HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney speak with Lou DiBella, CEO of DiBella Entertainment and the creator of HBO's Boxing After Dark, to commemorate the series' 20th anniversary.
By Kieran Mulvaney
OK, hands up who saw that coming? In a development that caught the boxing world by surprise, Canelo Alvarez will defend his middleweight championship against Britain’s Amir Khan in Las Vegas on May 7. The event will be produced and distributed live by HBO PPV.
For Khan, a former two-time titlist at junior welterweight, the matchup presents both risk and opportunity. The risk is clear: having started his professional career at 135 pounds, he has fought only four times at welterweight, and of his three career defeats, two have been by stoppage. Now, albeit at a catchweight of 155 pounds, he is taking on the lineal middleweight champion, who secured the title by outpointing Miguel Cotto in November over 12 rounds in a contest in which he looked substantially the bigger man. Canelo’s capacity to inflict damage on opponents was highlighted by his spectacular third-round knockout of James Kirkland last May, raising the question of just what he might be able to do to a man who has been halted by Breidis Prescott and Danny Garcia.
But it's also an opportunity, and not just because it presents Khan – who for a several years now has been a lonely one-man band in boxing’s subway, simultaneously banging the drum and blowing the horn for a bout against Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao – with the marquee moment he has long craved. If Canelo has shown weaknesses during his career, it has been against foes who box him rather than stand and trade, and in Khan he’ll surely be facing the fastest hands he has yet encountered in the ring. Khan will doubtless take encouragement from the surprising success enjoyed by Alfonso Gomez, a smaller man than the Briton, who scored well against Alvarez in their 2011 encounter before succumbing to the Mexican’s power.
For Canelo, the bout offers almost entirely risk. The style matchup is potentially fraught, yet this is a fight he will be expected to not only win, but win by stoppage. Failure to deal with Khan emphatically will hardly increase his bargaining power for a clash with fellow middleweight star Gennady Golovkin. But it will undeniably be a huge event, one that may see his devoted fan base drowned out, even in southern Nevada, by the travelling throng of Khan’s Army.
“As the middleweight champion of the world, I will take on the best fighters in the sport and on Cinco De Mayo weekend, I look forward to making the first defense of my titles,” said Alvarez in announcing the fight. “Amir was a decorated amateur, a two-time world champion and is in the prime of his career. Fans are in for a great fight on May 7.”
“I know Canelo fights the best and wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to face me like others have,” said Amir Khan. “My goal is to always fight the biggest names and the best fighters. That is why I’m excited for this fight.”
HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney break down Sergey Kovalev's punishing 7th round TKO victory over Jean Pascal.
Highlights from Sergey Kovalev's TKO victory over Jean Pascal and Dmitry Mikhaylenko's decision win against Karim Mayfield from Saturday, January 30 on HBO World Championship Boxing.
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.
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
On May 26, 1969, John Lennon and Yoko One checked into Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel and, for seven days in four connected rooms – for the record, rooms 1738, 1740, 1742 and 1744 – staged a “bed-in” for peace. During their stay, they were joined by the likes of Tommy Smothers, Murray the K, Timothy Leary, Dick Gregory and Allen Ginsberg; and it was there, on June 1, that they all joined together to record Lennon’s anthemic “Give Peace a Chance.”
That ethic had clearly been washed away by the waters of the St. Lawrence River by the time, 46 years later and four miles away at the Casino de Montreal, Jean Pascal and Sergey Kovalev took their places for the final pre-fight press conference ahead of their Saturday light-heavyweight rematch. There is genuine enmity between the two camps, and it was on full display as Pascal paraded around the dais heaping scorn on Kovalev, and the Quebec fighter and the Russian’s trainer had to be separated after a slanging match threatened to turn physical.
The most outwardly restrained of the principals was, perhaps surprisingly, Kovalev - who ten months ago had happily flipped Pascal’s camp the bird, has referred to Pascal as a “piece of shit”, and on Wednesday jokingly questioned in an interview whether his opponent had a brain – and it was the same at Friday’s weigh-in. After both scaled under the 175 lb. limit, Pascal marched over to Kovalev to lock eyes for the obligatory face-off, but Kovalev wanted none of it, staring at his foe long enough to give the assembled photographers a few shots before turning away.
Beyond the broader antagonism, there is a fight to be fought, and Pascal’s weigh-in bravado might seem surprising given that, when last these two met at the same Bell Centre venue last March, he had to be rescued by the referee after, in Kovalev’s dismissive words, “he was drunk on my punches.” But the Haiti-born boxer had some genuine moments before that, and has apparently convinced himself that he had momentum on his side when the referee intervened. By the same token, however, he clearly recognizes that changes are required, given that he has exchanged long-time trainer Marc Ramsey for Freddie Roach. Roach, says Pascal, has the “eye of the tiger” and can notice details that elude other cornermen, which is why he hired him; it is perhaps telling, however, that the confrontation with Jackson escalated after Kovalev’s trainer asked rhetorically, “Where’s Marc? He’s not here because he said you would get knocked out.”
The smart money is on that alleged prediction coming true, but it is clear that Pascal’s venom, however much it might have been played up for promotional purposes, is genuine; and so too is the colder, dead-eyed loathing that Kovalev sends in his direction. Both men will enter the ring with extra incentive to not just win, but to do so with as concussive a finality as possible. That night, the Queen Elizabeth Hotel wil be a short walk and another world away.
Weights from Montreal:
Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev: 174.6 lbs.
Jean Pascal: 174.3 lbs.
Dmitry Mikhaylenko: 146.7 lbs.
Karim Mayfield: 147 lbs.
Sergey Kovalev and Jean Pascal make weight on Friday afternoon in Montreal. Kovalev vs. Pascal II happens on Saturday, January 30 at 9:45 PM ET/PT on HBO World Championship Boxing.