Kovalev-Pascal II – “Usually who fights me, I stop their career. I usually destroy them. I didn’t destroy him because the referee stopped the fight and saved his health and life — maybe,” Kovalev said Tuesday, during an international media conference call. “Now I’ll finish my job. It should be a very different fight.”
“The fight was stopped too early. I was on my way back. Yes, he was winning the fight, but I was coming back. I won the fifth and sixth rounds,” Pascal suggested, although he was behind by four points on all three judges’ scorecards.
If you saw the first meeting between WBA/IBF/WBO light heavyweight title holder Sergey Kovalev 28-0-1 (25) and former WBC title holder Jean Pascal 30-3-1 (17), there can be no second guessing regarding who made the more accurate statement above. Unless your vision was fuzzy or obstructed, Kovalev clearly controlled five of the seven rounds before stopping Pascal in the eighth. In the eighth round, Sergey was punishing Pascal in a neutral corner and had him out on his feet – and then he slipped and fell to the canvas, forcing referee Luis Pabon to call a timeout. When they resumed exchanging punches, Kovalev hit Pascal with a lead right flush on the jaw that really rocked him as he was against the ropes, and then followed it up with another clubbing right to the head and the bout was halted.
When Kovalev, 31, and Pascal, 33, meet in a rematch Saturday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Pascal will have completed eight weeks of intense training and preparation under new trainer Freddie Roach. You know Roach, the trainer who wins all the awards tweaking established world class fighters and then gets credit for being a miracle worker. It usually takes more than one fight for a trainer to completely refine his fighter into the mold he wants him to be. In this case Pascal and Roach will have had roughly two months together without having felt the actual speed of a live and in-the-moment battle under their belts.
I remember as an amateur boxer representing “Smokin” Joe’s gym in North Philadelphia, three or four times when I fought, Joe Frazier was at my shoulder during the referee’s instructions….and it was comforting having the former undisputed heavyweight champ and the first man to defeat Muhammad Ali at my side. The problem was, before the bell rang Joe and trainer George Benton stepped out of the ring and I was standing in the corner by myself. Which is the same predicament Pascal will be in when the bell rings to start the fight with Kovalev.
As you may have surmised, I’m not enthralled with the idea of the “Mr. Fix It” trainer because I know it’s a bigger myth than the tooth fairy. Fighters have limitations, and based on my observation of both Kovalev and Pascal, I’d say Sergey is beyond Jean’s limitation as a world class championship fighter. Once Kovalev hits Pascal good he’ll suddenly remember how things were the first time they fought and survival will overrule Roach’s instructions and fight plan.
Roach insists that Pascal has picked things up quickly and he’s a completely different fighter now…”If he fights smart, he can win. We don’t want him to fall back into his old style, lay on the ropes and wait and put his hands down” said Roach. Well then it’ll be interesting to see if Roach can pull a rabbit out of a hat and transform Pascal’s mindset, style and physicality enough in eight weeks to navigate him past Kovalev. Remember, Freddie recently said (Boxingscene.com 1/26/16) that Teddy Atlas wouldn’t have any bearing on the outcome between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley when they meet in their rubber match because Atlas hasn’t been working with Bradley long enough to make much of a difference. Yet Teddy and Timothy have experienced one fight together as a team, something Roach can’t claim with Pascal.
The way I see it, Kovalev is too long and strong for Pascal. The last time they fought the shorter Pascal was at the mercy of Sergey’s long and quicker-than-advertised jab. He had Pascal’s head going back looking up at the ring lights when it landed, and that opened the path for Kovalev to land crisp right hands to Jean’s jaw which shook him good and he needed to get away and recoup.
What is Roach going to change about that? If he instructs Pascal to bring it to Kovalev, he plays into Sergey’s hands and goes directly into his power, something he tried last time and got hurt. His other option is to try and out-box Kovalev from the outside and pick his spots, something that also failed because Kovalev pushed the action and forced Pascal to engage or move away. Obviously Pascal couldn’t stay with Kovalev by fighting it out with him and when he broke off the exchanges early to get away it was impossible for him to score.
The only success Pascal had was rushing Kovalev in spurts looking to land a big overhand right as if he were playing the lottery. And for two rounds – rounds five and six – it worked. However, Sergey started to time him and caught Pascal rushing in and hurt him again. If you’ve read what Pascal has said, he hangs his hat on how he fought in the 5th and 6th rounds of the first fight, only he couldn’t keep that pace up and Kovalev figured it out. In fact Kovalev stopping Pascal so suddenly is a testament to just how explosive and dangerous Sergey is.
I expect Pascal to be more deliberate this time and better defensively, but his only real shot is to try and better Sergey with quick counters without getting his head taken off in the process — something that is a tall order, especially with Kovalev holding all the mental, physical and psychological advantages over him. Pascal is who he is as a fighter and I don’t expect him to be all that different in the rematch. Maybe a little more rhythm and boxing and less engaging, but there’s not much else he can do. And to those who have mentioned Pascal having a Plan B or C, forget it; it doesn’t exist for him against Kovalev.
Jean Pascal is an outstanding fighter and I respect him for wanting one more shot at Kovalev. I salute his guts for going after him again, but when all is said and done, Kovalev is a bad matchup for Pascal. Sergey is just too long and strong and seems capable of bettering Pascal at every turn. If trainer Freddie Roach can take the lesser horse and win the Kentucky Derby his first time out, then I must salute him too.
However, until I see it, I don’t believe it will happen.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
Check out this The Boxing Channel‘s video with results and highlights.