Sergey Kovalev emerges with another memorable victory, this time over Jean Pascal
MONTREAL – Sergey Kovalev couldn’t have asked for a much better scenario on Saturday at the Bell Centre.
The IBF, WBA and WBO light heavyweight champ had a tougher time with Jean Pascal than many expected but that’s fine. He scored a dramatic eighth-round knockout after a scintillating fight against an elite opponent who had never been stopped in a long, successful career.
That’s a good night at the office even if you go home with some bumps and bruises, which will be the case for Kovalev.
The Russian definitely maintained the momentum he established in his breakout victory over Bernard Hopkins in November of last year, after which he was named 2014 RING Fighter of the Year.
The fight on Saturday could end up being a candidate for RING Fight of the Year, which didn’t seem remotely possible early on.
Kovalev had Pascal reeling in the third round, when a series of hard punches culminated in a knockdown in the final seconds. The hometown fighter seemed to be on his way out.
Instead, Pascal somehow recovered and came out firing in Round 4, taking more hard shots but landing many of his own to turn a one-sided fight into a competitive – and very entertaining – one to the delight of the fans.
Rounds 4 through 6 were riveting, as the fighters exchanged bombs and refused to give an inch. Kovalev seemed to be in real danger of losing at certain moments.
And then it all just stopped. Pascal, perhaps tired after his frenetic comeback, stopped throwing punches in an uneventful Round 7. Then, in Round 8, Kovalev decided enough was enough and attacked with menacing ferocity.
The champ hurt Pascal a number of times with a variety of shots, including two blows to the chin as referee Luis Pabon hovered over the fighters. He had seen enough after the second shot to the jaw and waved his arms, signaling the end of the fight.
Kovalev smiled and raised his arms in spontaneous celebration, as he was right to do. This was a special victory, a grueling test of wills that he won as much with his resilience as his well-documented punching power.
Any sort of knockout victory over a fighter of Pascal’s caliber would’ve been another big step in his career. A knockout victory in a fight like this means even more.
The only thing missing? “I wish I put him to sleep. The referee saved him,” Kovalev said.
Fans worldwide had to be shaking their heads in awe of Kovalev. And they have to have respect for Pascal.
The former titleholder’s ability to come back from that third round was impressive to say the least. Of course, he had reason to be upset after the fight. He had lost twice – to Carl Froch and Bernard Hopkins – but had never been stopped. The first one hurts in more than one way.
At the same time, Pascal has reason to be both proud and even grateful. He showed uncommon determination against one of the most fearsome fighters in the world and held his own, at least for a while.
And the fans in Montreal showed their appreciation by applauding him with passion after the fight. They knew a special effort when they saw one even if their man came up short.
Afterward, Pascal said he didn’t understand why Pabon stopped the fight but he didn’t protest too vociferously.
“It was an action fight for the fans. I tip my hat to Kovalev. He is a champion,” he said graciously.
Kovalev will have a difficult time following that act. He is expected to face his IBF mandatory challenger – Nadjib Mohammedi – in his next fight.
Mohammedi, who stopped Lee Campbell on the undercard Saturday, is a solid, experienced fighter but probably won’t give Kovalev a fight even remotely resembling the one Pascal served up.
And that’s OK. You can’t have a fight of the year candidate every time out.