“Solid” was the best word to describe the Main Events fight card in Las Vegas.
It was the first time I got to see Sergey Kovalev perform in person. It’s difficult to analyze a fighter based on television viewing. Also, several other light heavyweights took center stage on Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
We drove in from Southern California on Saturday morning. Seems several sports tournaments had most of the hotels booked and the prices were incredibly high.
One of the best places to watch a boxing card is the Mandalay Bay. Over the years I saw several of the best matches in the last 50 years. One of the first great cards came in September 1999 when Oscar De La Hoya met Felix Trinidad. Then there was Paulie Ayala vs. Johnny Tapia and that was followed by Marco Antonio Barrera fighting Erik Morales. They were all within a year’s span.
When MGM properties bought the Mandalay Bay in 2005 that spelled the end of its dominance for mega fights. Now most of the mega fight cards are held at the MGM Grand. But there’s still magic left at the Mandalay Bay.
Main Events brought several great fights on Saturday. Any time you have a champion with three world title belts that means several things, including a willingness to fight anyone. The greats are like that. But fighters like that are few and promoters willing to risk losing their paydays are even fewer.
Kathy Duva, president of Main Events, has a solid gold champion in Kovalev and I’m sure she worries about the risks. But so far Kovalev has devoured the competition.
Kovalev has height, incredible reach and speed to go with the mind numbing power he possesses. Though it was a short fight against Nadjib Mohammedi, it was enough for me to see his main strengths.
Television tends to dumb down the speed and movements when watching on a screen. What I saw in the arena was Kovalev’s elongated reach and the speed he delivers those crushing right hand blows. Plus, he can truly box. He has good footwork, sets up his punches and willingly exchanges when the opponent unloads. That spells entertainment.
Mohammedi just seemed intimidated from the opening bell. It would have been interesting to see him get inside those long arms of Kovalev and work the inside. Instead it was Kovalev working from long range and unleashing missiles from a safe distance.
Kovalev has the tools to dominate the light heavies until we see what he can do with Andre Ward once that match is made. Ward has the speed advantage at super middleweight but what about at 175?
Another future rival could be Gennady “GGG” Golovkin should he move up that high in weight. The sparring match they had before in Big Bear is reaching legendary proportions. Most accounts say GGG stopped Kovalev. But that was sparring. As good as GGG is, it could be a lot different under the lights.
That’s a fight about a year or two in the future.
Former light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal and Cuba’s Yunieski Gonzalez engaged in perhaps the Fight of the Year in my opinion. It was a firefight from the second round on with each cracking the other.
These two guys can box but they were fighting on Saturday. Each exchange you could see they intended to knock the other out of the ring. Crushing blows were exchanged and the remarkable thing was they were connecting but not shy about unloading while leaving themselves open for retaliation.
I hadn’t seen a light heavyweight fight this good since James “Lights Out” Toney and Vassily Jirov clobbered each other for 12 rounds in 2003. It was serious business for Pascal and Gonzalez. And it was a very close fight with the judges scoring it for Pascal. I had it for Gonzalez but there were several rounds that could have gone the other way. Neither fighter dominated the other.
Despite only 17 pro fights Gonzalez never backed up. He was fearless. The only drawbacks in his game were his inability to profit from Pascal’s dipping down low. There are tricks he could have used to take advantage of the dipping down tactics but the Cuban probably needs more pro seasoning. Still, he looked on even ground with Pascal.
Pascal, on the other hand, has nerves of steel and one of the best chins in boxing. He was hammered a few times by Gonzalez and countered well after taking some bombs. His fight against Kovalev might have been too quick of a stoppage this past March. It was great to hear Kovalev say he wouldn’t mind taking on Gonzalez. That means there are two more fights ahead for Kovalev that fans would love to see. And with Ward and Golovkin down the road, that makes four more possibilities.
The kid from Palmdale can really crack. In the past many were concerned with his defense. He’s only 23 and for his age has already endured some eye-popping battles. In his seventh pro fight he was matched with undefeated Guy Robb in a pitched battle that saw both fighters get dropped. Ultimately Diaz had slightly more firepower and ended the fight early in Las Vegas.
He’s grown from featherweight to junior welterweight and seems to have carried his power with him. Last Saturday Diaz stopped Guadalajara’s Alejandro Rodriguez with vicious right hands. He may have busted the Mexican junior welter’s nose. Diaz is not real tall but fights tall and trains in Big Bear. He’s learned a lot sparring with guys from all over the world. It’s like a United Nations of boxing up there at Abel Sanchez Big Bear Summit.
Diaz has picked up some subtle defensive moves that aren’t obvious to the casual observer. He doesn’t get hit as much as before and knows how to set up his punches. Will he stay at junior welterweight or drop down to lightweight is the question.