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Billy Vargus interviews Bernard Hopkins as he prepares to fight Jean Pascal


At age 38, Muhammad Ali made an ill-advised comeback from retirement, and was beaten into submission by then-champion Larry Holmes. Years later, Holmes showed that he had failed to learn from Ali’s mistake. Holmes, at age 39, fought Mike Tyson, and took a brutal beating on the way to a 4th round TKO. Tyson continued to fight until, at age 38, he was sent into retirement by a knockout loss to someone named Kevin McBride. Fighting when you’re in your late 30’s is simply a bad idea.


Unless your name is Bernard Hopkins.

The Philly native continues to defy both history and Father Time. At age 36, Hopkins, Bernard Hopkins photo: http://assets.nydailynews.com/img/2008/10/19/alg_hopkins-pavlik.jpgthe Middleweight Champion, shocked the boxing world by beating Super Middleweight champ Tito Trinidad. At age 37, Hopkins scored a 10th round TKO of Carl Daniels  to reach the mark of 14 straight successful defenses of his Middleweight Championship, breaking the record previously held by Carlos Monzon.

A couple of years later, at age 39, he KO’d Oscar De La Hoya. After losing his titles to Jermain Taylor  at age 40, Hopkins came back to defeat Antonio Tarver at age 41. At age 42, another big fight, another big win, this time against Winky Wright. At age 43, he totally dominated Middleweight Champion Kelly Pavlik. And now, at age 45, he hopes to do it one more time (at least) when he faces Light Heavyweight Champ Jean Pascal on December 18th.

“His career will never be the same after this fight,” Hopkins predicts. He reflected on difficulties that Pavlik has had, in and out of the ring, ever since his loss to Hopkins. “When you’ve been lied to and you face a guy that everybody told you was old, it’s a helluva psychological thing. And sometimes guys can’t recover.”

At the same time, you have to figure Pascal will know better than to listen to anyone who tells him Hopkins is too old to beat him. But even if he doesn’t take Hopkins for granted, he may get schooled by the old man’s ring wise tricks.

“He’s not a sharpshooter,” Hopkins says as he watches a tape of Pascal beating Chad Dawson for the championship. “He’s like a street fighter. He’s so scared of getting hit, he comes in like this” Hopkins says, demonstrating by stepping forward with his head down, eyes closed, launching a wild right hand over the top.

As Hopkins continues, he demonstrates how Pascal’s follow-through causes his right foot to come way out in front of his left, causing him to be off-balance. Precisely the kind of thing that a craftsman like Hopkins will take advantage of.

As he continues to study the tape, Hopkins notes that ”Dawson’s just chasing him around. When (Pascal’s) jumping around, off-balance, that’s the time to come into him.”

The problem, Hopkins admits, is that even if he takes advantage of these flaws and outperforms Pascal, he’s still likely to end up on the losing end of a decision because the fight is in Quebec, Canada, where Pascal lives. Hopkins’ trainer, Brother Naazim Richardson, agrees.

“He’s got to knock this guy out. If he beats Pascal like he beat Pavlik (a fight in which Hopkins won virtually every round), they’ll call it a draw. In Canada they don’t give a damn (about what anybody else thinks.)”

The problem is, despite his domination of Pavlik, Tarver and others, Hopkins hasn’t actually knocked anyone out since his win over De La Hoya more than six years ago. Hopkins and Richardson hope, though, that Bernard will take be able to take advantage of Pascal’s wildness, wear him down and score a late round TKO.

“Step to the side, get inside, and counter,” Richardson says. “Take it away piece by piece. Bring the panic out of the guy.”

To that end, Richardson has hired four aggressive young sparring partners and instructed them to go after Hopkins with everything they’ve got.

“Give me two rounds each and jump on his (butt.)” After two rounds, Hopkins has usually figured out the sparring partners weakness, so at that point, it’s time for another guy to try his luck.

“It’s like trying to outsmart a professor,” says Jamaal (Little Tyson) Davis, one of those sparring partners. Davis, a veteran of 19 pro fights, adds “I learn so much just watching him, then even more being in front of him.”

Davis says Hopkins “eye is on,” which means he’s got his timing and approach just right for the Pascal fight.

“We’re going to have 12 rounds of punishment,” Richardson says. “I don’t think (Pascal) can stand up to it.”

If so, Hopkins would become the oldest man ever to win a major championship, since he is a few days older than George Foreman was when he reclaimed the heavyweight championship in 1994. It would be a record for the ages.

Billy Vargus is an Emmy Award Winner for Best Sports Anchor for 2008 and 2009. (Mid-Atlantic region, covering all of Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware.) Bill has been a TV sports anchor in the Philadelphia area for 18 years with the last 12 coming at Fox 29. He’s also had stops at Channel 10, Channel 12, plus at other television markets around the country.He has also served as the pre-game host for all Seventy-Sixers games in the past and also has acted in films, TV shows and commercials.

Billy V can be contacted at billv@philly2philly.com

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