1
Record at Light Heavyweight: 5-0-1, 2 KOs
Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Resides: Hockessin, Delaware
Height: 6' 1"
Current World Titles Held: None
Former World Titles Held: The Ring Magazine, WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO Middleweight (160 lbs.)
Professional Record: 51-5-2, 32 KOs
Record in World Title Fights: 20-2-2, 13 KOs
Record in Fights Going 12 Rounds: 15-4-2
Record at Light Heavyweight: 3-2-1
Finally, a little enmity.
Anyone turned off by the excessive shows of sportsmanship and general feelings of good will that permeated the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley bout a few weeks ago should appreciate the way the rematch between light heavyweight champ Jean Pascal and ageless legend Bernard Hopkins is shaping up. The two men haven't been shy about expressing their mutual dislike, a condition that has been simmering ever since they fought to a majority draw last December.
That doesn't mean they will simply charge across the ring at Motreal's Bell Centre to tear into each other. Their initial meeting was a tale of two fights, with Pascal's speed and power earning him two early knockdowns but Hopkins' typically superb boxing technique controlling most of the middle and late rounds.
Conventional wisdom also got turned on its head since the older fighter looked stronger as the fight went on and the younger one seemed gassed by the championship rounds. That might be why both boxers have said they learned important lessons from the first bout.
Anyone betting on a knockout on Saturday must be getting great odds, because the numbers say it's not likely to happen either way. Hopkins has never been stopped and hasn't won by KO in more than six years, while Pascal has managed to knock out only one of his five opponents since moving to light heavyweight in 2009.
Assuming the outcome is decided on the scorecards, Hopkins has his work cut out for him in order to become the oldest world champion in boxing history. Pascal has never lost while fighting in his adopted homeland of Quebec, and it is notoriously difficult for visiting boxers to be given the benefit of the doubt there.
Still, Hopkins doesn't seem fazed by the challenge. He's stated that he plans on wearing a Philadelphia Flyers jersey with Bobby Clarke's old number 16 to the ring, antagonizing the fans in the same manner as a pro wrestling heel.
Pascal's Winning Strategy: Pace Yourself
The conventional wisdom is that a long fight with a high pace would favor a boxer in his 20s battling someone more than 15 years older. But Pascal is anything but conventional, and he appeared to have little left in the tank down the stretch run of the first fight.
The truth is that while Pascal has superior hand speed and can throw dazzling combinations, he has been and will probably remain a spurt fighter. The two early knockdowns probably worked against him last December, because he tried to close Hopkins out and ended up merely fighting to survive when that tactic failed.
Pascal would no doubt love to live up to his pre-fight boast that he will knock out Hopkins inside of four rounds, but it's important to be realistic. He has to be prepared to go 12 tough rounds, and he needs to be able to win the championship rounds if necessary.
The best way to ensure he's able to do that is to allow Hopkins to be the aggressor, waiting for the chance to unleash his quick hooks as counters. If the rounds are tight, Pascal can save his energy to flurry in the final 30 seconds or so (which should come naturally since he's great at show shining), possibly convincing the judges he was busier since Hopkins isn't a volume puncher himself.
Pascal's trainer has been quoted as saying that Jean pushed himself harder in training and is ready to go the distance. He'd better be, because he's already seen that half a good fight isn't enough to defeat a future Hall of Famer like Hopkins.
Hopkins' Winning Strategy: Don't Dig Yourself a Hole
B-Hop has never publicly agreed with a losing scorecard. Just as he has every time he doesn't end up the winner, he complained bitterly about the scores turned in the first time he tangled with Pascal, convinced he won the fight.
Yet he had only himself to blame, because he needed to erase a five-point deficit after only three rounds last December. The Executioner appeared to be caught off guard by Pascal's quick hands, and though he eventually adjusted, he had already tasted the canvas twice.
Fortunately, Hopkins might be the best active boxer in the world at the cerebral side of the sport. He won't be surprised the same way a second time, and that could make a huge difference.
Whether it's throwing more punches in the opening rounds or making the fight uglier on the inside - and no one can do that like he can - Hopkins has to find some way to avoid falling behind. Even splitting the first four rounds would leave him in much better shape than he was at the same point in the first bout.
History suggests that Pascal will fade as the night goes on, but Hopkins shouldn't count on it. If he avoids falling in an early hole, he may not have to, and we may even hear some rare Executioner kudos to the judges at the end of the night.