Roach Making a Difference with Pascal – After watching Sergey Kovalev’s methodical dismantling of Jean Pascal for the second time in 10 months this past Saturday night – we found that the more things change the more they stay the same. Last March Kovalev 29-0-1 (26) stopped the game and determined Pascal 30-4-1 (17) in eight rounds to retain his three light heavyweight title belts. Pascal, after defeating undefeated Yunieski Gonzalez by decision last July, enlisted the help of new trainer and supposed miracle worker Freddie Roach to help him prepare for his rematch with Kovalev.
When their first fight concluded it was easy to decipher that Kovalev was simply too long and strong for Pascal. Kovalev’s left jab was the dominant punch during the first bout and when all was said and done, once again, even with coach Roach whispering in his ear, Pascal had no answer for it during their rematch — which is just another vivid illustration that regardless of how terrific a trainer is, or is presumed to be, the fact is that the trainer makes roughly no more than a 5-10% difference in a world class fighter.
It’s very common for observers and fans when they attempt to break down bouts between world class fighters to overlook the physicality aspect between the boxers. This is a monumental mistake because the greatest strategies and fight plans in the world blow up at center ring if fighter A cannot physically execute the plan against fighter B.
For years it was said in order to beat Muhammad Ali, all you had to do was cut off the ring, go to the body and work your way up to the head. That sounded great and on paper seemed plausible, however, only “Smokin” Joe Frazier executed the plan to perfection against Ali when Ali was at or near his prime… and much of that had to do with Joe’s swarming style which he applied against every opponent he faced. And to his detriment, it was that exact style that led to him becoming the former champion after his first bout against George Foreman.
It was also said that to beat Marvin Hagler you had to box him, give him angles and force Marvin to fight as the attacker. Many fighters tried to apply that strategy, but only Sugar Ray Leonard and to a lesser degree Roberto Duran were successful executing it. The point is, Frazier, Leonard and Duran were all-time greats and physically skilled and tough enough to fight the ideal strategy against Ali and Hagler. The others who tried weren’t capable of pulling it off physically because they simply weren’t good enough – and there wasn’t a trainer alive who would’ve made a difference in aiding Zora Folley past Ali or Wilford Scypion past Hagler.
Last weekend’s Kovalev-Pascal rematch is just the latest in a long line of examples as to why a trainer is a small percentage of a fighter’s success. Instead of being stopped in the eighth round like he was the first time they fought, Pascal’s trainer Freddie Roach asked the referee to stop it after the seventh round. And in reality Pascal didn’t fare as well the second time because he did not win a single round, compared to the first meeting when won two rounds.
Prior to the bout in my pre-fight analysis I said…
“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?”
The answer to that was nothing! In the simplest terms it was too much of Roach to ask Pascal to make Kovalev miss from the outside and at the same time be in position and range to make Sergey pay for his miss. Prior to the bout Roach stressed how effective Pascal’s jab was, but what he missed or wouldn’t say was….Kovalev’s jab is more effective than Pascal’s when they face each other. If Pascal attempts to jab with Kovalev, he loses, and if he tries to get off before him, he’s forced to assume the lead, something Sergey would relish. In the main Pascal doesn’t have the ideal build or style to beat Kovalev and no trainer, not Nacho Beristain, Teddy Atlas, Virgil Hunter, Whitey Bimstein, Angelo Dundee or Ray Arcel would’ve made a difference and somehow managed to navigate Pascal past Kovalev.
Trainers can only do so much. They can tweak fighters and sometimes those tweaks pay off. However, they cannot re-invent them stylistically, nor can they alter their physicality. If you watched the fight, Pascal was actually less effective in the rematch than he was during their first meeting. And the reason for that was, not only did he know Kovalev could hurt him, but his mind was overloaded with what he couldn’t do and then the stress of what he had to do. Once he realized he wasn’t gaining any traction, like all fighters, he resorted to what he was most comfortable doing, and that was focusing on the rare opportunities he could make a run at Kovalev and hope to hit the lottery. The problem with that was Kovalev was methodically taking him apart, and gave him something else to think about by throwing right hand leads that usually found the target. Something he didn’t see as much of the last time they met.
I salute Pascal for having all the guts and gumption in the world because he really tried. One had to feel for him when he asked Roach to give him one more round. Often fighters will say that but their words ring hollow but that wasn’t the case with Pascal. He knew he was defeated but wanted to lose that last one percent of hope in his mind that Kovalev was his master.
The lesson from the bout is, the fighter is 90 percent of the equation and at best the trainer is that last 10 percent, if it’s even that much. Pascal is an outstanding fighter but he’s not good enough physically or stylistically to beat Sergey Kovalev. Boxing trainers are a lot like horse jockeys. The jockey is only as good as the horse he’s riding. I’ll bet there were a ton of jockeys who could’ve ridden Secretariat to victory at the 1973 Belmont the way Ron Turcotte did, but maybe not by 31 lengths.
Sure, like the jockey the boxing trainer may gain a feel for the fighter but they cannot give him what he doesn’t have from a skill or physicality vantage point. In time maybe Roach could improve Pascal incrementally as a fighter, but he could never get him to beat Kovalev. Sergey is simply the better fighter and has his number along with the physicality to execute what is needed in order to beat Jean Pascal. And there’s no disgrace in that because Kovalev is some fighter and we may be talking about him for a good while down the road.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
Check out this Kovalev vs Pascal 2 wrap up with Ray Flores at The Boxing Channel