In his last fight, he defeated one of the most legendary fighters in history, Bernard Hopkins. He beat him conclusively and for all intents and purpose, retired him. Sure, Hopkins will fight at least one more time, but unless he goes up or down in weight, he won't be a title holder again. At least not as long as Sergey Kovalev 26-0-1 (23) is holding the majority of the belts in the light heavyweight division. At the post fight press conference, Hopkins was very conciliatory to the new WBA, WBO and IBF light heavyweight title holder Kovalev. How could he not be? Never in 60 plus professional fights did Bernard ever touch gloves with a fighter who had him down, shut him out, and had him looking for a lottery punch to win their fight.
Hopkins said, to paraphrase: Sergey can stay around and on top as long as he wants if he does the right things. Well, it appears that Sergey is taking his advice, as it was recently announced that Kovalev will meet former WBC light heavyweight title holder Jean Pascal 29-2-1 (17) in his next bout, this coming March. What a welcome change it is to see Kovalev, after winning the signature bout of his career, agree so quickly to defend his titles against the next best available and dangerous opponent. Hopefully, others will follow his lead.
It wasn't long ago that WBC light heavyweight title holder Adonis Stevenson 24-1 (20) was supposed to fight Kovalev, then he was going to fight Hopkins and most recently it was Pascal. All three fights involving Stevenson fell through. So Kovalev and Hopkins fought and now that Sergey has won, he's going to defend his three belts against Pascal in his first defense. Stevenson was such a hot prospect and now he appears to be a self-inflicted victim of horrible management.
As for Kovalev-Pascal, that's a very compelling bout. And make no mistake, as terrific as Sergey looked against Hopkins, he's not unbeatable. Yes, Kovalev has to be considered at the top of the food chain in the light heavyweight division, but Pascal is one of the sharks swimming in the deep and dangerous waters. It's almost as if it's been forgotten, but Pascal did have Hopkins down twice in their first meeting that ended in a draw. That's something even Kovalev, who handed Hopkins his most decisive and one-sided defeat, cannot say. And when you think of the names Hopkins and Pascal, you think of two fighters being on completely different levels, which is of course true. However, the case can be made that Pascal is actually a little bit more treacherous for Kovalev than Hopkins was.
For the last six or seven years when Hopkins has fought, he's never entered the ring with the thought or intent of trying to win by stoppage. Unless the opponent really made a big mistake, at the worst it was a safe bet that the fight was going to go the distance. Going for the stoppage was too risky in Hopkins’ mind and he always knew he had the tools, experience and toughness to control things in the ring as long as the fight didn't get too crazy or wide open. And that mindset held form when he fought Sergey Kovalev last month. Bernard knew that if he tried to get Kovalev out of there and tempted fate by trying to stop Sergey, that very easily could've backfired on him and he could've been stopped. With the hindsight of the bout now behind us, it's plausible to see how that just may have been the case.
The problem Hopkins had against Kovalev was the fact that he's not a big enough puncher, especially at age 49, to really freeze Sergey, or any other elite light heavyweight, to the point to where he can go in and unload on a hurt and bewildered foe looking to get the stoppage. The other issue for Hopkins was, Kovalev could do damage and be effective from outside, therefore there was no urgency on Kovalev's part to go inside, thus nullifying Bernard to get his hands on him and then turn the fight into a street/MMA tussle. As we saw, by the ninth round Hopkins was way behind and looking for a lottery punch…and that isn’t part of his offensive makeup.
When Kovalev faces Pascal, a lot of the same holds true except that Pascal isn't going into the fight looking to go the distance. Pascal has shocking and KO-level power with his right hand. And I believe Hopkins more than got Kovalev's attention a few times during their bout. No, Kovalev wasn't in trouble or close to going down, but for a brief moment he was rattled. If Hopkins can rattle Kovalev, for however briefly it was, one must conclude that Pascal has the capacity to test Sergey a little more in that regard. And Pascal, unlike Hopkins, knows he probably can't win by decision, so his predicament almost forces his hand that he will have to take more chances against Kovalev if he is to pull the upset. But will he? Like Hopkins, Pascal will be susceptible to Kovalev's outside power, and if he doesn't like how it feels in the early going, he might just lose some of his nerve and gumption with each passing round.
Pascal must be feeling pretty good about himself after handling Lucian Bute in his last fight. He's definitely the best available opponent for Kovalev, and I applaud them both for putting the bout together so quickly. Of course, you've got to favor Kovalev. However, some associates whose opinion I hold in high esteem believe that after watching Kovalev with Hopkins, think someday Sergey’s going to get knocked out by a fighter who can punch. Which is the same thing one of those associates said to me about Jermain Taylor after his two bouts with Hopkins.
It's not completely impossible for that to be Pascal. But Pascal has to really put himself at risk in order to be successful. Pascal has to land the perfect shot to get Sergey out. But Kovalev could break his will in the early stages of the fight, and then Pascal will be too risk averse. If Pascal doesn't come out of the chute very fast, his chances diminish by the round. Add to that Pascal sometimes waits for the perfect shot; thus, it could be a tough night for him. In addition to that, he tends to be very right hand reliant and loads up on it. Yes, that right hand might have enough kick in it to get Kovalev out. But the downside of that is, he can't throw it blindly and he must be judicious in his tempered aggression, or Kovalev will break him mentally and then go in and take him out.
One thing is for sure, Kovalev's soaring confidence along with the pressure he'll apply against the hard hitting Pascal should make for a compelling fight as long as it lasts.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com