HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney discuss Sergey Kovalev's demolition of Nadjib Mohammedi and the all-action scrap between Jean Pascal and Yunieski Gonzalez.
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Sergey "Krusher" Kovalev swatted aside the challenge of Frenchman Nadjib Mohammedi at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, knocking him down twice en route to a dominant third round stoppage victory in his first outing as a Las Vegas headliner.
The first round was uneventful, Kovalev (28-0-1, 25 KOs) patiently stalking his foe, landing stiff jabs that snapped back Mohammedi's head but unable initially to land any power shots past his defensive stance and herky-jerky upper body movement. The second, in contrast, saw the two men make four visits to the canvas between them, although only one was a legitimate knockdown.
Kovalev was the first to find himself horizontal, tripping over as he circled away from a clumsy Mohammedi assault, but shortly afterward he sent the Frenchman to his knees with a brutal flurry of blows: a right hand that drove his opponent into the ropes, a left that caused him to topple forward, and then another right/left combination that dropped him. Mohammedi beat the count, but understandably looked far from comfortable as the Russian pursued him with a predatory zeal. Mohammedi went down again, but this time from a push, and stumbled as he sought to escape Kovalev, rising slowly and uncertainly.
“After the knockdown, I knew I was in a fight,” said Mohammedi afterward – as if he didn’t know that before.
He survived the round, but Kovalev began the third with bad intentions, landing two powerful straight rights that sent Mohammedi into the ropes. The Frenchman, however, appeared to have regained his bearings – until a two-punch combination suddenly ended the night. A Kovalev overhand right twisted Mohammedi’s head to one side, and a follow-up straight left landed square in the center of the Frenchman’s face, sending him to his haunches. He rose to his knees, blinking and rubbing his eyes, and as he lifted himself to his feet, still appearing in distress, referee Kenny Bayless waved off the contest at 2:38 of the round.
Mohammedi, who falls to 38-4 with 23 KOs, said afterward that he couldn’t open his eyes, improbably blaming Kovalev’s thumb for causing the injury. The fact that that thumb was just one part of a powerful fist was the significantly more likely cause.
“I don’t even know how I landed the punch that got his eye,” shrugged Kovalev, who admitted that he had been shouting at Mohammedi to get up. “I wanted more rounds,” he said. “I wanted to make him look like a clown. I wanted him to look foolish. I wanted to give the fans more of a show.”
Kovalev promoter Kathy Duva announced afterward that her fighter would return on November 28 in Moscow; she planned to offer the fight to another undefeated Russian, Artur Beterbiev, but said that other options were on the table.
Kovalev said he was happy, whomever he faced:
“I’m ready for anybody.”
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Yuniesky Gonzalez suffered the first loss of his professional career on Saturday night, but the great majority of those in attendance felt that he, not Jean Pascal, should have been crowned victor of a terrific ten-round light heavyweight contest. Certainly, Gonzalez (16-1, 12 KOs) will have done his future career prospects no harm at all with a tough and resolute performance against a man who just a few months ago was in a donnybrook with division kingpin Sergey Kovalev.
Gonzalez seemed to take Pascal by surprise with a strong start to the ten-round bout, backing the Haitian-Canadian to the ropes and unleashing thudding flurries, marked by sharp left hooks and wide, almost slapping right hands that frequently threatened to – and, according to Pascal, often did – land on the back of his opponent’s head.
Pascal sought to return fire between Gonzalez’s attacks, but for the first few rounds, his output was seemingly too low to be scoring effectively; by the fourth, however, the pace had slowed and Pascal (30-3-1, 17 KOs) began to look more comfortable. A couple of hard right hands from the former champion likely won him that round, but by the sixth, he looked absolutely spent and barely able to stand; incredibly, however, it was at this point that Pascal sprang to life, landing some huge right hands that appeared to hurt his Cuban foe. Instead of pressing his advantage, over the next couple of rounds Pascal sought to find the perfect opportunity to land the perfect punch, and although a fatigued Gonzalez was rarely landing cleanly down the stretch, he was at least throwing.
But Pascal saved the best for last, landing a big left hand and then another in the tenth and final round. A jab to the body staggered Gonzalez and some brutal lefts and rights exploded off his head, as Gonzalez responded and the crowd roared. At fight’s end, Gonzalez appeared to have done enough to win, but all three judges saw the fight 96-94 for Pascal.
“I was controlling the fight,” insisted Pascal afterward. “The fight was following the exact rhythm that I wanted. It was a great fight, very close. I’m glad to give the fans another candidate for fight of the year, because that’s what I think it was. I’m going to continue to fight the best opposition, and give a great performance, because that’s what I do.”
Gonzalez was more succinct in his appraisal:
“I am so sad. I was the real fighter. That fight was taken from me. He did not win, I did. I was the real winner.”
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
The undercard fighters stole the show at the Friday weigh-in for Saturday’s World Championship Boxing card in Las Vegas, Jean Pascal striding up to Yuniesky Gonzalez for the obligatory staredown and locking his gaze on his opponent as the Cuban returned the favor.
Nothing inherently unusual in that; but while there is no defined time that the ritual is supposed to last, there is a moment beyond which the tension becomes palpable, and the boxers’ handlers become uncomfortable. Each man has become too invested in the challenge and neither can afford the appearance of weakness that would come from being the first to break the gaze. That’s when the aforementioned handlers generally step in, and turn the fighters away from each other; and that’s what began to happen between Pascal and Gonzalez. But the two men tore up the usual script, and instead of breaking away when given the chance, continued to lock eyes. So the handlers pushed a little harder, and the fighters resisted a little more fervently, each determined to remain rooted to the spot. The teams pushed harder yet, and Nevada commission officials became involved, but even as they finally found themselves forced apart, Pascal and Gonzalez continued to glare at each other until enough people stepped between them that they could do so no longer, at which point each camp finally went its separate way.
The intensity of the staredown highlighted what the two men have at stake in tomorrow’s co-main event: For the little-known Gonzalez, it is an opportunity to carve a spot for himself as a legitimate challenger in the light heavyweight division; while for Pascal, a former champ whose most recent outing was a stoppage loss to Sergey Kovalev, victory is essential if he is to remain relevant at the top of the division. Indeed, given the Cuban émigré’s power punching and the possibility that Pascal might be reaching the end of what has been a quality career, there is no shortage of prognosticators who feel theirs is almost certain to be the more entertaining clash on Saturday’s televised card.
That is not meant necessarily as a knock on Nadjib Mohammedi, the Frenchman who challenges Kovalev in the main event, as much as it is an acknowledgment of the fact that the Russian is sitting at the very pinnacle of the sport. After a career spent blasting through a succession of overmatched opponents, Kovalev stepped up to the highest level last November and showed that he was more than a slugger when he comprehensively outboxed veteran Bernard Hopkins. He followed that up with an exciting knockout of Pascal in Montreal in March; in contrast to those two most recent opponents, Mohammedi, a mandatory challenger for one of Kovalev’s world title belts, does not exactly set the pulse racing. But he knows a glorious opportunity awaits him, and is determined not to yield without a fight; equally, Kovalev knows that the relatively low esteem in which his foe is held makes it all the more important that he avoid an embarrassing defeat. If he wins, a potential superfight with American Andre Ward beckons; if he loses, his dreams crash down around him in a heap. He may not have demonstrated it publicly to the extent of Pascal or Gonzalez, but Kovalev knows full well that, for all that he is expected to cruise to victory on Saturday night, he too has an enormous amount at stake.
Sergey Kovalev 174.5 lbs.
Nadjib Mohammedi 173 lbs.
Jean Pascal 178 lbs.
Yuniesky Gonzalez 177 lbs.W
Watch today's weigh-in live from Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, beginning at 6pm ET.
By Kieran Mulvaney
There was brief period during Jean Pascal’s most recent outing on HBO when it appeared that he might be able to pull off the biggest victory of his career. Down on points after four rounds against Sergey Kovalev in a contest in which he had been knocked down once, Pascal somehow found the reserves to hurt Kovalev in the fifth and again in the sixth, before his Russian opponent reasserted control and ultimately stopped him in the eighth.
It is a measure of the esteem in which Kovalev was held entering that March contest in Montreal that he was the big favorite against Pascal (29-3-1, 17 KOs), whose only two previous defeats had come against likely future Hall of Famers Carl Froch and Bernard Hopkins. And it is a statement of his ability and strength that he justified the favorable odds by becoming the first and so far only man to beat Pascal inside the distance.
But it says a lot also about Pascal – about his charismatic personality, his exciting fighting style, and his commitment to winning – that his first fight since that defeat is back on HBO, as he takes on Yuniesky Gonzalez (16-0, 12 KOs) in the supporting bout to Kovalev’s title defense against Frenchman Nadjib Mohammedi.
This time, it is Pascal’s turn to be the favorite, and justifiably so: he is a former lineal light-heavyweight champion, who has been in eight world title fights and faced top-caliber opposition, notching wins over the likes of Chad Dawson, Lucian Bute and Adrian Diaconu. His training is aided by one of the greatest boxers of all time, Roy Jones Jr.
Gonzalez, in contrast, is little-known outside his own household. He is a former Cuban amateur standout, it is true; and he is undefeated as a professional. But he has had fewer than half as many professional bouts as Pascal, none of them against remotely top-level opposition. His is a name few if any but the most diehard American fight fans would have heard before the announcement of his fight with Pascal, but a lack of familiarity does not necessary equate to a shortage of ability, and Gonzalez has shown flashes of genuine talent – not least in the form of a devastating left hook that has rendered several opponents borderline comatose. Pascal has a tendency to let himself be drawn into unnecessary brawls and may feel he has something to prove after the Kovalev loss. He may also be carrying the after effects of what, aside from his aborted resurgence, was a one-sided thumping. All these factors could end up playing into Gonzalez's fast and heavy hands.
Should Pascal win – and he probably should – he could conceivably be in line for a rematch with Kovalev. But this is likely a more dangerous test than many assume; if he slips up against Gonzalez, the Haitian-Canadian would fall out of title contention for the foreseeable future, just months after he must have felt he almost had the golden chalice within his grasp.
Sergey Kovalev and Nadjib Mohammedi held their final press conference Thursday afternoon at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
Kovalev vs. Mohammedi happens Saturday at 10pm ET/PT.