Bivol Wins But Doesn’t Wow Against Former Champ Pascal

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Bradford William Davis

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. --  Dmitry Bivol has achieved a number of benchmarks in his young career, including winning an alphabet title paired with a string of successful defenses and an undefeated record. Though he is still recognized as a rising star, his unanimous decision victory over Jean Pascal at the Etess Arena at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino -- like his last win over Isaac Chilemba -- fell short of the declarative statement he was looking to make about his place atop the light heavyweight division.

That’s not to say Bivol (15-0, 11 KOs) failed to win handily. There is little argument that he, still 27 years of age, proved himself the superior fighter to the 36-year-old Pascal, a proud former title-winner himself. A quick survey of the stats bear out the margin of his win. According to CompuBox, Bivol landed 127 power punches to Pascal’s 54, to go with a 90-6 edge on landed jabs. Save for Pascal’s spastic and desperate flurry of hooks — including a desperate hurling of both arms in the ninth round that resembled a bear’s attempt at a hug more than former champion practicing the sport of boxing — Bivol was in control throughout. But winning wasn’t the singular goal for the heavy favorite; only domination could continue fueling the hype.

However, over the fight’s later rounds, what stood out was Pascal’s showmanship more so than Bivol’s performance. At times, the Montreal-based fighter trotted in place, smirking at Bivol to rile up the crowd, taunting the eventual victor like he was the one in cruise control, despite the scorecards showing the opposite. Bivol’s reputation as a power puncher might lead his biggest boosters to think a knockout was inevitable, but Pascal, clearly winded, feinted with the same vigor in the final round as he did when the opening bell rang.

As Bivol chatted with color commentator Max Kellerman about his night and his future in the division, one could hear boos pushing through the crowd. Maybe his next fight will provide an opportunity not just to resume ascent, but bring the fans into his corner.

****

Isaac Zarate, an employee at a brewery in between his prizefighting, had in some ways, a remarkably successful night, working his way to a televised undercard ahead of a fight with significant title and ranking implications. Then, competing for nine rounds with the up-and-coming Murodjon Akhmadaliev, who also made his HBO debut, might be the summit of his fledgling boxing career. But whatever moral victories Zarate accumulated don’t compare to the complete thrashing Akhmadaliev (5-0, 4 KOs) gave him, particularly from the second round onwards.

The referees may have stopped the fight, but it was barely an act of mercy -- clamors from observers to stop the fight were made early and often. Towards the end of the truncated battle, Akhmadaliev was able to put his whole weight behind nearly every punch, sometimes losing balance and falling into his opponent. Zarate should be lauded for his impressive chin, one strong enough to conceal the winner of the fight a round (or four) too long.

Weigh-in Slideshow: Bivol + Pascal

Dmitry Bivol and Jean Pascal weigh-in in Atlantic City one day before their November 24th brawl. Watch Bivol-Pascal tomorrow night at 10 PM on HBO World Championship Boxing.

CompuBox Preview + Prediction: Bivol-Pascal

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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.

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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? 

Shut-Down Mode

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. 

Prediction

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. 

PODCAST: Bivol-Pascal Preview (Ep 281)

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney preview Saturday night's light heavyweight bout in Atlantic City between undefeated rising star Dmitry Bivol and former world champion Jean Pascal.

Dmitry Bivol and Jean Pascal Battle in Atlantic City on November 24

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Dmitry Bivol will face former Ring Magazine champion Jean Pascal on Saturday, November 24, 2018 as boxing returns to Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.

The event will be promoted by Main Events and World of Boxing, Bivol’s promoter, in association with Jean Pascal Promotions. The bout will be televised live on HBO World Championship Boxing beginning at 10 PM ET/PT.

Bivol, age 27, of St. Petersburg Russia, risks his perfect record of 14 wins with no losses and 11 knockouts against the time-tested Pascal, who turns 36 on October 28, has 33 wins, 20 by knockout, against five losses and a draw.

Bivol is coming off a dominating 12-round decision victory over crafty Isaac Chilemba of Malawi on August 4. Pascal is fresh from an eighth round TKO over former UFC champion Steve Bosse at Place Bell in Laval, Quebec on July 20. 

After storming through the amateur ranks, Bivol has quickly moved himself into position to take over the highly competitive light heavyweight division by facing top names and defeating them, one after the other. Bivol is open about his ambitious goals to fight all of the best opponents in the division, and to deliver entertaining fights in front of large audiences. 

Bivol’s ultimate goal to unify the light heavyweight division: “It’s very important for me. It’s every boxer’s dream to be the champion, the unified champion. It’s a big step to dream about. Like (unified cruiserweight champion) Oleksandr Usyk.”

Though humble, Bivol is sure about his abilities. “Not too long ago, Pascal fought for three world titles and I watched on TV. Now he wants to take my title away, and I am very happy to accept this challenge and look forward to my next title defense on HBO.” 

Vadim Kornilov, Bivol’s manager, added, “We are looking forward to another great performance by Dmitry Bivol on November 24th. Jean Pascal is a name everyone has heard, and we look forward to a competitive fight with this great champion.”

Andrei Ryabinski of World of Boxing, Bivol’s promoter, said, “We are glad to be putting together another fight for Dmitry Bivol together with HBO, Main Events and the Hard Rock. Look forward to a great fight between Dmitry Bivol and Jean Pascal!”

"This is the most important fight of my life and I could not be more motivated,” said Pascal. “I'm making boxing history on November 24th. I'm known as a champion who never turned down any challenges, but I want to be two-time champion and I want to be immortalized in the Hall of Fame when my career is over. To fully cement my status as a hall of famer, I must win this fight and I will win this fight. 

"Bivol is a very good fighter and a difficult challenge, but greatness has never been achieved without overcoming difficult challenges. My Canadian fans should be very excited because all of the light heavyweight belts will be in our house for Christmas this year," promised Pascal.

Manager Greg Leon is equally confident. “In my opinion Bivol is the best light heavyweight champion in the world, so this is an extremely difficult challenge for us. However, Jean is fighting for the hall of fame, history and legacy. That coupled with the intangibles he possesses that cannot be taught make him the most dangerous fighter Bivolhas ever faced by far. 

"November 24th will provide Bivol with a couple of new experiences; he'll be fighting in his first major main event and he'll be suffering his first loss as a professional,” said Leon.

Main Events CEO Kathy Duva said, “Main Events could not be more excited to return to Atlantic City for our second card at the Hard Rock’s Etess Arena. Our first card there on August 4 was a sellout, and we expect to build on that momentum by bringing Dmitry back to be in the main event on November 24.”

“Following up on the success of last August’s fight between Alvarez and Kovalev, this will just be another step forward in Atlantic City’s return to professional boxing,” says Bernie Dillon, Vice President of Entertainment for Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, “I’m thrilled that Hard Rock can be a big part of that.”

PODCAST: Alvarez-Kovalev Postfight (Ep 266)

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney react to Eleider Alvarez's shocking seventh-round knockout of Sergey Kovalev and Dmitry Bivol's decision win over Isaac Chilemba in a light heavyweight doubleheader from Atlantic City.

Bivol Pounds Out Workmanlike Decision Over Durable Chilemba

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Eric Raskin

Once it became clear after a few rounds that his tough veteran opponent Isaac Chilemba wasn’t going to capitulate easily, light heavyweight super-prospect-turned-beltholder Dmitry Bivol engaged one of boxing’s time-honored strategies: “Win this one, look good next time.” In the co-featured bout underneath Sergey Kovalev-Eleider Alvarez at Etess Arena at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, Bivol won a lopsided unanimous decision in a fight that didn’t necessarily elevate his stock.

There were plenty of close rounds among the 12 that Bivol and Chilemba boxed, but it was never a close fight. Judges Henry Grant and Ron McNair were both a bit unfair to Chilemba, scoring it a 120-108 shutout, while George Hill was perhaps a bit overly friendly to the underdog, giving Chilemba four of the last five rounds to arrive at a 116-112 card for Bivol.

The left hook was the key weapon for the undefeated 27-year-old Russian, and for the first four rounds, his sharper reflexes and faster hands separated him clearly from the 31-year-old Chilemba. But as the fight wore on, with both men patiently seeking to counterpunch, the rounds got tougher to score, particularly as Chilemba snuck in a handful of effective bodyshots. Bivol (14-0, 11 KOs) really began to play it safe in the final third of the fight, and Chilemba (25-6-2, 10 KOs) never stopped looking for opportunities to turn the fight around. Bivol showed excellent footwork and a keen sense of distance, though, making a one-punch turnaround a near impossibility.

Coming into the fight, the unofficial plan was for Bivol to move on to a showdown with Kovalev next. Bivol got the “W,” so this performance by no means derails his hype train. But it certainly slows his momentum. And while there was talk before the fight of him being ready for the best opposition light heavyweight has to offer, it’s fair now to suggest that Bivol could use one or two more learning experiences first.

Weigh-in Recap and Slideshow: For a Boxer, and a City, a Rebirth

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- In the center of the casino floor at Atlantic City’s brand-new Ocean Resort Casino, a bank of slot machines sits unused, covered in clear tarp. Given the recent history of both the city and of this property (opened to much fanfare as the Revel in 2012, only to declare bankruptcy twice before closing its doors in September 2014), that might be considered an inauspicious sign. Instead, it is for many a beacon of hope, of a new era dawning for casinos across the country and in this oft-benighted town; states are now free to permit legal sports betting if they so choose, and the empty space with the mothballed slot machines has been set aside as the site for the Ocean Resort’s sportsbook.

There was a time when Atlantic City was almost as synonymous with big-time boxing as was Las Vegas. This is where Mike Tyson flattened Michael Spinks in 91 seconds; where an ancient Roberto Duran recovered from being spun around in a near-circle by an Iran Barkley punch to the jaw to annex a middleweight belt; where Ray Mercer nearly decapitated Tommy Morrison; where Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward staged the last two bouts in their unforgettable trilogy; where, indeed, Gatti made his second home and fought his heart out for adoring fans so many times.

It was here, too, that Sergey Kovalev established his dominance over the light-heavyweight division when he outboxed Bernard Hopkins over twelve rounds at the Boardwalk Hall. By the time he did so, however, Atlantic City’s glory days had long since faded, and not just in the boxing realm. His victory took place two months after the demise of the Revel, which was the third of four casinos to close that year.

Big-time boxing has been absent from the World’s Most Famous Playground ever since; but it returns on Saturday, to a town that dares to hope of a renaissance. In what was either an example of either masterful planning or a case study in complete lack of coordination, Ocean Resort opened its doors five weeks ago on the very same afternoon that the ribbon was cut on the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, a ten-minute walk along the boardwalk. In an earlier incarnation, adorned with the name of a reality-TV star now seeking validation in other arenas, this was the venue that saw the first loss of Roy Jones’ career and the final fight of George Foreman’s. It is also the place to which boxing returns when Kovalev defends his light-heavyweight titles against Montreal-based Colombian Eleider Alvarez.

Kovalev has endured his own decline and fall in the 42 months since he was here last: even as he consolidated his grip on the 175-pound division, there was talk of too much drinking and too little training; there were signs of a fissure between him and trainer John David Jackson; there was a less-than-convincing title defense against Isaac Chilemba, and then back-to-back losses — the first of his career — to Andre Ward. There were mitigating factors in each of those defeats, to which his fans continue to cling; Kovalev himself, however, acknowledged that his life needed a reboot, and after too much alcohol and a car accident in his native land, he took to a Greek monastery to find himself and begin a rebuilding process. Outside the ring, he admits, that process is an ongoing one; inside the ropes, it is well underway, with a new trainer and two knockout wins.

He is favored to make it three victories on the bounce against Alvarez, although not overwhelmingly so; but should Saturday unfold according to plan, then he won’t have to look far for the next threat to his reign. That threat is called Dmitry Bivol; in the night’s co-main event he, like Kovalev did before him, defends his own title against Isaac Chilemba. Also like Kovalev during his own ascent, Bivol is being spoken of in an increasingly loud voice as the Next Big Thing, and if both come through their respective tests with flying colors, a clash seems inevitable sooner rather than later.

Kovalev will tackle that threat when the time comes. Until then, both he and the city that is hosting him will be hoping that any challenges that come their way can be dealt with, and that their respective resurgences prove enduring and not just one more false dawn.

Weights from Atlantic City:

Sergey Kovalev: 174 pounds

Eleider Alvarez: 174.4 pounds

 Dmitry Bivol: 174.6 pounds

Isaac Chilemba: 175 pounds