Unified light heavyweight titleholder Sergey "Krusher" Kovalev will put three belts on the line in a rematch against former world champion Jean Pascal while his team also plots two bigger fights in 2016, against champion Adonis Stevenson and former super middleweight champion Andre Ward.
Kovalev and Pascal, who met this week at a kickoff news conference at the Bell Centre in Montreal, will meet again in the ring at that arena on Jan. 30 (9:45 p.m. ET, HBO).
The Bell Centre is the same venue where they fought March 14. Kovalev, on Pascal's home turf, knocked his foe out in the eighth round of an action-packed, albeit one-sided, fight.
"Krusher likes to fight in his opponent's city because he loves to disappoint the opposing boxer's fans," said Main Events CEO Kathy Duva, Kovalev's promoter.
Pascal vowed that the rematch would turn out differently.
"I put him down in the eighth round in the first fight, but [the referee] called it a slip. But I promise you that Kovalev is going to have a full plate in the rematch," Pascal said. "I'm going to have a full plate as well, but I have a new trainer [Hall of Famer Freddie Roach]. I've changed things. I've improved in ways that Kovalev cannot even imagine. I'm going to break up the party. I'm going to teach him respect and to respect Canadian boxing fans."
Said Jean Bedard of InterBox, Pascal's promoter: "Jean Pascal put Sergey Kovalev in trouble in several rounds in the first bout, and I'm convinced he will be even better this time around. We're in for a great fight, and that's why it didn't take much time for HBO to decide to broadcast this rematch."
Russia's Kovalev, perhaps the most feared puncher in the sport, is a man of few words and wouldn't engage in Pascal's trash talk.
"I'm not a talker. I'm a fighter," Kovalev said. "I will make him close his mouth once and for all on Jan. 30."
Said Egis Klimas, Kovalev's manager: "Not many boxers have agreed to step into the ring with Krusher a second time, so Pascal must be respected for showing the guts to do it. So even though I don't agree with much of what Pascal says, I respect the warrior that he is."
While Kovalev-Pascal I was an entertaining fight, the excitement for the rematch is not what it might have been because of Pascal's next performance.
On July 25, Kovalev, 32 (28-0-1, 25 KOs), destroyed overmatched mandatory challenger Nadjib Mohammedi in the third round in Las Vegas to retain his titles. But the 33-year-old Pascal (30-3-1, 17 KOs), appearing in the co-feature to set the stage for the rematch, struggled against Cuban defector Yunieski Gonzalez. Pascal won by heavily disputed unanimous decision (96-94 on all three scorecards). Virtually every media member ringside had Gonzalez winning the fight with a couple of draws. Harold Lederman, HBO's unofficial judge, also had Gonzalez winning.
But Pascal was not interested in rehashing what happened in July. He said he is focused on avenging his loss to Kovalev.
"This bout is about redemption for me," he said. "Kovalev was the better man on March 14. I've watched the fight many times. I know what needs to be fixed, and on Jan. 30 my performance will speak for itself.
"It will be a sacrifice to spend Christmas and New Year's Day away from my loved ones, but it will be worth it. I'll be celebrating the new year with style on Feb. 1. This time around, preventing Kovalev from going ahead with combinations will be key. That will be part of my game plan."
Kovalev, who lives in Los Angeles, heads into the fight with Pascal having signed a contract extension with Main Events, which is busy working with HBO -- the network has a contract with Kovalev -- to plot the rest of his 2016.
If Kovalev defeats Pascal, the plan would see him face lineal world champion Stevenson (27-1, 22 KOs) -- one of boxing's most anticipated matchups -- in June to unify the four major belts followed by a fall showdown with Ward (28-0, 15 KOs), of Oakland, California, who recently signed with HBO, vacated his super middleweight title and moved up to light heavyweight. The Kovalev-Ward fight is a done deal, provided they win their preceding bouts.
The proposed Stevenson fight has been difficult to make through various attempts, mainly because of Stevenson's ties to manager Al Haymon, whose fighters have been banned from appearing on HBO, and Stevenson's perceived reluctance to take the fight.
But Duva said she has the framework of a deal done with promoter Yvon Michel for a June fight, as long as Kovalev beats Pascal, that would take place on HBO or HBO PPV with the sides splitting the money 50-50. Duva said Stevenson and Haymon still have to sign off on the proposal.
Stevenson, of Montreal, has said he wants the fight and reiterated it on Nov. 29 during Showtime's James DeGale-Lucian Bute telecast; Kovalev was also in attendance.
"I want this fight to happen," Stevenson said. "The fans want it to happen. I said June is perfect for me. He said, 'OK, June.' Kathy Duva said, 'No problem, June.' Then she said on HBO. I said, 'Forget about the TVs. Let them talk.' We want the fight to happen. Let the TVs work together and make it happen.
"I want to fight Kovalev. That's the best opportunity for me because I want his titles. For sure, this fight will happen in June. I don't have a problem; my team doesn't have a problem. I want this fight in June. Kovalev is scared. I talked to him, saw it in his eyes that he's scared of me. It will happen, but I know Kovalev is scared. I want Kovalev. I'm very hungry to get his titles."