Sergey Kovalev (R) punches then-IBF and WBA light heavyweight titleholder Bernard Hopkins on Nov. 8, 2014. Hopkins lost by a shutout decision. Photo by Naoki Fukuda.
This Saturday, unified light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev will face former titlist Jean Pascal in Pascal’s adopted hometown of Montreal.
The Kovalev-Pascal contest pits the heavy-handed offensive force of nature from Russia against the more athletically gifted Pascal, who also possesses a sturdy set of whiskers, though has shown a tendency to fade later in fights.
Kovalev (26-0-1, 23 knockouts) sprang to prominence when he travelled to the U.K. and ripped the WBO 175-pound title from the grasp of Nathan Cleverly in the summer of 2013. He followed that with three consecutive knockouts to set up his unification with Bernard Hopkins last fall. Kovalev showed once again that fighting on the road isn’t a problem and neither is going the full 12 rounds, impressively using his greater strength and underrated skills to win a shutout decision against the Philadelphia legend.
Former WBC champion Pascal (29-2-1, 17 KOs) enters the bout on the back of a disappointing second-round no-contest against Roberto Bolonti, in which the Argentine seemed happy to stay on the canvas after being hit while the referee tried to break a clinch. Previously, Pascal had beatenformer IBF 168-pound champion Lucian Bute, ending another spell of inactivity in a career plagued by them over the past few years. In Montreal, Pascal is something of a rock star and will be cheered on by a boisterous crowd. Can he keep his emotions in check and perform to the best of his capabilities, which at times have fluctuated?
Super middleweight titleholder Andre Ward expects a close fight and is torn on who wins.
“I think it’s going to be a very competitive fight,” Ward told RingTV.com. “It’s a great opportunity for Pascal, and Kovalev has a lot of momentum coming off of the Hopkins victory so it should be a great fight.
RingTV.com asked 20 boxing insiders for their picks:
Nathan Cleverly, former WBO light heavyweight titlist
Sergey Kovalev KO Jean Pascal: It’s a good fight, a good opponent for Kovalev. Pascal is a world-class fighter, he’s been around that level for a long time. Kovalev is too big, too strong, punches too hard, all around too many tools for Pascal. I think Pascal will move early, he’ll be cagey. He likes to move around on his feet early, he likes to use the ring sometimes/ I think he’ll try that. I think Kovalev will cut the ring down, nice long shots, use his range, use his length and bit by bit break up Pascal and I think he’ll get Pascal out of there. I think mid-to-late rounds. I can’t see Pascal taking Kovalev’s power.
Norm Frauenheim, THE RING Magazine/www.15rounds.com
Sergey Kovalev TKO 10 Jean Pascal: Jean Pascal’s fast hands figure to give Kovalev trouble early, but not long enough for him to upset the determined, unflappable Russian. Kovalev figures to walk him down in a single-minded pursuit, eventually putting him within range for power shots that will fracture Pascal’s will, if not a couple of ribs, in a late-round stoppage.
Doug Fischer, Editor of RingTV.com
Sergey Kovalev by late TKO Jean Pascal: I think Pascal’s awkward/unorthodox and mobile style enables him to trouble the technically sound boxer-puncher in the early rounds, while the former champ’s underrated durability and fighting heart allows him to last into the late rounds once the Russian titleholder begins to zero in on his midsection and cut the ring down. Pascal, who can crack, will have his moments when engaging along the ropes but I think the power, accuracy and combination punching for Kovalev will force a stoppage sometime after the ninth round.
Jeffrey Freeman, www.KODigest.TV
Sergey Kovalev TKO 5 Jean Pascal: There is no reason whatsoever for Sergey Kovalev to take it easy on Jean Pascal like he did on 49-year-old Bernard Hopkins last year. The Haitian-born Canadian Pascal is a wild man and a wildcard but he’s not going to defeat the unbeaten Kovalev, regardless of where they fight. Pascal’s best chance is to go on the attack early. That strategy will also be his undoing if he does it. The pick is “Krusher” by TKO in five rounds and so it now looks like the end of the road for Pascal as a serious force to be reckoned with in the top-heavy light heavyweight division.
Tom Gray, RingTV.com
Sergey Kovalev TKO 5 Jean Pascal: Bernard Hopkins labeled Pascal a four-round fighter and pretty much proved that theory correct across two fights, dominating the Haitian-born Canadian down the stretch in both meetings (a draw and a Hopkins win). If it takes Kovalev four rounds to begin having his way with Pascal then I frankly expect a fifth-round stoppage. Read into that what you may, but the Russian world champion is a ferocious puncher and an underrated craftsman. I like Kovalev in this fight and, despite Pascal’s ability to absorb a shot, I like him big.
Eleider Alvarez, light heavyweight contender
Jean Pascal UD 12 Sergey Kovalev: Jean Pascal by unanimous decision. He has had perfect preparation. Kovalev is stronger but Pascal’s better. He will surprise Kovalev.
Andreas Hale, KnockoutNation.com
Sergey Kovalev TKO 8 Jean Pascal: Pascal doesn’t really know what he’s in for and although he’ll be able to keep his distance early with his solid boxing and speed, he’ll eventually be walked down by Kovalev and get crushed in the middle rounds en route to an 8th-round stoppage.
Kenny Adams, trainer of 25 world champions
Sergey Kovalev KO Jean Pascal: I’m going to have to pick Kovalev. I just think he’s shown he can get knocked down (Against Blake Caparello) and get back up and battle and that to me in important and the other guy has shown that at one point in time he might have a little quit in him and he doesn’t take it as good as he gives it. It’s going to have to be a knockout.
Virgil Hill, former two-time light heavyweight champion
Sergey Kovalev mid-round KO Jean Pascal: Kovalev, he’s the man right now, he’s that guy. You know, I’ve seen him get hit with a couple of shots and rocked. He’s a frontrunner, he’s going to go right out there. He’s tall, long, lanky, he’s got good power in both hands and a real tough guy. I kind of question the level of competition [Pascal] has fought compared to Kovalev. I don’t know, unless Kovalev has trouble with southpaws, it’s gonna be a short night. I don’t think it goes the distance. Mid-rounds I think. I think [Pascal is] going to run a little bit, he’s going to try to be elusive, but if Kovalev can cut off the ring and line up that heavy right hand – he has a good left hook to boot – it could be a short night. Just depends on if he can catch up to him.
Glen Johnson, former light heavyweight titlist
Sergey Kovalev KO Jean Pascal: I think Kovalev should win easily inside three, four rounds at most. Pascal is a good fighter and I don’t see that changing but I think the fight should be over in three, four rounds.
Photo by Naoki Fukuda:
Diego M. Morilla, XNSports.com, RingTV, HBO.com
Sergey Kovalev W 12 Jean Pascal: If there was a way to measure the power of every separate punch, Kovalev would probably notch the most consistent possible numbers. He fires for effect in every deployment of his superb weaponry. He is an improved, more agile version of Carlos Monzon, working behind a bone-crushing one-two with impeccable accuracy and then jumping in to land his combinations. Pascal may have a chance if he tries to swarm and overwhelm him with his combinations, but Kovalev will stay at the right distance and land with enough power and continuity to notch the decision – or even a late-round stoppage.
John J. Raspanti, Maxboxing.com/Doghouseboxing.com/KO Monthly Magazine
Sergey Kovalev TKO 9 Jean Pascal: Last November, hard-hitting Sergey Kovalev showed Bernard Hopkins and the world that’s he not just a one-trick pony. He defeated the wily veteran by outboxing him. Jean Pascal’s last bout was a bizarre no-contest against Roberto Bolonti. Prior to that fight, he won a 12-round grudge match against Lucian Bute. Pascal has some skills, but Kovalev appears to be the superior technical fighter. Kovalev will break Pascal down and stop him before Round 10.
Matt Richardson, Fightnews.com
Sergey Kovalev in 9 Jean Pascal: How can you not like Kovalev in this one? Sure, Pascal’s movement and herky-jerky style could give Kovalev some hesitation early on. Eventually, however, he will start to connect and once he does, Pascal won’t be able to stand for much longer. Kovalev the boxer did outstanding against Bernard Hopkins last November but I expect the puncher to be back against Pascal. Assume it takes a few rounds to get his rhythm but then it should be all Kovalev. Kovalev in 9.
Cliff Rold, BoxingScene.com
Sergey Kovalev KO Jean Pascal: Pascal should take Kovalev some rounds and give him some tests with his speed. That’s not enough for the erratic and sometimes sloppy challenger. Kovalev breaks him down and a corner stoppage is possible.
Michael Rosenthal, THE RING Magazine
Sergey Kovalev KO Jean Pascal: I think Jean Pascal has the all-around ability and experience to give Sergey Kovalev some trouble but, in the end, this is the Russian’s time. We know all about his punching power. And he left no doubt against Bernard Hopkins that he has the refined skills to execute a good game plan. He appears to be a complete fighter. I think Kovalev will patiently pick Pascal apart and stop him late. Kovalev KO 10.
Kalle Sauerland, Sauerland Event
Sergey Kovalev KO Jean Pascal: Kovalev wins by KO in the ninth.
Adonis Stevenson, WBC and RING light heavyweight champion
Sergey Kovalev W 12 Jean Pascal: I believe it will be a very good fight. The lack of competitive fights for Pascal since he fought (Bernard) Hopkins and his lack of action will play a role against him. You have to be a puncher and apply pressure to beat Kovalev and I don’t think Pascal can do that. Kovalev will win. Maybe it’s by decision because of Pascal’s strong chin, but I won’t be surprised if it ends in a knockout. Pascal will have his moments, though, especially early on.
Dominic Verdin, RingTV.com
Sergey Kovalev KO inside 8 Pascal: Kovalev is on a mission to become the best light heavyweight and so far he’s accomplishing his mission. Pascal will provide an excellent prizefight for his cheering fans in Montreal. However, the many cheers and the early accolades bestowed upon him will not be of any help. Kovalev will land hard and early, sending down the proud Haitian fighter in his adopted hometown of Montreal. Pascal will battle back, although it will be his demise, with the heavy exchanges in the middle of the ring ending matters inside eight gruesome rounds.
Final tally: 17-1 in favor of Sergey Kovalev to win Saturday’s light heavyweight title showdown with Jean Pascal.