Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
If asked, Nathan Cleverly and Bernard Hopkins would likely be among those who would offer any prospective Sergey Kovalev opponent one piece of advice: don't poke the Russian bear. Cleverly, in the midst of taking a pounding and surrendering his light-heavyweight belt in August 2013, at one point waved Kovalev in, as if challenging him to up his game. Kovalev halted his assault for a quick, taunting hip thrust, and then proceeded to launch a fusillade of even harder punches in Cleverly's direction. The contest was stopped, and the Russian declared the victor, shortly afterward.
In the twelfth round of their contest in Atlantic City late last year, Hopkins – who had lost every minute of the previous 11 frames – stuck out his tongue. As Kovalev admitted recently, his immediate thought was, "Awww, why did you have to do that?" Having outboxed and out-thought the veteran all evening to that point, he promptly tried to take his head off. Hopkins made it to the final bell, but it was the closest he has come in a long and distinguished career to being stopped.
So, the evidence seems pretty clear. Facing off against Kovalev is a hard enough task. Don't make it worse by provoking him.
Somebody forgot to tell that to Jean Pascal.
On Wednesday, at the final pre-fight press conference for Saturday's light-heavyweight clash at Montreal's Bell Centre, Pascal first of all taunted his opponent by implying that Kovalev was a sheep, whereas Pascal was a wolf. Which, in and of itself is no big deal; trash talking is part of the sport. Hat removal, though, is a different matter. As the two men faced off for the cameras, Pascal – his efforts to press his nose as close as possible to Kovalev's thwarted by the brim of his opponent's baseball cap – moved to rip the Russian's hat from his head. Kovalev responded by shoving him backward, and his features took on a mean mien as Pascal shouted at him while team members kept the two men separate.
The scowl remained when the fighters weighed in on Friday at the Casino de Montreal, although this time Pascal chose to evade a face-off and walk off the stage after stepping on the scales, leaving Kovalev to flex solo for the cameras. Instead, the champion turned his ire toward Pascal's loud hometown supporters, in whose baying direction he extended a firm middle finger.
Perhaps it is Pascal being Pascal, or perhaps it is a deliberate attempt at provocation with the aim of getting underneath Kovalev's skin, but the former champion would do well to recall that Kovalev tends not to get mad but to get even. Cleverly or Hopkins know as much. By the end of Saturday night, Pascal very possibly might as well.
Official Weights from Montreal:
Sergey Kovalev: 174.3 lbs.
Jean Pascal: 175 lbs.
Vyacheslav Glazkov: 218.4 lbs.
Steve Cunningham: 209.6 lbs.