The decision will be debated for months, perhaps years to come. None of it matters, though. In this case, the verdict of the three judges in the World Boxing Council light heavyweight title bout between champion Jean Pascal and Bernard Hopkins actually means very little.
Hopkins lost a title that he probably should have won when the judges called the bout a majority draw at the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City. Claude Paquette and Daniel van de Wiele had it a draw, while Steve Morrow scored it 114-112 for Hopkins.
Forget about the scores, for a moment, and think of this: If you watched that bout on Showtime, who would you say won?
Would you pick the 28-year-old champion, who was huffing and puffing and reeling around the ring for most of the last six rounds?
Or would you go with the soon-to-be 46-year-old challenger who, after a slow start in which he was knocked down twice early – at least once by a blow to the back of the head – was the one forcing the action, the one who threw 92 more punches, landed 66 more punches and connected on the harder punches round after round?
All Hopkins lost was recognition that he would have become the oldest man in boxing history to have won a major world championship, surpassing George Foreman. Hopkins will turn 46 on Jan. 15.
And he lost a sanctioning body belt that he probably never would have defended anyway.
Big deal. He'll get over that. He has plenty of title belts and awards in his trophy case, and sometime in the next five to 10 years, he'll have a Hall of Fame plaque as well.
But for one of the few times in his career, Bernard Hopkins is the People's Choice. What he gained by his gritty effort Saturday was respect for his marvelous skills, awe at his incredible condition and admiration for his poise and dogged determination.
He was knocked down by a blow to the back of the head in the first round, which is frequently ruled illegal. He went down again in the third and had lost all three rounds.
Faced with similar adversity in August against Pascal in Montreal, previously unbeaten light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, at 28 and in the prime of his career, folded his tent and quit. Hopkins is almost 46 and would have had every reason to quit after the third round, but he defined the word champion by finding a way to fight back.
That's the kind of a guy Hopkins is. Ever since he was released from Graterford State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania in 1988, he's been incredibly single-minded. He vowed to turn his life around, to never again wind up in prison and to use his talent to become one of the greatest boxers ever.
Check, check and check.
He's made a habit of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds time and again. He looked his age in a win over Roy Jones Jr. in April and was urged by many, including promoter Richard Schaefer, to quit.
Hopkins, though, is as proud an athlete as there is in professional sports, and anyone who knows him well knew he wasn't going out on an effort like the one he gave against Jones. When Pascal called him out after defeating Dawson in August, Hopkins had his motivation. Pascal is a talented fighter whom some believed had become one of the 10 best fighters in the world. He's also a very good front-runner who is at his most dangerous when things are going his way. When he senses an opponent struggling, he puts the foot on the accelerator and goes for the finish. But Hopkins kept control of his emotions and began ripping hooks to Pascal's body and dropping the occasional right to the head.
He forced Pascal to back up, to clinch, to look for a safe place. Hopkins clearly wanted the win more than Pascal and, amazingly, was in better physical condition. And so, when the fight hit the championship rounds, it was Hopkins who was the fresher of the two, the one throwing more and looking for the finish.
It was kind of like a horse race in which one horse fell 20 lengths behind and then roared down the stretch, only to have it wind up in a photo-finish dead heat.
A draw is not an outrageous score in a fight that was this close. Hopkins wasn't robbed.
He probably deserved the decision, but only the most loyally blind Hopkins fans would insist that Paquette and van de Wiele were completely out of line.
Years from now, the scores of this fight will be long forgotten. What won't be forgetten was the ability of a man closer to 50 than he is to 40 to persevere, to fight at a world-class level, to perform like a star.
He didn't leave Quebec City with the belt, but he left with something far better: Respect.
Bernard Hopkins is the People's Champion.
- Bernard Hopkins
- Jean Pascal