When you watch him interviewed and listen to him speak, it's easy to glean that he is very happy with his place in life. But you also can't miss that he's all business and that he takes his boxing career very seriously. Sergey Kovalev owns three of the four relevant title belts in the light heavyweight division. He's married and is a new father. He lives in a nice house and is starting to get a taste of the better things in life that America has to offer if you're successful.
Former greats Marvin Hagler and Larry Holmes used the mantra their opponents were trying to take food off their table to draw motivation from. I believe Sergey Kovalev realizes that in this country nobody gives a damn about the losers or second place finishers. I think he's a lot like Bernard Hopkins, in that he understands that as long as he's winning, everything will stay nice and the good life will continue. This makes him a no nonsense guy. He knows nothing is more important than winning the fight. He sees losing as going back to being just another person living their life day to day. I think that this mindset is something he draws from during training and during the fight, making him that much tougher to beat. And it is a mindset such as that in which you can count on Kovalev 26-0-1 (23) to show up in supreme shape when he defends his WBA/IBF/WBO light heavyweight title belts against former WBC title holder Jean Pascal 29-2-1 (17) this Saturday night at the Centre Bell in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Kovalev is four months removed from scoring the signature win of his five year professional career over icon Bernard Hopkins. After dominating Hopkins like he's never been dominated before, Kovalev, in facing Pascal, is immediately fighting maybe the most formidable fighter in the division aside from WBC title holder Adonis Stevenson 25-1 (21). And it's worth noting that Kovalev has been trying to get Stevenson to fight him for at least a year, but for a plethora of reasons, none of which are Sergey's fault, has been unsuccessful in doing.
Kovalev not only comes to fight and brings it every time out, he also is totally willing to meet any fighter who is perceived to be a threat to him. And that is really starting to endear him to all boxing fans. When Kovalev touches gloves with Pascal March 14, he'll be confronted by a fighter who fights nothing like Hopkins. When Bernard fought Kovalev, he had no intention of seeking to win by knockout unless Kovalev made a mistake. Whereas Pascal probably believes his only chance to beat Kovalev has to come via stoppage, which forces his hand in that he must take chances. Pascal is a herky-jerky, attack in spurts fighter with unorthodox power. And if somehow Pascal could get to Kovalev early and rattle him, his confidence would soar and for once Sergey might be forced to fight with urgency.
Unlike middleweight sensation Gennady Golovkin who seems to have a concrete chin, Kovalev may just be a little more vulnerable when it comes to punch resistance. 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. But there is one big difference. Hopkins is sneaky and hard to predict or anticipate what he'll do. Pascal is pretty vanilla offensively. Add to that, Kovalev's chin is much tougher to reach and nail real good than Golovkin's is. Also, Kovalev's size, jab and strength dictate how guys fight him. Pascal is more compact than big, and I think that will make things difficult for him.
Sergey has a long and a short game stylistically. He has a very long and punishing left jab that is deceivingly fast and accurate. So far that's been enough to keep his opponents off of him, but as we saw in the first round, when Hopkins tried to rush him with a lead left-hook, Kovalev dropped him with a very quick counter right to the cheek. Against Hopkins, Kovalev jabbed to the stomach and chest, which really kept Bernard at bay and in line for his right hands. Sergey continuously inches his way in and is more than efficient at cutting off the ring. This is something we'll no doubt see when he faces Pascal. And if Pascal thinks he can win by pot-shotting and making sporadic runs at Kovalev, he'll find that Sergey answers back with two and three punch combinations and keeps the pressure on. 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. And if Kovalev senses that, he'll fire back and try to force Pascal to get low, and set him up for his left uppercut.
I see Pascal circling and moving while waiting for the right time to make runs at Kovalev. 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 and get Sergey’s respect, 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.
Pascal is a very dangerous opponent. However, he has a lot to overcome stylistically against Kovalev. Actually, he's going into the fight with one weapon that can win it for him, and that's his big right hand. Jean cannot outbox Kovalev, especially at long range, and if he attempts to crowd him or rough him up inside, he's going to pay a steep price to get there.
I think Pascal will be in for a tough night against Kovalev. I don't doubt that Pascal has the power to beat win, my question is, how much will he have to take in order to deliver it?
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
Photo Credit : David Spagnolo/Main Events