Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Ten months ago, Sergey Kovalev stopped Jean Pascal in the eighth round of a bout that, while concussive in its conclusion, was frequently entertaining as Pascal scored more than his share of telling blows. The record will show that their rematch, in the same Bell Centre arena in downtown Montreal, ended just one round sooner; but the contrast between the two contests was stark and ultimately uncomfortable.
When Pascal struggled against Yuniesky Gonzalez in July, scoring a decision win that few ringside felt he deserved, there was a sense that Kovalev had maybe beaten much of the fight out of him, that his heavy blows had emptied a tank that had carried Pascal through battles against the likes of Carl Froch, Chad Dawson, Bernard Hopkins and Lucian Bute. That suspicion was strengthened shortly after the bell rang to begin this second meeting between the two, and was confirmed long before Pascal’s trainer Freddie Roach asked referee Michael Griffin to halt the contest at the end of the seventh round.
By then, Pascal’s facial features had been rearranged, his nose flattened and widened by Kovalev’s spearing left jab and right hands. His head had taken far too many blows from a man who had threatened, in the wake of some highly personal verbal sparring in the build-up to the bout, to prolong the fight and “torture” Pascal and who, in the immediate aftermath, told HBO’s Max Kellerman that he had done just that.
"Yes, I would fight more rounds and make him more pain. Punish him more,” he told Kellerman in his broken but rapidly improving English. "I don't respect him at all. I punished a not good person. And everyone needs to understand who is who."
The comfort with which Kovalev (29-0-1, 25 KOs) oozes sadistic violence from his every pore is on one level of course a guarantee of stardom and fan enthusiasm in a sport that is, after all, at its heart about little else. Even so, Kovalev takes it to another level, to a degree that can give pause to even the most hardened observer of this hardest of sports. Sergey Kovalev is an extremely bad man.
But he is also, within the context of the sweet science, an extremely talented and even refined one. From the very beginning, the beating he laid on Pascal was not just the result of his justifiably vaunted power, but also the technical skill with which he set up and delivered that power. Whereas Pascal sought to land only the occasional haymaker, Kovalev was calm and collected, jabbing Pascal to the body to bring the Canadian’s head within target range, feinting when his foe was on the ropes to lure him into opening himself up, and then digging back to the body each time he hurt him to the head, leaving Pascal unsure from where the next punch was coming and knocking the resistance from him, one blow at a time.
For the first few rounds, Pascal (30-4-1, 17 KOs) appeared uncertain of quite how to respond to Kovalev’s patiently punishing assault and possibly unable to. By the fifth, Kovalev was beating on him with abandon, utterly in control, a sadistic tiger playing with a catatonic rabbit.
CompuBox numbers underline the extreme dominance of the man from Chelyabinsk, and the utter ineffectiveness of his nominal rival. In that fifth round, Kovalev landed 31 of 73 punches, and 20 of 47 power punches. Pascal threw just five and landed only a solitary jab.
Through rounds five and six, Pascal’s contribution was to lurch around the ring as Kovalev landed thudding right hands against the side of his head; this was a man who was arguably shot and certainly unable to prevent the predator in front of him from inflicting further damage. The only constraint was applied by Kovalev himself, who on more than one occasion would punch Pascal into the corner and then, with his prey bracing himself for the conclusive blow, would step back and reset, allowing Pascal to breathe some more and take more of a beating.
Roach might have thought about stopping it after the fifth, surely considered it during the sixth, and told Pascal he was going to do so after that frame. Pascal pleaded for one more round, Roach reluctantly acquiesced only after pleading with Griffin to watch his charge closely; and when the seventh was over following another three minutes of sustained punishment, he threw in the metaphorical towel.
Pascal congratulated Kovalev on his victory, thanked his fans for their support and promised he would be back. He may want to reconsider the last of those; while he can perhaps compete against and defeat lesser lights, his time at the top seems to be done, bludgeoned out of him by a Krusher from Russia whom future opponents displease at their peril.
In the co-main event, Dmitry Mikhaylenko (21-0, 9 KOs) remained undefeated with a workmanlike unanimous decision win over Karim Mayfield (19-3-1, 11 KOs) after ten rounds of welterweight action. To Mayfield’s credit, he took the fight on just two weeks’ notice, and although he had been in training anyway, he appeared unsure of his conditioning, starting many rounds with a flurry but retreating for the subsequent two and a half minutes. The American has an awkward, one-punch counterpunching style against which many opponents have struggled to look good; and whether because of his foe’s awkwardness or because of his own level of ability, Mikhaylenko did not unduly impress, even as he won all ten rounds on two scorecards and nine rounds on the other. The man who calls himself ‘The Mechanic’ is technically sound, and spent much of the fight walking Mayfield down behind a stiff jab, but he’ll need to step it uplevel if he is going to succeed at the highest echelons of his division.