Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pascal Next For Stevenson?

One trend that has returned to the sport of Boxing in the last year was the best fighters squaring off against each other. This was one element that made 2013 an extremely successful year for the sport. One could make a justifiable argument that the first marquee fight of 2014 was the Light-Heavyweight battle between former world champions Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute. An encounter that in the months leading up to the fight seemed to have elements of two fighters who were now at a crossroads.

It is important to remember that it was not very long ago that both Pascal and Bute were at the top of the sport. Bute the long reigning unbeaten IBF Super-Middleweight world champion who had successfully defended his title nine times before suffering the lone defeat of his career, a brutal knockout loss at the hands Super-Middleweight world champion Carl Froch in May of 2012. Pascal, the former WBC Light-Heavyweight world champion who has squared off with a “Who’s, Who” of his division including two fights with the legendary Bernard Hopkins. Pascal earned a draw against Hopkins in their first fight, and lost his world title to him in the rematch.

Coming into this fight both Pascal and Bute were coming off wins in their respective comeback bouts since suffering those high profile losses, but one might argue that there are still questions that both needed to answer. When the two fighters came together on January 18th at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada it was rightfully regarded as perhaps one of the biggest fights in Canadian Boxing history. An argument could certainly be made that based on both fighters drawing power that it may have been an unnecessary risk for either to face the other. Both fighters should be commended however, for electing to face each other when perhaps there may have been other options on the table for both.

It is of equal importance to remember that even when circumstances allow the best fighters to face each other, it does not always necessarily translate into encounters that most would call classics. For the majority of twelve rounds it was Jean Pascal who controlled the tempo the fight, was able to get his punches off first, and made the most out of his offense while at the same time keeping his opponent tentative and unable to get into a rhythm. What particularly impressed this observer was Jean Pascal’s ability to be elusive throughout this fight.

Pascal is known for having an unorthodox style and being able to utilize a combination of hand speed and power. Issues that have failed Pascal in the past is that he has had trouble pacing himself and has faded in the latter stages of a fight. This was particularly evident in his first fight with Bernard Hopkins where he was able to knock Hopkins down in rounds one and three, but faded down the stretch where Hopkins was able to gain ground on the scorecards and had won the fight in the opinion of many at the end the night. 

In this fight, Pascal dictated the pace from start to finish. Pascal’s lateral movement was on full display in this fight even during periods where he was not particularly active offensively, he was able to keep Bute from throwing punches consistently. Pascal, who enlisted the help of the legendary Roy Jones to help him prepare for his clash against Bute fought in a manner that was in some ways reminiscent of Roy Jones in his prime. In particular, Pascal’s ability to land right hand leads to the head and body while remaining an elusive target and mixing in combinations. 

In fairness to Lucian Bute, Jean Pascal has never been a fighter that is necessarily easy to establish a rhythm against. It was clear however, that Bute was tentative to let his hands go with consistency throughout much of this fight. Whether or not that is an indication of any effects Bute may have suffered in his loss to Carl Froch is a subject that could be debated. Clearly based on not only his performance against Pascal, but also his performance against Denis Grachev in his first fight since the Froch loss, Bute just doesn’t have the same confidence that he once had. It wasn’t until the final rounds of this fight against Pascal that Bute, behind on the scorecards went on the attack trying to turn the fight in his favor in a manner that was not unlike Bute’s first fight with Librado Andrade in 2008.

Like Andrade, Bute would not be able to pull off a come from behind victory as Pascal would earn a convincing twelve round unanimous decision. It is logical to assume not only based off of what was a solid performance for Pascal, but also based on Pascal winning the North American Boxing Federation (NABF) title in the Light-Heavyweight division that it would presumably put him in line to challenge current WBC champion Adonis Stevenson. Stevenson is considered by many to be the number one fighter in the division. 

A fight between Stevenson and Pascal would appear to make sense assuming that a unification bout between Stevenson and WBO champion Sergey Kovalev is not made for later this year. A question that could play a factor in either a fight with Pascal or Kovalev being made for Stevenson could be determined by how active Stevenson intends to be in 2014. Last year, Stevenson scored four impressive knockout victories including winning his world title against Chad Dawson and two successful title defenses of his WBC crown.

It is rare to see a world champion being so active in his era. It is not out of the realm of possibility that perhaps Stevenson and his camp may want to scale his activity back slightly if nothing else to allow him to recuperate between fights and between training camps. It would be certainly understandable considering that Stevenson has firmly established himself as a star of the division that he would be looking to seek the most lucrative fight possible for him at this stage of his career. The element of the “Business of Boxing” must also be taken into consideration here as contracts between fighters, networks, and promoters could play a factor in such decisions. Whether or not Pascal is in the immediate future for Stevenson this observer believes that he deserves to be in the conversation of potential opponents for one of Boxing’s newest stars.

As for Lucian Bute, there may be some who may have been of the opinion that whomever did not come out on top between Pascal and Bute may well be finished on a top level of the sport. This observer does not necessarily agree with such an opinion. Perhaps after being given significant time to reflect on his career, Lucian Bute could well find himself back in the discussion of top fighters in either the Super-Middleweight or Light-Heavyweight divisions.

It goes without saying that not every fighter returns to top form immediately following a loss. Bute may be best served in taking a more gradual approach in his comeback rather than more or less jumping right back in against top level opposition after suffering a knockout loss. We will have to wait and see what the future holds for Lucian Bute.

An enthusiastic crowd of over 20,000 people who were in attendance for this fight made it abundantly clear that from a business standpoint, Montreal and really all of Canada is a force to be reckoned with in the sport of Boxing. It is clear at least in my eyes that the sport has another marquee venue to stage the best of what it has to offer. It certainly should be a sign of good things to come.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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