Hopkins past his best-before date?

Jean Pascal connects with a left on Bernard Hopkins during their WBC and IBO championship bout in...

Jean Pascal connects with a left on Bernard Hopkins during their WBC and IBO championship bout in Quebec City, Que., Dec. 18, 2010. (BENIOT GARIEPY/QMI Agency)

GRANT LAFLECHE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:54 PM ET

Boxing is a young man's game.

Every boxer, from the amateur club fighter to the hardened professional, knows this to be a fact as evident as gravity.

The fanciful melodrama of Rocky Balboa aside, most men who step into the ring past their prime don't walk away with title belts. Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis, titans of the sport, are among the ranks of those who couldn't leave well enough alone and paid the price for fighting as shadows of their younger selves.

Montreal's Jean Pascal, the WBC light-heavyweight champion, is certainly a young man. At 26, he has everything a trainer could want in a boxer -- speed backed up by power, a brazen confidence backed up by action. On paper and by the sport's own law of gravity, Pascal should have little trouble dispatching a former champion 20 years his senior when they meet Saturday at the Bell Centre.

Trouble is, Bernard Hopkins doesn't give a damn about gravity, even at age 46.

"The old is always threatened by the young," Hopkins recently told boxing reporters. "We all are victims of that as long as we live to see a certain age. Sometimes the young win and sometimes the old win, but in my case, May 21st, you will see the old win."

It will be the second clash for Pascal and Hopkins, and the second attempt by Hopkins to become the oldest champion in the sport. George Foreman holds that honour, having become heavyweight champion in 1994 at age 45.

"You never know when Hopkins will turn into Dorian Gray and just age right before our eyes," boxing writer and commentator Bert Sugar said. "But keep in mind he has been written off more times than the national debt.

"He's not an exciting fighter. He's a cagey fighter. He has a high boxing IQ. It's not flashy, but he wins."

The first Pascal-Hopkins fight in November ended in a draw. Pascal came out like a bull and knocked the older boxer down twice in the first three rounds. From the fourth round on, however, the Philadelphia-born Hopkins out-thought and out-boxed the champion.

"If it hadn't been for those knockdowns Hopkins would have won that fight," two-time lightweight title contender Billy Irwin of Niagara Falls, Ont., said. "It really seemed to me that Pascal was running out of gas in the later rounds."

Irwin, a veteran of 50 professional fights and the 1992 Olympics, expects the rematch to be much the same, except that Pascal is likely to try to conserve energy.

It's not a view Pascal appears to share, having told reporters he intends to finish Hopkins early.

"I'm going to knock him out inside four rounds," Pascal said. "I know when you fight with Hopkins it's always complicated. He has a lot of experience. I'm young but I did some things wrong last time. But, with the rematch, I'm going ... to show the world that I'm a great fighter and I'm better than Bernard Hopkins."

The pre-fight buildup has been fuelled by acrimony. Bickering between the fighters reached it's zenith at a Montreal press conference with Pascal calling Hopkins a cheater and demanding he take a blood test to prove he isn't on steroids.

Pascal since has said he thinks Hopkins is a clean fighter but that they should take the tests to set an example.

Beyond the war of words, however, Hopkins' attempt to grasp boxing immortality has become the story of the fight.

Fighting for a title at 46 makes Hopkins a rarity, but he isn't first. Sugar, in his latest book, The Ultimate Book of Boxing Lists, points to men who have fought successfully past their supposed expiry date.

"I called it Boxing's Greatest Methuselahs," Sugar said, referring to fighters such as Archie Moore, who challenged twice for the heavyweight crown in his late 40s, and Saoul Mamby who fought in 2008 at the age of 60. "There is really no age limit on boxing."

Terrance Fowler, former professional fighter and trainer in St. Catharines, Ont., says what makes Hopkins unique and contributes to his longevity is the fighter's lifestyle.

"Look, most guys in this game are the Ricky Hattons of the world," Fowler said. "After a fight we put on weight, we blow up. It takes a lot of discipline not to do that between fights.

"Going up and down in weight is hard on the body. Hopkins doesn't do that. He lives a clean life, keeps his conditioning up and doesn't put on weight between fights. It makes all the difference."

With all the attention on Hopkins' age, Pascal is sometimes treated as an afterthought. He, too, says he is fighting for a legacy -- he wants to be an ambassador for the sport and role model.

"Yes, of course to beat a legend like Hopkins, it gives me a lot of credibility," he said. "I'm just going to be me, a simple guy. I'm trying to do the right thing to show the good example to the younger kids."

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Keys to victory

Bernard Hopkins

Tight defence: "Hopkins has to stay defensively sharp," former professional boxer Terrance Fowler of St. Catharines, Ont., said. "Pascal is a big, strong kid. He's fast and awkward. So he has to have a strong defence."

Out-think and outlast: "Hopkins will do what he always does: Figure out his opponent and out-box him," former lightweight title contender Billy Irwin of Niagara Falls, Ont., said. "If he does that like before, he can win a close decision."

Hit the body and the head will die: "He has to press the action and the body," Fowler said. "The best way to slow down those young legs is to hurt Pascal to the body."

Jean Pascal

Jab, jab, jab: "He has to press the action himself and the best way he can do that is to establish his jab and keep it in Hopkins' face," Fowler said.

Go the distance: "Pascal ran out of energy in the later rounds of the last fight, and it's those rounds which made it a draw. So he has to make sure he has something left if the fight goes the distance," Irwin said.

Be your own man: "If Hopkins gets into a groove it's over," boxer writer Bert Sugar said. "Pascal has to try to dictate and control the fight."


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