by Kieran Mulvaney
Maybe it all started with the belt.
At the end of the final pre-fight press conference before the first in-ring encounter between Bernard Hopkins and Jean Pascal, the plan was for the two men to pose with Pascal’s WBC light-heavyweight belt. Instead, Hopkins took it for himself, and when the champion made a move to snatch it, he moved it behind his back, like a teenager tormenting his kid brother with a game of keep-away. Pascal lost his cool, Hopkins goaded him with undoubtedly barbed comments, there was pushing and shoving and a net result in which Hopkins, not for the first time, appeared to have burrowed his way into an opponent’s head.
Since then, the tension has only increased. Their confrontation in the ring left neither man defeated, but each feeling deprived of victory. In the buildup to the rematch, Pascal unexpectedly and suddenly suggested Hopkins’ fistic longevity had to be the result of artificial enhancement, screaming at him repeatedly to “take the test.” At the weigh-in for Saturday’s rematch, in a crowded ballroom at the Sheraton hotel near the Bell Centre where the fight will take place, the apparent dislike escalated further, each man in the other’s face, exchanging insults, continuing to strain forward and hurl epithets even as handlers pulled them away.
The crowd, largely pro-Pascal, of course loved it.
Levity returned, along with Hopkins, about an hour later. The former champion, having surprisingly weighed in four ounces over the 175 lb limit, returned now and logged a couple of ounces under. Asked how he had shed the extra weight, he smiled his famous gap-toothed smile.
“I told you I was full of s**t,” he joked.