Monday, March 16, 2015

Kovalev Stops Pascal, Rematch? Stevenson-Bika Winner? What’s Next?

The latest chapter in the storyline of the potential full unification of the Light-Heavyweight division took place on March 14th at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada where undefeated unified WBO/IBF/WBA Light-Heavyweight world champion Sergey Kovalev defended his crown against former WBC world champion Jean Pascal. A fight that presented an interesting clash of styles between a fighter in Kovalev who is known for his punching power going against an opponent in Pascal who has an unorthodox style that combines hand speed, power, and who has the ability to execute his offense in spurts.

Prior to this fight I stated that for Pascal to be successful in this fight I believed that he needed to establish himself as an elusive target,  look to play the role of counter puncher, and look to capitalize on openings that Kovalev might leave as well as find a way to nullify the champion’s consistent pressure. It was not surprising to see the fight begin with Kovalev looking to immediately pressure and walk Pascal down.

Despite being known as a power puncher, Kovalev has also shown the ability to be tactical and measured in his attack. This fight was no exception as the champion’s jab and right hand were a focal point of his offense from the outset. Kovalev was able to mix his jab to the body and head of Pascal to land effectively with his right hand.

Although Kovalev was the more active of the two fighters, Pascal was able to have success when he was able to land counter punches and able to land periodically at points where Kovalev was not on the offensive. A problem for Pascal in the early rounds seemed to be that although he would have periodic success landing right hands, left hooks, and body punches, he had trouble landing his punches in combination. This can be attributed to Kovalev’s ability to control distance with his jab, make Pascal miss, and return offense when Pascal would have success.

A flush right hand from Kovalev sent Pascal partially through the ropes in the closing seconds of round three and he was credited with a knockdown.  The knockdown was the first of Pascal’s career as a result of the ropes holding Pascal up as determined by Referee Louis Pabon. Despite appearing that he may have been out on his feet, Pascal withstood a barrage of punches from the champion at the beginning of round four and landed some solid counter right hands of his own throughout the round.

 A question that is often asked of fighters who are known as power punchers and knockout artists as Kovalev is, is how that fighter responds when an opponent takes their power shots, gets knocked down, but keeps fighting. Kovalev began the fifth round throwing punches with both hands and did not appear discouraged by the success of the challenger in the fourth round. Pascal however, would continue to rally and continued to have success landing counter punches to the head and landing punches to the body of the champion in what was Pascal’s best round of the fight to that point. Pascal also succeeded in being the first fighter to test Kovalev’s ability to take a punch as he was able to stun the champion particularly when he was able to counter with right hands to the head.

To the champion’s credit he showed a granite chin and did not slow his offensive output, despite Pascal’s success and increasing aggression in rounds five and six. The ebb and flow shifted back to the champion in round seven as Kovalev was the more active of the two fighters. Kovalev was able to execute his offense off of his jab as was the case in the early rounds. What became a spirited battle between two of the Light-Heavyweight division’s elite would come to a conclusion in round eight.

After stunning Pascal with a left hook that sent Pascal into Kovalev’s corner, Kovalev was inadvertently tripped by Pascal and knocked down to the canvas. Pascal, clearly suffering the effects of the left hook and the barrage of punches that preceded it staggered into a neutral corner. The bout resumed and after taking two flush right hands from Kovalev, the fight was stopped by Referee Luis Pabon. Official time of stoppage was 1:03 of the eighth round.

The win for Kovalev, which was his fifth successful title defense keeps him in position for a potential unification bout between himself and the winner of the April 4th WBC Light-Heavyweight world championship fight between champion Adonis Stevenson and former WBC Super-Middleweight champion Sakio Bika. In his last two fights however, Sergey Kovalev has answered some questions that some may have been asking.

Kovalev proved in his unification bout against Bernard Hopkins that he is more than a mere seek and destroy knockout artist and could go a full twelve rounds  in a fight that he dominated from start to finish. In this fight against Jean Pascal, Kovalev showed not only the ability to take a punch, but also to respond well to a fighter who showed significant resistance, and who was able to recover from being knocked down. 

There is simply not much more that you can ask of a fighter than what Sergey Kovalev was able to do in this fight. As solid a performance it was for Sergey Kovalev, what was equally impressive was the performance and determination of Jean Pascal who more than proved his mettle in defeat.

Pascal was not only “Game”, but he also showed significant resistance against a fighter who with the exception of his fight against Bernard Hopkins has carved out a reputation as one of the sport’s most devastating knockout artists. Although Jean Pascal did not emerge from this fight as a two-time world champion, he has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

Whether or not the storyline of the potential full unification of the Light-Heavyweight division will see a conclusion with Sergey Kovalev facing the winner of the Stevenson-Bika fight remains to be seen. If however, a fight for the undisputed Light-Heavyweight world championship is not on the horizon for later this year, what could be for Kovalev in the near future just might be a rematch with Jean Pascal. It was a spirited battle between two great fighters. Pascal fought this fight hard and is deserving of a rematch.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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