With Eleider Alvarez's upset of Sergey Kovalev to win the WBO title, Adonis Stevenson's long periods of inactivity that are excused by the WBC, and the chin problems exhibited by IBF counterpart Artur Beterbiev (who still has a perfect KO record), the WBA's Dmitry Bivol is looking more like the best light heavyweight in the world more by default than anything else. But if he is to stamp himself as the top man without any qualifiers, he must not only defeat former titlist Jean Pascal (who lost a decision to Alvarez in June 2017 and was stopped twice by Kovalev), he must do so in dominant and dynamic fashion.
Pascal, on the other hand, broke his promise to his mother and grandmother that he would retire -- win, lose or draw -- following his upset win over 16-0 prospect Ahmed Elbiali by winning an eight-round decision (at cruiserweight) against Steve Bosse in July, and the power of his name was enough to gain this title opportunity. Far older men than the 36-year-old Pascal have been successful at 175 -- Pascal was victimized by one in Bernard Hopkins and the 41-year-old Stevenson has been champ since 2013 -- so history suggests time hasn't passed Pascal by yet. Can Pascal add his name to a list of late-career champs that include Dick Tiger, Archie Moore and Bob Fitzsimmons, or will Bivol once again prove that youth, more times than not, will be served?
In boxing, the name of the game is to hit and not be hit, and while many have rendered themselves boring or even unwatchable in pursuit of this ideal, Bivol has been exciting and effective. On offense, Bivol has inflicted considerable damage in his five most recent fights against Samuel Clarkson (KO 4), Cedric Agnew (KO 4), Trent Broadhurst (KO 1), Sullivan Barrera (KO 12) and Isaac Chilemba (W 12) and the proof can be seen in the stats as he averaged 14 more punches per round (53.6 vs. 39.6), lapped his opponents in terms of total connects per round (17.3 vs. 5.7), landed jabs per round (6.7 vs. 2.0) and power connects per round (10.6 vs. 3.7), and landed with above average precision in each phase (32.3% overall, 23% jabs, 44% power as opposed to the division averages of 30%, 21% and 37% respectively). He also has scored eight knockdowns in his last five fights (three against Clarkson, two versus Agnew and Broadhurst and one against Barrera). But it is on defense that Bivol has shined; in his last five fights he has put together defensive figures that would make Floyd Mayweather, Erislandy Lara and Guillermo Rigodeaux smile as he allowed just 14% of his opponents' overall punches, 9% of their jabs and 22% of their power punches to get through. Also, Bivol has not allowed an opponent to land 10 or more total punches in the last 31 rounds; the last time an opponent achieved double-digits in that category was when Clarkson landed 10 in round two of their April 2017 match. Also, in his last eight fights dating back to his May 2016 fight against Felix Valera, Bivol has out-landed his opponents in terms of total punches in 57 of the 59 rounds fought, including a string of 45 in a row that began in round 10 against Varela and ended in round eight against Chilemba in Bivol's most recent outing (Chilemba led 9-7 in total connects). He enters the Pascal match with a modest four-round string.
One possible hope for Pascal -- a notorious low-output fighter -- is that Chilemba successfully slowed the pace to a crawl with his ring generalship and spoiling tactics while also keeping Bivol's power in check. Bivol averaged just 37.3 punches per round to Chilemba's 39.3 because Chilemba threw more total punches in the final six rounds, but because Bivol was much more accurate (35%-16% overall, 24%-13% jabs, 51%-19% power), he ended the fight with connect gaps of 154-73 overall, 67-37 jabs and 87-36 power. Better yet for Bivol, he completed the 12-round fight strong as he out-landed Chilemba 38-16 overall and 28-6 power in rounds 10-12.
Is Less More?
Pascal has long been one of boxing's most selective fighters in terms of output, and, because of that, the only way he wins is by making the most of what he throws while also limiting his opponents' success. That was what happened against Elbiali, who, despite being 16-0, lacked the experience to counteract Pascal's tactics or the stamina to maintain his work rate. Elbiali averaged 49.3 punches per round in rounds 1-3, but plummeted to 29.6 in rounds 3-6. Meanwhile Pascal, who averaged a robust (for him) 43.2 punches per round, cashed in with his wild overhand power shots as he landed 50% of them to Elbiali's 38%, attacked the body hard (he led 43-27 in body connects) and ended the fight with a series of unanswered power shots in the sixth. For the fight, he led 112-69 overall and 108-57 power while prevailing 46%-30% in total accuracy.
In the five fights before Elbiali (Lucian Bute, Yunieski Gonzalez, Alvarez and Kovalev twice), Pascal averaged a measly 30.9 punches per round to his opponents' 49.7 and was out-landed in all phases (15.8-14.1 total connects per round, 7.2-2.9 jab connects per round, 8.6-8.2 landed power shots per round) despite being the more accurate hitter overall (36%-32%) and in power punches (45%-35%). It also was telling that Pascal was 2-3 in those fights, and some say he could have been 1-4 as Gonzalez lost a close but unanimous decision. To sum up: Pascal's low output forces him to walk a delicate tightrope; all the factors must fall into place to give him the best chance to win. Can Pascal create that environment or will Bivol break through -- and break Pascal in the process?
Inside The Numbers
Bivol landed/threw at the light. heavy. avg. for total punches. His jab (6.6 landed per round) is better than avg. and he landed 43.6% of his power shots. Bivol does not go to the body with regularity, as just 14.4% of his landed punches are body shots- CompuBox avg.: 25.8%. Bivol opponents landed just 3.7 power shots per round and just 22.2% of their power punches. Pascal avg'd nearly 20 fewer punches thrown than the light heavy avg., but landed 41.7% of his power shots (only 8.6 per round). pascal goes to the body well, as 36.2% of his landed punches are body shots. Pascal opponents landed 34.3% of their power shots.
If Pascal is to pull off the huge upset, he will need to slow the pace to his level and hope that his accurate power shots will draw more attention from the judges and deter Bivol from throwing combinations. The Chilemba fight showed that Bivol can be slowed by guile and negativity, but Pascal isn't that kind of fighter. He is an offensive-minded athlete who chases the one-punch KO and, against Bivol, his lack of output will prove disastrous. Bivol's advantages in height, reach, volume, shot-for-shot power and youth as well as his deep amateur background and puncher's confidence will add up to a TKO victory, a win that will elevate Bivol's standing and should send Pascal into final retirement.