After a thrilling defense of his three light heavyweight titles against Jean Pascal, here are five things we learned about Sergey Kovalev’s eighth-round TKO victory on Saturday at the Bell Centre in Montreal:
1. It’s time we crown Kovalev
He’s the best light heavyweight in the world -- lineal title or not. But he’s also one of the best fighters in the world -- period -- regardless of weight class. If you’ve been late to the party on giving the destructive Kovalev (27-0-1, 24 KOs) his pound-for-pound due after his shutout in November of ageless wonder Bernard Hopkins, his performance against Pascal should be enough. Was he tested by the determined and awkward former champion? Without question. But it was how Kovalev responded to being stung by a series of wild counter right hands in Rounds 5 and 6 from Pascal that showcased his true character and intangibles. Kovalev weathered the storm and reset himself by going back to the basics and rebuilding behind his jab, which opened up the door for his big right hand and left hook. More importantly, through equal periods of success and vulnerability, he never lost track of his head or emotions and remained stoically patient. Despite performing in front of a hostile crowd, Kovalev continued to prove how remarkably unflappable he truly is.
2. Pascal went out like a champion
There have been some fighters who have tasted Kovalev’s violent, thudding power and wanted no more. Some have even gone as far as insinuating that Hopkins, then 49, retreated into survival mode for the next 11 rounds after surviving a first-round knockdown last year. But the athletic and unorthodox Pascal (29-3-1, 17 KOs) came to win and was bold enough to go out on his shield in order to thrill the raucous crowd in his adopted home city. His willingness to load up on heavy shots and repeatedly swing for the fences with a mixture of looping hooks and quick right hands won back Kovalev’s respect after it appeared Pascal was on the verge of being stopped. It also made for an incredibly fun fight. Pascal swelled Kovalev’s eyes and if he didn’t outright hurt the Russian slugger, he clearly gave him something to think about more than once. Pascal showed tremendous heart to survive both a knockdown late in Round 3 and a tsunami of power shots the following round as he wobbled on unsteady legs. At 32, Pascal has become known more for being the money man in the division than being a threat to its crown in recent years. But he proved on Saturday that he’s still a legitimate threat to any elite fighter.
3. Kovalev is a technician
It’s his power that gets the fans in the building. (And with 24 knockouts in 27 fights, it’s rightfully so.) But the more Kovalev steps up his level of competition, the more we are finding out just how good of a boxer he is and how well he sets up his punches. Kovalev’s big jab is a weapon as much as it is a range finder, which allows him to slowly stalk his opponents and cut down the distance. But he used body shots just as effectively to slow down Pascal – who had never been down as a professional entering the right -- and set him up for big shots. With responsible defense and tremendous poise, we are not only watching a complete fighter in Kovalev, we are watching the ascent of a truly great one.
4. We don’t need a rematch ... yet
Referee Luis Pabon’s stoppage in the eighth round with Pascal standing, yet badly hurt in the corner from a pair of right hands to the side of the head was one of those that you didn’t love, but surely didn’t hate. It saved Pascal, who spoke out against it after the fight, from further punishment as he appeared to be out on his feet. But I don’t think it was enough to necessitate an immediate rematch. As much fun as this fight was and as difficult a challenge as Pascal proved to be, Kovalev was on his way to a victory. Not to mention, Kovalev has bigger fish to fry in the future (see below). But keep the memories of this fight fresh in the back of your mind. One to two years from now, it may end up making a lot of sense (and cents) to do again.
5. Kovalev deserves a shot at the lineal title
A showdown between “The Krusher” and lineal champion Adonis Stevenson has been one that fans have clamored for since both hard-hitting light heavyweights enjoyed parallel meteoric rises in 2013. And despite the political hurdles that remain ever since Stevenson left HBO in 2014 and joined forces with adviser Al Haymon, we could be getting closer. Kovalev’s victory over Pascal made him the mandatory challenger for the WBC title held by Stevenson, who was in attendance on Saturday. For what it’s worth, Hopkins reported on the HBO telecast that Stevenson told him he’s willing to fight Kovalev, who must first face his own mandatory challenger, Nadjib Mohammedi, of France. If Stevenson refuses, he would be stripped of the title. Either way, Kovalev, not to mention the fans, is deserving of the fight. And in a year when Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao can end a nearly six-year soap opera to sign the contract for their May 2 superfight, it’s clear that anything is possible.